Submitted by: Jennifer Ferris
Ancestor / Family Name: Carolina Caldari
Ancestral Town: Afragola, NA, CAM
My great-grandmother Carolina Caldari came from Afragola Italy, when she was 12 years old. Carolina attended embroidery school and became a seamstress. Her father distributed grain, corn and flour to different towns. They were about middle class.
Below is interview I did for her for a school project at Floral Park School when I was in 8th grade in 1991.
JF: Why did you leave Italy?
CC: I left Italy to come to America for opportunity such as jobs and more freedom.
JF: How did you get to the U.S.?
CC: I came to the U.S. by boat.
JF: Did your whole family come together?
CC: No. My father was already here since 1914. Some sisters were already here, too with their father.
JF: Did you travel comfortable?
CC: No, it was uncomfortable. The trip took 20 days to get to the U.S. Halfway through the trip, a German sub shot at the boat. All the passengers had to go down to the bottom, turn all the lights off, and shut the portholes. (It was during WW I).
JF: Did you stop anywhere else along the way?
CC: No, we went straight to the U.S. from Italy.
JF: Where did you land?
CC: We landed in New York City?
JF: Did you go through Ellis Island?
CC: Yes, we did.
JF: What happened to you there?
CC: I cam to Ellis Island in 1915. My father came to pick up my Mom, my seven sisters siblings and me. A man told my father that we weren’t on this ship because the people spelled my last name wrong. The man asked my father to describe us. He did and the man realized thee was a spelling error. We got inspected for disease and passed. I happened to notice a lot of Turks, Arabs and Moslims.
JF: Have you changed your tradition since you came to the U.S.?
CC: No. We didn’t do very traditional things in Italy. We still celebrate Christmas and Easter the same with the family and all. We dress basically the same, “a dress is a dress” We eat the same foods…Italian.
JF: Did you know anyone in the U.S.?
CC: I knew my father and sisters who were here. I was a stranger to everyone else.
JF: Did you have a place to live right away? If not, how did you find one?
CC: Yes, I had a place to live. My sister Carmela rented my parents and sisters four rooms. My mother soon realized that they had to find another place to live because there was not enough room. My mother finally had to lie about the number of kids, because nobody would accept 7 children and 2 parents. She couldn’t take all the landlords complaining about the children, even though they were good, so she went to the bank and asked for a loan. She eventually got it and bought a house in Bedford Sty, Brooklyn. There were mostly Italians living there and it was very safe. The stores they had there had a lot of Italian things.
JF: What kind of job did you or your parents have?
Cc; I went to work for the Army to make raincoats for the soldiers when I was 14 years old. When my sister left, I took her place. I didn’t know hoe to operate the machines at first but was taught and did everything perfect. I got paid $8-10 per week when my sisters only made 44 A WEEK. My father worked in the tomato canning factory. Then when I got older, I worked in Knox Hats factory and made very expensive hats. They ranged from about $40 – 50 a hat. I did this before I was married. I also helped make diapers for babies, and plain house dresses. Since I made so much, I was allowed to keep some, which I gave away. I showed people how to crochet and sew embroidery work. Won a contest – 1st prize – making a doll.
JF: Did you go to school here?
Cc: When I came to the U.S. I did not know how to read or write. I learned how to read, write and speak English when I went to school for 22 months. I really didn’t “complete” any level of schooling, just learned to be literate.
JF: What customs did you have to give up, if any?
CC: I didn’t have to give up any customs. We celebrate holidays regularly with the family.
JF: What new things did you learn to do?
CC: I learned how to go to work to earn money, speak, write and read English, and live like an American.
JF: How did you learn how to speak English?
CC: I pretty much taught myself with the help of the 22 months of school.
JF: Did you become an American citizen?
CC: Yes, in 1942. My father was an American citizen, so legally, since I was only 15, I was a citizen under him. Then I turned 16, and I wasn’t a citizen under him anymore. I wanted to be a citizen, so I studied for the test. I got very sick and was in the hospital the day of the test. I was allowed an extension and I passed the test.
As of this date, my great-grandmother lives in Valley Stream. She moved to be in a quieted, safer area. Bedford is now more dangerous than it used to be. She is now retired and a homemaker. Carolina is 88 years old and widowed with four children. She lives with her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter. Carolina Caldare has no plans of going back to the old Country. She has made the U.S. her home now. She only has distant relatives – 5th/6th cousins – living in Italy.