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IT TAKES A VILLAGE

by COOKIE CURSI

Between 1901 and 1910, nearly nine million immigrants came to the United States. Many of the arrivals were young Italians from the small town of Tricarico, 80 miles east of Naples. About 10 percent of the Italians now living in the Santa Clara Valley of California are from Tricarico. 

 

Unfamiliar with the language and customs of their new country, these hard-working aliens settled in the poorer sections of town. Often they worked in industries in which poor conditions—low wages and long hours—prevailed. After years of working and diligently saving their money, they were able to invest in homes, ranches, and their own family-run businesses.

 

Those of us whose parents and grandparents immigrated to this country from Tricarico share a unique feeling of pride at their accomplishments. A thread of pride runs through each of our lives, gently connecting us one to the other.

 

Down through the decades, children of Tricarico descent have been prominently represented in San Jose, California. They include: Joe Perrucci and his partner Frank DiNapoli, two of the area's most illustrious success stories. Perrucci founded the nationally known Mayfair Packing Company. During the 1940s, his trademark company was known all over the world, as was his company's famous slogan, "Valley Of Heart's Delight" which, for many old-timers, remains the valley's most beloved nickname.

 

Antonio and Angelo Abate founded the Abate Dairy in 1922. It was a common and beautiful sight for the residents of San Jose to see cows grazing along pastures on the north end of Lincoln Avenue, between San Carlos Street and Paula Street. Angelo personally delivered much of the dairy's fresh milk and cream on his Willow Glen route. 

 

Other prominent Tricarican descendants include Dan Caputo of Caputo Construction Co., Anthony Tomaci of Tomaci Construction. Attorneys Richard and Paul Caputo (father and son), Doctors Richard and Joseph Cirone (brothers), Dr. Christine (Cree) Gaurdino, San Jose University Professor of Marine Biology Rocci Pisano, and Civil Engineer Frank Pisano, who helped work on the Golden Gate Bridge.

 

Prominent teachers include: Bill Battaglia, Carol Talty, Richard Cirigliano and Minnie Caputo.

 

Rocci Pisano, whose parents were among the early immigrants from Tricarico, is a professor of Marine biology, who obtained his degrees at Santa Clara University, San Jose State University, and the University of California at Davis and his doctorate at Stanford University. Professor Pisano was born in San Jose in 1911. As a young man, he vividly recalls how the Tricarico Men's Club first originated. 

 

"It all began with music," he says, "lots and lots of wonderful Italian tunes. Our music spoke a language all its own that just naturally drew people closer together.”

 

Professor Pisano recalled how the young Tricarican men gathered at his family's Moorpark ranch every Sunday after church. "Someone would bring a mandolin, another an accordion, or maybe a harmonica, and before we knew it, the sweetest music this side of heaven was wafting through our orchards. I remember how our Mama and Papa would clear a smooth surface in the orchard land, and on warm summer nights, with the music of their homeland filtering through the prune trees, they'd waltz together, under the stars, spinning and twirling to their favorite old-world tunes.”

 

"Bilardi, Marzano and Basile, these men were the nucleus of the Tricarico Club," recalls Pisano. "They played music, and cards and reminisced. Soon it became a regular meeting of old friends, family, and new arrivals from the old country—sort of a musical welcome wagon.”

 

Other founders included: Rocci, Paul and Joe Paradiso, Joe DiAntonio, Frank Saraniti, Joe Carvelli, Pasquale Mestice and Vincenco Infantino.

 

Professor Rocci Pisano was one of five children. His older brother Frank Pisano was a civil engineer who helped in the construction of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. Frank and his two brothers, Nick and Mike formed the successful Pisano Construction Company. Their only sister Minnie was a teacher of languages at Notre Dame High school. As a devout believer in taking an active part in community and

educational programs, Professor Pisano maintains a busy schedule participating in local and state organizations and events.

 

Nick DiNapoli, a prominent restaurateur and longtime member of the Tricarico Men's club, is a first-generation Italian-American who grew up on a local fruit ranch. His parents emigrated here from Tricarico in 1910. He remembers those bitter-sweet days picking fruit with his Papa and seven siblings, and the tedious job of cutting and preserving the "cots" and prunes before laying them out on flat wooden trays to dry.

 

"If we didn’t finish picking by dark, Papa would run the headlights on his tractor to give us light," recalls DiNapoli, "and, if it rained in the middle of the night, the whole family had to scramble out of bed to stack the trays in order to protect the fruit from damage. It was hard work for a kid, but we never questioned what our Mama and Papa requested of us, somehow we just instinctively knew that it was the right thing to do." Many of the valley’s children were kept out of school for the first couple of weeks in order to finish the picking of the prune crops.

 

"Family ties and friendship run deep in the Tricarico community," says DiNapoli, who recalls how his Mama would often say of her people, "We were like letters of the alphabet, alone we had little meaning, but together we were part of a great meaning." But Mama had another saying too. She was a little apprehensive about letting strangers into our tight-knit family circle and she often said, "You have to eat a ton of salt with someone before you really know them." 

 

Representing San Jose's younger generation of Tricarico ancestry is Dr. Christine (Cree) Guardino, who recently established her chiropractic office on Meridian Avenue. The young Doctor keeps in touch with her family roots by visiting the town of her ancestors. On a recent sojourn to Tricarico, Italy, she looked up her great, great uncle who is 95 years old and still living in the same house where he was born. He's a testament to the little town’s uncomplicated and unwavering lifestyle.

 

Today, Silicon Valley’s property values have skyrocketed. The land that our fathers bought for a few thousand dollars, is now valued in the millions.

 

Interstate 280, which opened in 1972 in the Meridian Avenue location created real estate opportunities but also broke up a way of life as ranchers subdivided lots and moved away. Curci Drive, located off meridian Avenue, was named for the Jim Curci family, early Tricarico immigrants, whose large cheery orchard once flourished on the acreage.

 

The heritage and traditions of the little village of Tricarico, who gave so many of its people to our valley, continues to endure in the Willow Glen community. Joe Antuzzi is the current president of the Tricarico Men's club, which originated in 1934. Chris Francisco is the President of "The Maria Di Fonti Ladies’ Club" which originated in 1945, and holds monthly meetings and social activities in Willow Glen. 

 

Chris Francisco, a 45-year member of the Ladies’ Club, boasts four generations of family participating in the Tricarico Men's Club.

 

"We've always been a close knit people,” Chris says of her family and friends, "attending the same social club together has a lot to do with that.”

 

"Too often, today's families sit down in front of a computer or TV set—no interaction," sighs Chris with chagrin. "They look into a screen when they should be looking into someone's eyes. Through the club, we've tried to give our sons, and our grandchildren, a little of the closeness and way of life we had as kids. Lots of family, lots of love."   

 

To these early settlers of the valley, whose family's made that long trek across the sea from their little village of Tricarico, the valley of the heart's delight was more than a mere slogan; it was a state of mind.

 

The Silicon Valley is known the world over now for its microchip production. But longtime valley residents look back fondly to a time when a "mouse" was something the cat dragged home, a "window" was for looking through, a "menu" was something we ordered from in a restaurant, a “disk” was pulled behind Papa's tractor and a "chip" was something a cow left behind.

 

Contact Cookie Curci at Cookiecurci@aol.com