HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) – The Italian American Stars on Franklin Avenue is just one of the Italian social clubs you’ll find around Hartford. One of many.
“Sure, we have about 80 clubs in the greater Hartford area,” according to florist John Tornatore.
In any one of those clubs, you will hear the stories of how tough immigrants had it when they first came to America. Frank Panioto went to school all day and had a full time job.
“I had to do it because I was by myself here, me and my brother,” Panioto said. “My parents were still in Italy. We had rent to pay, gas, utilities.”
That was when he was just 17 years old. Many of those who came here were from the Sicilian town of Floridia. There is a monument along Franklin Avenue declaring it Hartford’s sister city. Salvatore Sutera said Floridia was beautiful when he lived there.
“But my father was a shoemaker, and at that time, the business wasn’t going too well, so the family decided to come to America,” Sutera said. “I started from being a pizza maker or working in a factory, now I work for a financial company, banking and stuff.”
Biagio “Billy” Ciotto spent years making laws, and stuff, as a state senator, but his mother started out making clothes.More Italian in Connecticut:
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“My mother worked in a dress shop,”Ciotto remembered. “Which in those days, was a sweat shop. 12-14 hours a day. 20 minutes for lunch, God forbid if she had to go to the bathroom.”
The Hartford we know today was literally built by those kind of hard working Italian immigrants, especially those in the building trades.
“You give them some brick and stone and cement and they’ll build you a palace,” Ciotto said.
“Most every brick that is standing in a building in Hartford was laid by an Italian American,” according to Tornatore. “From the late 1800s to the present, we bult it.”
They also built many of those 80 social clubs. The one called the Italian American Stars is all about soccer.
“In this place usually on Sunday you can see so many people they want to watch the soccer,” according to member Tito Tata. “Many important thing is the soccer.”
The clubs were so valuable to new immigrants, but their children and grandchildren have less and less interest in coming to a club for espresso and a newspaper.
“When somebody die, there’s one less,” said Tata. “Because, from Italy, nobody else come down anymore like we used to.”
This south end neighborhood along Franklin Avenue used to have a lot more Italians, too.
“Maybe more Italians have moved to Wethersfield or Rocky Hill,” Tornatore said. “But even out there, they’re still very tight and connected to their roots.”
Times have changed, and so has the face of the neighborhood, but some things remain the same.
“We still get some good food here, we still get some good people here,” Panioto sums up. “Whether they’re Italian or not.”
Even as things change, all the great building of Hartford still stand as a testament to the hard work of all those Italian Americans who helped create them.