An Italian immigrant’s journey escaping poverty.
The Italian immigrant community has had a similar struggle with the immigration process, compared to modern day immigration stories.
Immigrating to a new country and having no money, all while being discriminated against, can cause lifelong psychological distress.
“I hated my parents for making me come to America,” Italian immigrant Yolanda DeSiato said, recounting the memory of emigrating to America as a child, “it was a nightmare.”
DeSiato, a now 79-year-old woman from Lecce, Italy, came to America with her parents and four younger siblings in the 1950s. She passed through Ellis Island and her family settled in Jersey City. During her Immigration process, the translation from English to Italian was her responsibility to decode.
“Moving to a new country where you don’t know anybody, and you don’t speak the language is one of the hardest things I think a person can do. Being the eldest of 5, it was my job to learn English quick, and teach the rest of my family,” she said.
Immigrant children are often tasked with being the sole communicator between their parents and native speakers. Adding a newfound responsibility on these children, that wasn’t there before.
“Learning English was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, my family relied on me to know what was going on,” fellow Italian Immigrant, and DeSiato’s husband, Louis Tavarone said, when asked about being his parents’ translator.
Once settled into America, securing a job was very important, but came with many challenges. The American people were not fond of the incoming Italian communities, making it hard for these people to get jobs.
“From the time I came here at 11 years old, to when I joined the Army at 18, I had been in at least 9 different jobs,” Tavarone said.
The discrimination felt in these communities made it hard for immigrants to secure jobs in fields that they wanted. Many decided to enlist in the Army to avoid the stress of holding a job.
Once Ellis Island closed its doors in 1954, and the influx of immigrants slowed down, many Americans became used to the presence of these people. The discrimination wound down as the years went on, and as more immigrants learned English.
“I remember when I had my kids, I told one of their teachers that I was Italian and she couldn’t believe it because I didn’t have an accent. I did everything I could to get rid of my accent and try to sound as American as possible,” DeSiato said.
Louis and Yolanda decided not to teach their children Italian. They spent their childhood trying to remove their own accents and cultures and they didn’t want their children to feel discriminated against, like they were.
“I only heard my parents speak Italian when they talked to their parents, other than that, it wasn’t something that was a big part of our upbringing, they never taught us,” Louis and Yolanda’s daughter Emily said.
Whitewashing cultures is something that feels expected in America. The Italians, and other cultures were discriminated against until they completely lost their accents and behaviors that made them stick out.
“I always wanted to blend in. I saw the way people looked at my parents when they struggled to understand English. I saw the horrified looks when they relied on their young children to hand the cashier the correct amount of money,” DeSiato said.
Modern immigration faces a similar issue. The heightened discriminatory behaviors directed at our nations immigrants seems to have gotten worse with the election of President Donald Trump. Many immigrants try their hardest to act American so they are not discriminated against or deported.
“My parents made a great life for me and my sister, but I know not passing down their culture to us is something that bothers them. Especially as we had kids, and our kids had kids, it seems like the family has gotten less and less Italian,” said Emily Tavarone, daughter of Louis and Yolanda.
“If I could say anything to new Immigrants in this country, don’t lose touch of your culture and your language just because someone doesn’t like it. You will regret losing that piece of yourself. Especially if you are leaving your family behind in your native country,” DeSiato said.
Yolanda DeSiato and Louis Tavarone shared a similar story. Both immigrants from Italy brought to America by their parents in a similar timeframe. They raised two girls together and have created lifelong memories together as a family and as Italian immigrants.
Louis Tavarone describes his journey as an 11 year old Italian immigrant gaining American citizenship. He reflects on the major events in his life which shaped his character.
“My father was already in America, so when I came here in 1949, it was the first time I saw him.”Louis Tavarone