By Jo Cicale, as told to Jeremiah Horrigan
Guissepina Amico, my Mama Pina [my grandmother], left Palermo, Sicily with her husband Angelo and daughter Theresa to begin the journey to America, where she planned to reunite with her parents and 14 siblings, my great-aunts and great-uncles.
Sickness aboard their ship landed them in Tunisia for an indeterminate time because of an impending war. Mama Pina would bear three more children before her husband Angelo was called to serve Italy in World War I.
They got stranded in northern Africa. Her family in Marseilles convinced her to wait out the war there. She would then learn that my grandfather was reported missing in action. My grandmother’s parents and siblings urged her to move forward and come to America with her four children.
Guissepina arrived here some time in 1920. A couple years later, my grandfather showed up, knocking on the door of her Lower East Side tenement. Family legend has it that she fainted at the sight of him. Their joyful reuniting led to the birth of their youngest child, Yolanda.
Years later, war would once again touch our family. Yolanda married the young and handsome Pat just before he left for WWII. My grandmother moved in with Yolanda to help care for her, as she was pregnant. She delivered a baby girl named Patricia for her dad. Letters were sent. They crossed with the dreaded telegram that Pat was killed in France.
Simultaneously, Yolanda’s much older sister Theresa received word that her only son John had been taken prisoner of war.
For my grandmother, it was a reliving of the past, remembering my grandfather’s fate in World War I. Fortunately, Theresa’s son John was released. But they couldn’t overcome the loss of Yolanda’s young husband.
Yolanda remarried a wonderful man and had four more children.
The 15 Amico siblings left a wonderful legacy of children who to this day remain close. We try to reunite at an Amico cousins’ reunion bravely hosted by two of the cousins rooted in south Jersey, where many of our ancestors moved from those Lower East Side tenements. The farms of south Jersey and the fresh air and burgeoning clothing factories all spoke to their Sicilian roots.
In the end, they persevered, as millions of American immigrants ultimately do.
Jo Cicale is a Saugerties resident and retired writer who grew up on New York’s Lower East Side.
If this story has touched you or stirred memories of your own family’s struggles to come to America that you’d like to share, contact Jeremiah Horrigan (firstname.lastname@example.org) with a brief summary of your story and contact information. He’ll get back to you.