Monday 12 September 2016

Italian Immigrant Angelina Palmiero

"They got us kids to take the almonds out of the shells and put them in a burlap bag.  We wanted to get into the bag because they said the bag was going to America." (Angelina Palmiero)

Facciata della Chiesa Madre in San Cataldo, Sicily circa 1940's courtesy

Growing up on an olive and almond ranch, Angelina Palmiero and her siblings had to help out.  "They got us kids to take the almonds out of the shells and put them in a burlap bag.  We wanted to get into the bag because they said the bag was going to America."  Angelina remembers marching around the playground of her school the day that Mussolini took power.  

While Angelina's family held down the fort in Sicily, her father set out for America.  Once employed, he started sending his family money, with the intent of sending for them once he was established.  However, just before Angelina's family set out for America, she received a black eye.  Her mother cried, terrified that they would be rejected due to the injury.  With the eye healed, the Italian family boarded the Giuseppe Verdi, packing all of their belongings in two trunks.  The tickets were free of charge, since Mr. Palmiero had returned to Italy from the United States to serve in the First World War in exchange for free passage for his wife and children.  Angelina was teary eyed when she waved goodbye to her grandfathers and grandmother.

During the thirteen day voyage across the Atlantic, Angelina suffered from swollen glands and a high fever.  Arriving in America on her birthday, "Somebody yelled:  'The Statue of Liberty, the Statue of Liberty!'  We all ran to the railing to see, and everybody was praying and kissing and happy that we were coming up the Hudson."  With Ellis Island crowded, the Giuseppe Verdi weighed anchor and its passengers waited.

Finally, Angelina's father arrived on a tugboat and she set eyes on him for the first time.  A bunch of bananas in his hand, she took one ready to bite into it.  "Don't eat it like that.  Take the skin off first," shouted her father.  

The passengers disembarked on the island where Angelina, separated from her family, convalesced in the hospital for 23 days.  Her parents and sisters travelled to Pennsylvania where her aunt and uncle lived, paying a $250 bond promising that they would return for Angelina.  No one explained to Angelina where her family had gone.  With "two lumps the size of walnuts in her throat", Angelina was given medicine everyday.  At night, she remembers opening a gate and looking up at the Statue of Liberty, all lit up.  

One day, Angelina stood in front of the judge in the big hall at Ellis Island and he declared that she could go.  She recognized her father by his grey hair which belied his 33 years.  On the train from New Jersey to Pennsylvania, her father bought her a Hershey's chocolate bar, her first.  

Her parents now reunited, Angelina's mother started having more babies, on average one a year.  Angelina became like a little mother to her younger siblings.  Her father worked at the Edison Company.  Angelina enrolled in Grade 1.  While a bright student, she struggled at first to learn English.  At 16, she took a trip to visit her aunt but never returned, settling in New York City.

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