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Beyond Cannery RowSicilian Women, Immigration, and Community in Monterey, California, 1915-99
By CAROL LYNN MCKIBBEN
University of Illinois PressCopyright © 2006 Carol Lynn McKibben
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSicilian Women, Fishing Lives, and Migration Strategies
I went to America to work, but when I arrived there, the thought of my family, my wife, my son, was always in my head. Do I return or do I stay? Without my wife I did not know how to orient myself. -Interview with Joseph Deangelini (pseudonym), March 2, 1994
In the old times, this community was kept alive by matriarchy ... women would sow the grain. They would gather wood and take care of the vegetable gardens while the men were fishing ... the woman from Marettimo has been able to gain independence and authority thanks to her ability to manage the family, and help the husband with the equipment for fishing. -Leonarda Vaccaro, "Marettimo and Monterey: Two Communities in Comparison" (1995)
When you are a fisherman, it's in your blood. You have to fish. You have to follow the fish. You have to be at sea. It's a way of life. That's what I used to tell the children when they would complain about [their father] being gone so much. "This is our way of life," I would tell them. -Interview with Catherine Cardinale, September 7, 1994
The chapter begins with an analysis of the demographics of the Sicilian migration over time to demonstrate that it was clearly a family and chain migration from the outset. Next, this chapter will explore the ways in which the Sicilian migration to Monterey conforms to new scholarly understandings of migrant fisherpeople generally, particularly with regard to the roles of women.
Demographics and Population Flows
Sicilian migrants to Monterey originated mainly from only thirty-five family groups. The oral histories indicated that they came to North America in three distinct waves, beginning around 1880. According to census records they did not settle in Monterey until 1915. Monterey had a population of only 2,583 in 1880, which included only three Italian families, none of whom were Sicilian. They identified themselves as Swiss-Italian. The census also showed three Italian men who lived alone, and three women and twelve children, all of whom lived with male heads of households. None of the Italians in the 1880 census listed fishing as an occupation, and only one owned his home.
The demographic context of the rest of Monterey at 1880 was predominantly Mexican American. This designation signified a constructed identity that was constantly evolving to include Native Americans, Mexican immigrants, and Americans from the Southwest, East, and Midwest. The vast majority of the population declared themselves native Californians and also claimed California as the birthplace of their parents. It cannot be emphasized strongly enough that Monterey in 1880 was a town of native borns, a place where the descendants of Mexican-Indian-Spanish and Americans lived in the majority, and where European and Asian immigrants formed a small part of the population.
The European immigrant population included a mixture of Yugoslavians, Scandinavians, Irish, Portuguese (originating from the Azores and migrating by way of Hawaii), Chinese, and Japanese. The Portuguese lived mainly on dairy farms on the outskirts of Monterey and in Carmel Valley in large family groups that included an average of six to eight children. Chinese migrants were mostly single males who lived in groups of fifteen or more. Japanese migrants included large groups of males too, but also many young families with children. Scandinavians and Irish lived in nuclear family groups. Occupations were varied, but fishing was rarely mentioned as an occupation by anyone. Immigrants were usually identified as "merchant," "bar-owner," or "farmer" at one end of the class structure, and "laborer" or "helper" at the other.
The first wave of Sicilian fishing migrants came mainly from the villages of Isola Della Femina and San Vito Lo Capo. First-wave migrants to Monterey left Sicily to follow the fish to North Africa before coming to the United States. Once in America, families lived in the East and worked in industrial centers. Many of Monterey's Sicilian immigrants located their place of birth as Michigan, New York, or Illinois. Those who eventually settled in Monterey also came by way of Pittsburg, Martinez, or San Francisco, California.
By 1900 things began to change for Monterey, both economically and socially. The Southern Pacific Railroad and the Del Monte Hotel, which had been established in 1880, brought investment capital into the old city (now reincorporated). Tourists played golf at the new golf course, toured Seventeen Mile Drive along the coast, or attended the racetrack and polo field, creating a gentrified elite. Most important, the city of Monterey itself altered when a new city engineer designed streets and neighborhoods, an attempt to conform to a Progressive Era idea of an American town, rather than accepting the more chaotic and interesting mix of houses and neighborhoods typical of nineteenth century Mexican American society. An artist colony emerged. Businessmen invested in shops and restaurants. The Presidio was reactivated as an American military base.
The population of Monterey increased to 5,355, but the resident population remained similar in makeup to that of 1880. While Scandinavians, Portuguese, Japanese, and Chinese continued to be significant minorities, Italians appeared negligible in the census. There were only two Italian families listed in the 1900 census, with eight children between them. None of the seven Italian adults listed in the 1900 census came from Sicily. They specified their origins as Swiss-Italian, French-Italian, or German Italian, suggesting northern rather than southern Italian origins. As for occupation, the landowners called themselves farmers or horticulturists. Those who were poorer were "laborers" or "wood-cutters." No one listed his occupation as fisherman, although this is not to suggest no one actually fished for a living.
There was a slight increase in the Italian population by 1910, although the population of Monterey remained stable. The Italians listed themselves in the census as Swiss-Italian, German-Italian, or French-Italian, still indicating a northern Italian rather than a southern Italian migration. Of the thirty-six Italian adults in this census, five were women, all of whom lived with male heads of households. They had fifteen children between them. Eight households were male only. None of the Italians in the 1910 census listed "fishing" as an occupation. The Italians who lived in Monterey in 1910 still identified their occupations as "farmers," "horticulturists," or "laborers." The immigrant population in Monterey in 1910 was overwhelmingly Portuguese, Japanese, and Chinese. The Japanese dominated fishing on the small scale that it was until 1910.
The 1915 tax assessors' records show a shift in demographics beginning in 1914. Beginning in 1914, Italian surnames began to appear in the tax records. By 1915 those Italian names were familiar as belonging to the earliest migrants from fishing families. Ferrante, Enea, Lucido, Russo, and Buffo joined the list of Gallo, Giannini, and Giusseppi that appeared before 1914.
Excerpted from Beyond Cannery Row by CAROL LYNN MCKIBBEN Copyright © 2006 by Carol Lynn McKibben. Excerpted by permission.
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