Where Did I Come From?

I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for a bunch of Italian immigrants.

First there was the Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524. He was the first guy from Europe to make a map of the Atlantic coast of America, and to send a boat into New York Bay.

Imagine getting on a boat with no idea where you’re going, then being on that boat for years — just to draw a fucking map. That’s grit. This guy was a visionary.

About 300 years after Verrazzano, the Italians start coming over in hordes. In the 1870s, there were about 50,000 of them all coming from Italy to the United States. They were mostly coming from a pretty terrible situation: dead-end farmland and poverty due to corrupted governments and an oppressive tax system. Basically they were coming over with nothing.

What did they do when they got here? Everything. Well, first, they crammed themselves into substandard housing — no lights and no heat and no ventilation — and they started working like dogs. The men got involved in manual labor and public works, which, you would think, would be horrible. In some ways it was. They built sewers, subways, bridges, roads. The women worked in textiles and made clothes or just stayed home and took care of all the little Italian babies that were popping up. (That takes grit.) A lot of them actually started their own businesses.

You might know some of the businesses these Italians started.

  • Ghirardelli Chocolate Company
  • Bank of America (used to be called Bank of Italy)
  • Progresso
  • Planters Peanuts
  • Chef Boyardee
  • Italian Swiss Colony Wine
  • Jacuzzi

If none of those rings a bell, know that one of these Italians invented the ice cream cone. Surely you know that.

They built the Lincoln Memorial.

Washington’s Union Station.

All the art around the Washington National Cathedral.

They made the Met famous with Pavarotti and Enrico Caruso.

Nick LaRocca made the first jazz recording in 1917.

Charles Bonaparte founded the FBI.

And two Italian immigrants started selling fruit out of a cart in Queens. They were my grandparents.

Where do you come from? Why are you here? Are you here in your current situation because your ancestors relaxed and sat on the couch? My guess is that you are where you are because your ancestors worked their butts off trying to create you and provide for you. You are a product of grit — it’s in your blood. And if your my ancestors can come to America on a friggen’ boat with almost no money in their pockets and build the Lincoln Memorial…what can you do?

Or maybe they all worked for nothing.


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