Submitted by: Marisa Frasca
Ancestor / Family Name: The Frasca Family
Ancestral Town: Vittoria, RG, SIC
When the transatlantic ship docked in New York Harbor, June 2nd 1961, Raffaela and Salvatore Frasca had plenty of ideas about the future. They predicted I would learn to speak English like a native because at ten-years-old my tongue was still loose.“ Don’t worry, you’ll make a flock of friends,” they said. They reminded my brother, Aldo, that he would be celebrating his eighteenth birthday in a country full of possibilities.
We had left our town, Vittoria, fiercely praying that one day we might again embrace our extended family and friends. Our souls had revealed themselves on the five-hour train ride from Vittoria to Palermo. Aldo wondered out loud: Would we remember the air, the sky above the Ragusani fields, the plums and pomegranates, and the birdcall that woke us in the morning when we stayed at my Godmother’s farm? Then we mused about American Rock and Roll. And what would falling snow feel like on our faces?Our parents didn’t say much. They looked at each other and they looked out the window at the Sicilian landscape laden with fruit trees whizzing by. We would see only water for the rest of our journey.
In Palermo we took an overnight ferry to Naples. At the Port of Naples we boarded the ship named Christopher Columbus. The ship’s horn blew, announced departure for the eight-day voyage, or maybe thanked the port for its hospitality. To me it signaled my final goodbye to Italy. That sound was the deepest lament I had ever heard. That sound of parting and loss would live inside my body a long time.
Our trunks held my father’s photographic equipment, my mother’s sewing machine and her ceramic containers for preserving jam. I don’t remember how long it took to get through US Customs. Nor do I know the means of transportation that delivered us to a Brooklyn apartment, but 367 Central Avenue is etched in my mind. Four railroad rooms on the ground floor with a bathtub in the kitchen. We helped my father set up his cameras and tripods in the front room. Within a few weeks we had a new Frasca Studio.
What awaited us in the new world? My father died a year after our arrival. My mother found work in a sweatshop that paid three cents for each pocket she sewed on ladies’ coats—three cents apiece, three cents a pocket. At night she sat at our kitchen table and did the math. So much for the rent, and so much for the fee paid on installment to Wyckoff Hospital for a dead man’s three-day stay. The old ship horn resounded in my ears like a ferocious bovine. Those early years were harsh and full of pain, but my mother’s hands sustained us. “We’re staying because women work for wages in America, and because we need to dream,” she would often say—in a voice that had a hint of bitter and a hint of sweet.