NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – Everyone knows in New Haven, you come to Wooster Street to find everything Italian. But where did those Italians come from? Author Anthony Riccio knows. He literally wrote the book about Italian Americans in New Haven.
“You had people from Piedmonte, which was the northern part,” Riccio said. “You had people from Lombardy, you had people from Sicily. Name the province, they were here.”
He says the huge hardware maker Sargent sent recruiters over to Italy.
“And actually combed the south,” said Riccio. “They went out and recruited people to come here to work in the factory. In fact there was a saying that they had: ‘The boat stops at Sargent’s.'”
Sargent had its own pier in New Haven harbor. Thousands stepped off the boat and onto that pier. Among them, the grandfather of New Haven Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro. Her grandparents also ran a pastry shop.
“My grandfather would bake the pastry at night,” DeLauro remembered. “My grandmother sold it during the day and he worked at Sargent’s.”
Then her mother became one of thousands of women who worked in sweatshops, sewing clothes.
“We tend to romanticize the immigrant experience in the United States,” said DeLauro, “but people came with very little money, they were discriminated against.”
In researching his book, Riccio heard a first-hand account of one example of discrimination: “In 1926, in St. Rose Church, Father Fitzmorris got up in the pulpit and said, ‘You Italians don’t belong here. If you want to attend mass, you’ll have to go in the basement.'”More Italian in Connecticut:
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Nevertheless, Italians kept coming, and became the dominant ethnic group in New Haven, literally leaving their mark. For example. Italian workers built a lot of Yale buildings.
Riccio works at Yale’s Sterling library, where a 1999 renovation uncovered a signature hidden near the ceiling of reading room. Francis Coiro was the name. He came from Italy in the 1920s. Anthony knew he had a shop in New Haven where Coiro made sets for big shows in New York.
“And he was a master craftsman,” said Riccio, “who not only did decorative work, but also did all the gold leafing work at the library.”
Coiro’s shop may be gone, but many long-time Italian businesses like Ferraro’s Market are still here.
“[It’s] always been known for meats,” according to General Manager Al Lauro. “Going back to when Mr. Ferraro started Mohawk Market on State Street in 1953, I think that was.”
From State Street, it moved to its current home on Grand Avenue. When the new location opened, Mr. Ferraro himself cut not a ribbon, but a sausage.
In another part of New Haven, Discover Columbus Auto Body has now employed four generations of the DiLauro family since Vin’s grandfather came to New Haven.
“He ended up working at G&O manufacturing, which did radiators,” explains owner Vin DiLauro. “So he learned that part of it, and he opened up the body shop along with a radiator business.”
That was 1928. Since then, the business has grown, and now Vin is literally living his lifelong dream.
“I have, you know, my class book in high school,” DiLauro remembered. “It said, ‘What’s your future?’ ‘I want to run my father’s business.'”
Now his daughter runs the towing part of the business, and is poised to take over everything when Vin decides to retire.