One of the most distinct parts of Italian culture is the supremacy of family. The family one is born into, the extended family of aunts, uncles, cousins, multiple generations including grandparents and sometimes great-grandparents – and their siblings and cousins – made for a welcoming and secure environment in which everyone had a place. The deeply-held ideals of family crossed the Atlantic with Italian immigrants and became a bonding force in their lives in the new country. Italian families put the needs of the family ahead of the needs of any one individual member – a value system at odds with the American ideals of personal gain and “looking out for number one.”
The decision to emigrate was a family affair, and it could take quite a while for the entire family to save up enough money to send its first member overseas. Sometimes the father would come alone, to see if the opportunities were really plentiful, before sending for his wife and family. Often the eldest son immigrated first then sent for the next oldest, until the whole family was in America. From 1900 to 1910, almost 95% of the immigrants arriving at Ellis Island were joining family or friends.
Italians stuck together. Most Italian immigrants settled near family members, or at least people they had known in their hometown. Whole neighborhoods developed here in which everyone had roots in the same village in Italy.
Sisters Liboria and Maria Paglino in 1913. Liboria came to America in 1912 and married Antonio Gucciardi that same year. They started their family in Detroit, Michigan.
They moved their family to Auburn in the early 1930’s to be close to Liboria’s sister Maria (Mary) Coraci. When the Gucciardi’s moved again to Brooklyn, their 14-year-old son Jasper decided to stay in Auburn with his aunt and uncle, Mary and Vito Coraci.
Salvatore Leonardi, left, and his older brother Elvedio, came to America through Philadelphia in 1921. They had been orphaned in Italy and had gone to live with an older sister. She was struggling to support them, so she wrote to their older brother, Ezio, in America. Ezio and older sister Rosaria had emigrated years before, so the two younger boys did not even remember them.
Ezio sponsored the boys and took them into his home. Living with strangers was not as daunting to the younger brothers because they knew they were going to family.
Italians clustered in neighborhoods in the West and Northwest sections of Auburn, primarily in Ward 8 and Ward 4.
Almost two-thirds of the Italians, primarily siciliani and calabresi, lived in Ward 8, where Columbus Street was located. Here they could walk to the factories where most of the men worked, and shop for all of their needs without traveling to downtown Auburn. New York Central and Lehigh Valley Railroad crossings divided the street. Some marchegiani also lived on Wright Avenue in Ward 8.