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Anna Aleski, Antony Catalano, Gilda Cetrullo, Frank Di Sipio, Armand DiStefano, Michael Giovanelli, David Kaplan, & Mildred Keyser

All eight immigrants’ lives took unique and interesting paths upon their arrival to America in the late 19th and early 20th century.  While many issues, problems and hardships arose for them, a common thread between all ethnic groups was handling assimilation and retaining ethnic identity.  For any immigrant there were tensions of staying true to one’s ethnic identity and keeping their culture alive while also adapting to the American way of life.  As new immigrants in a foreign land, they had to quickly learn which boundaries to cross -- both physical and intellectual.

Anna Aleski was born in 1902 in Poland. She moved to Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania to live with her brothers, who sent her to night school in order to learn English. In the video, Anna talks about Americans making fun of Europeans for not being able to speak English. Even when she went to school to learn English, she was made fun of and called a greenie because she was Polish. Anna was shocked by the treatment she received because in Poland no one would be ridiculed for not speaking Polish correctly. Anna moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to look for a job and at the age of fourteen, was hired as a housekeeper. Anna lived frugally all her life. She eventually settled with her husband, Peter, in Port Richmond Philadelphia, a predominantly Polish-American neighborhood. They lived frugally with their eight children, but Anna was fine with this because of the support of other immigrant members of the Port Richmond community.

Antony Catalano was born in South Philadelphia on June 28th in 1910. His parents, Angelo and Catherine Catalano migrated to Philadelphia from Italy the year he was born. Angelo worked at the John B. Stetson Company as a hat maker. Catalano followed in his father’s footsteps working as a hat maker at both John B. Stetson and Stylepark. Antony felt blessed that his parents made the choice to move from Italy to the United States. He loved this country so much and was proud to be an American.

Gilda Cetrullo was born in Abruzzi, Italy.  In 1923, at the age of 20, she came to the United States after waiting many years to follow the rest of her family. In the video, Cetrullo discusses how she disliked Philadelphia immediately upon arrival due to the dirty, trash littered streets. A determined woman, Cetrullo found a job in a dressmaking shop so she could save enough money to return to Italy.  Although Cetrullo lived in New York and New Jersey for periods of her life due to her husband's work, she always returned to Philadelphia in order to be with her family. Later in her life, she would return to Italy to see friends and family four more times. Initially, when Cetrullo arrived to Philadelphia, she was determined to find a job so she could return to her homeland as she had no intention of staying in the United States. However, she eventually settled and assimilated to the American culture, due in large part to having married her boyfriend who also immigrated to American and raising three children.

Frank Di Sipio was born in 1904 and lived in South Philadelphia his entire life. He attended night school and learned to be an electrician, then later worked as a plumber. Di Sipio lived with his parents and eight siblings in a trinity house, often sleeping three to a bed.  Di Sipio tells several stories about bootlegging and wine making during the Prohibition Era.  In the early 1980s Di Sipio, along with Michael Giovanelli, gave back to Philadelphia through volunteer work at St. Monica’s Parish.

Armand DiStefano, born in 1912, was the son of Italian immigrants, John (1907) and Rose, who grew up in a small row house in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There his father instilled in him the value of working hard and a love of opera music. In this video, DiStefano shares the story of how his father opened a record stop in 1917 that was successful for a while. When the Great Depression came, rather than closing its doors, his father converted it to a restaurant where diners continued to hear the sounds of Italian opera music. DiStefano’s family was able to retain their ethnic culture through the family owned record shop that catered mainly to the Italian clientele; than later through the restaurant, Victor Cafe, that featured many Italian opera singers.

Michael Giovanelli was born in 1900 and immigrated from Italy to the United States in 1913. He went to school in Boston before moving to Philadelphia in 1918, where he worked at Hog Island Shipyard, and Baldwin Locomotive Works before retiring from a long career at General Electric. Giovanelli lived in a “box house”, a trinity style row house with one room per floor. In the early 1980s Giovanelli, along with Frank Di Sipio, gave back to Philadelphia through volunteer work at St. Monica’s Parish.

David Kaplan was born in 1889 in Russia to a Jewish family. He worked at as a tutor to children in their homes until 1911 when he crossed the Russian border into Germany. From Germany he took the passenger liner, Graf Waldersee, to the city of Philadelphia. David Kaplan’s first job in Philadelphia was sweeping the floors of factories, but he eventually moved on to working in various shops in the the textile and clothing business making pant pockets and suspenders. Kaplan was disappointed in the work in America. Based on what his relatives were telling him in the letters they had been sending, he believed that the pride he would take in his work in America would be better than what he experienced in Russia, but this was not the case. Eventually in 1935, Kaplan opened his own food stand, which he ran until 1945. Kaplan struggled to fit in the American culture at first as he did not have any American-born friends when he first arrived. He quickly realized that to become an American he needed to mimic Americans. He also immersed himself into popular American culture. Kaplan soon became annoyed by Jews who did not want to give up their old ways and become American.

Mildred Keyser was an Italian immigrant who migrated to Philadelphia in the early twentieth century. Keyser was the oldest of her siblings and worked in the garment industry with her mother sewing coats. Keyser comes from a very strict Italian family that tried their best to retain their culture and identity as much as possible while living in Philadelphia. They weren’t allowed to date anyone out of their race or even hang out with friends after school. Therefore, this caused Keyser to not only refute her identity as an Italian women but abandon it as well. Keyser married the son of a Philadelphia politician that lived only a few houses away. She wanted to get away from the Italian culture as much as possible, so marrying an Irish man did just that. Keyser is a prime example of an immigrant who completely abandoned their own culture when immigrating to America, she fully embraced a new identity--an americanized Identity.

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