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I am a second generation Italian-American woman

May 30, 2010

Written by Candace Goodrich

I am a second generation Italian-American woman, named after a cousin of my grandmother’s, Candida, americanized as Candace. I have been a resident of New York City for 13 years, having lived in Latino, African-American, Greek, Polish, and Italian neighborhoods. My grandmother Aurora Amalfitano (Aurora Battaglia before marriage) came to New York in 1948, from Forio, Ischia, the only sibling of 6 to come. She was married 3 months after she got off the boat to a cousin, Ralph Amalfitano, a printer, 13 years her senior. The marriage was privately arranged by the family. She became a seamstress in a sweatshop and lived and worked in Gravesend until my grandfather died of lung cancer when she was in her 60’s, when she then moved in with my family in Boston. I was 4 years old. My grandmother still lives with my parents, who have moved back to New York in the past 4 years, living in the same neighborhood as my brother Jason and I, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Grandma is now 89.

Ralph Amalfitano was one of 7 boys and also had 2 sisters, he was born on Elizabeth Street in Little Italy in Manhattan. His grandfather was the very first in our family to come to the United States. He had been an owner of a merchant marine company in Italia and sold his share of the business to his partner hoping to make a greater fortune in the States. He came to find Italians were only longshoremen in New York and not merchant marines. All of his sons that survived childhood went on to become blue collar professionals. They all kept jobs through the Depression. My grandfather served in Burma, and my grandmother’s brothers and father served in the navy in Italia. My great grandfather was a Marshale (equivalent to a General in the Army). My grandmother speaks often of Mussolini, being forced to march with the Young Fascists, and the French nuns that were her school teachers. She speaks of the starvation and the collapse of the railways in Italia, when she had to hitchhike from Ischia to Livorno in search of her sister, Viola, whom she hadn’t heard from during the war.

As the classic New York American story goes, the first generation was encouraged to seek marriage and education, the second generation to continue this with an even greater sense of individualism. My mother Rita (one of 2 with a sister Rossella), was the first to marry outside of her ethnicity, to an Anglo-American West Point Officer, William Goodrich. Both of my parents were the first to go to college and both have their master’s degrees.

My grandmother took me on my first trip to Italia to meet my family when I was 12 years old. She made it clear to me even then how important it is to stay close with the family in Italia, and since then I go back every year or every couple. My extended family now lives in Ischia, as well as Agropoli and Pesaro. I speak rudimentary Italian which I’m working on improving, though my comprehension is high.

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