San Jose , CA




Oral Histories








The town of San Jose was founded by Spaniards in 1777, and its official name in Alta California was El Pueblo de San Jose de Guadalupe. San Jose was the state capital from 1849-1851. ( Upon California’s statehood in 1850, the population of San Jose was 3,500, and in 2010, San Jose’s population was 1,006,892 making it the third largest city in the state. ( San Jose is located in Santa Clara County. Once known as the Valley of Heart’s Delight for its orchards and ranches, today San Jose is better known as Silicon Valley because of the centrality of the technology industry. Italians emigrated to San Jose during three main waves of immigration. The first wave dates from the Gold Rush to 1924 with the majority of Italians arriving between 1880-1920. The second wave occurred from the late 1930s-1965. The third wave dates from 1965-today. Italian immigrants to San Jose came from many Italian regions, but a majority of them arrived from cities, towns, and villages in southern Italy and Sicily such as Cosenza (Calabria), Foggia (Puglia), Napoli (Campania), Tagliacozzo (Abruzzo), Messina (Sicily), Termini Imerese (Palermo), There were two primary Italian neighborhoods in San Jose as its population grew in the early to mid twentieth century. The Goosetown neighborhood included Auzarias Ave., North 1st Street to Guadalupe Creek to Alma Ave. This neighborhood bordered Willow Glen (a gentrified neighborhood today) where many Italian Americans still reside. The second neighborhood was around North 13th Street and it included Holy Cross Church and Backesto Park. Many Italians also settled in growing areas including Alum Rock, Blossom Hill, the Meridian Ave. orchards and ranches. These neighborhoods initially were comprised of working and middle class families as well as other ethnic and immigrant groups including Mexican and Portuguese families.

Orchards, Farms and Cannery Work

One Italian immigrant who eventually made his home in San Jose was Mario Marchese who was born in 1878 in Palermo Sicily. He left home for New York in 1903 with other family members and settled in Italian Harlem where many other Southern Italian immigrants lived, primarily Sicilians. He took a job moving furniture, and in 1907 married one of his boss’s daughter, Domenica Pavia. Shortly after the birth of their first child, they took the train west to California in search of more opportunity. Mario and Domenica had ten children (one died at birth). They lived on Palm Street near Sacred Heart Church in the Italian neighborhood known as Goosetown. Mario initially worked as a prune picker who was eventually hired by Navelete’s Nursery to tend to the orchards. His nephews and brother Salvadore owned Marchese Liquor Store and a whiskey distillery plant in San Jose prior to the Depression. The family eventually moved to San Diego after the death of Domenica in 1926. Mario became a citizen in 1942 after his sons told him Benito Mussolini would force him to return to Italy and fight in the war unless he was a U.S. citizen.

Brothers Andrea and Stefano D’Arrigo were born in Messina, Sicily and emigrated to the U.S. in 1904 and 1911 respectfully. They eventually settled in Boston, went to college and fought for the U.S. in World War I. They started D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of Massachusetts in 1923. Stefano travelled to California in 1925 on a wine grape buying trip. He observed the fertile farmland in San Jose and soon after D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of California was launched and they were growing vegetables in San Jose. The broccoli seeds arrived from Italy and were planted over twenty-eight acres making them the first to introduce broccoli to the public under their brand Andy Boy, trademarked in 1927. They remain one of the largest fresh produce growers in the country, and the company is still family run. (

Canneries in the early twentieth century were in great demand due to the high number of ranches and orchards. The Bisceglia Brother’s Canning Company employed many Italian immigrant women, as well as other immigrant and non-immigrant women, and was located on South First Street close to the Goosetown neighborhood. The Greco Canning Company began in 1913 on Howard and Autumn Streets and closed its doors in 1938. San Jose Fruit Packing Company was founded in 1875 and in 1916 joined California Packing Corporation (CalPak). Plant #3 on Auzerais preferred female employees for seasonal work. They earned less pay then the men and worked less hours. In 1920, 50% of the cannery workers were foreign born, primarily from Italy and Portugal. The women worked on the assembly line peeling, cutting, pitting, and slicing by hand. By the 1930s and 1940s Italian American and Portuguese American women were promoted to supervisors or forewomen, better known to the employees as floor ladies. These women supervised thirty-five to forty-five women on the production line, and they typically supervised their own ethnic group. There were two head floor ladies: one for the canning department and one for the cutting department. (

Circa 1905 Frank Orlando and Carl Faraone, both in their early teens, left Sicily’s shore and sailed to America. During the same year Andonia Carpita and Frances Dana, both under the age of ten, left Sicily for America with their mothers. Years later, Frank Orlando and Frances Dana met in San Jose, married and settled down to raise their family of five on their ranch. Carl Faraone and his wife Andonia met some years later in the Midwest, married and started their family before settling in San Jose in 1930. The Faraones had fourteen children, five girls and nine boys. None of the girls graduated from high school, because they were only allowed to attend school if it did not interfere with their jobs. If prune season was late, they missed more than a month of school. They worked in the orchards and picked fruit and nuts seasonally, cut apricots, packed cherries and gave all of their pay to their father. In the summertime during prune season, the Faraone sisters left their cannery jobs to work in the orchards until dark. Frances and Palma Faraone worked in the cannery after a priest forged their baptismal certificates allowing them to work before the legal age of sixteen. They worked at CalPak #3 with Margaret Orlando whose mother Frances was their floor lady. Margaret was given a work permit even though she wasn’t sixteen years old. She never did piece work but did a variety of jobs in addition to work on the production line. She relieved the nurse and worked in the office that handed out tickets to the piece workers, some who were illiterate. The job she hated the most was working the switchboard. Her favorite job was inspecting the spinach for dirt on the receiving platform. She later took a job at Sears only to return to the cannery where the pay was higher than retail. During World War II, the cannery issued government packs for the service men. One box of food would be enough for two-four men. All of this work was done on the night shift. Margaret was fingerprinted for this job and went to work at 6pm and stayed until the following morning. The employees wore uniforms at the cannery until WWII; after which time uniforms were no longer required.

Italian Delis and Cafes

Lou Chiaramonte’s great grandfather Salvatore opened Chiaramonte’s Market in 1908. The Market/Deli is over 100 years old and is still known for its hot and mild sausage. Its location on N. 13th Street was home to many Italians, especially Sicilians, who settled in that neighborhood. Carlo Firato left his hometown of Penango Italy, in the region of Piedmont, at age sixteen to come to the United States. He first settled in Oakland before moving to San Jose in 1922. His delicatessen was located on East Santa Clara Street near the bank A.P. Giannini rebuilt in 1926, The Bank of Italy. ( The Deli was known for its raviolis and other delicacies. Firato’s Deli was in business from 1922-1977, and Torella Iacomini who emigrated from Italy in 1960 shopped at Firato’s every week because they sold Italian staples and treats. La Villa Delicatessen located on Lincoln Avenue in the heart of Willow Glen opened its doors in 1947. Ann and Frank Giacomelli owned and ran the business for twenty years before selling to Ed and Rita Palestro. Today Dave and Patty Bertucelli own the deli that is known especially for their raviolis. They sell about 1000 boxes of raviolis a week and the day or two before Christmas, they sell 1000 boxes a day.

Rocci Curci’s Pronto Pup Creamery was located down the street from La Villa in Willow Glen and was the place for teenagers to hang out in the 1950s. Curci purchased the Pup in 1951 and it featured the standard soda shop fare but with an Italian twist: Meadow Gold ice cream, cherry colas, Choclettos, Big Hunk candy bars, Panatela cigars, comics, burgers, fries and spaghetti. Cookie Curci, Rocci’s daughter, recalled a conversation with Pup regular Dave Falcone who loved bacon burgers, but they weren't on her dad’s menu. Rocci created a special bacon burger and named it after Dave, "The Falcon Burger" which soon became a popular menu item. The jukebox was in constant play with favorites by Fats Domino and the Platters.

Wilman Iacomini fondly recalls hanging out at the Napoli Café, where he met his brother-in-law Gabe Citrigno who was a bartender. For Italian Americans, this was the place to be. Iacomini said “We had a good time. We danced. We’d stay till around closing time around two o’clock. Then we’d go back to the kitchen where they cooked. We’d have spaghetti and stay till three or four o’clock in the morning.” The Café was owned by Carmen and Marietta Citrigno who emigrated from Calabria, Italy to San Jose in 1922 and lived in Willow Glen for the rest of their lives. The Café first opened in 1934 and was eventually located at 950 South 1st Street. The new restaurant site was built by DiMaggio Construction and was a combined coffee shop and restaurant. Marisa Citrigno Banister said people patronized her grandparent’s Café because of its great environment and exquisite Italian cuisine. The restaurant was sold in 1960.


San Jose natives, Italian Americans or not, shop at a number of Italian American markets including Joey Franco’s PW Markets, Zanotto’s Family Markets and Cosentinos. Joey Franco was born in Perlo, the Piemonte region of Italy in 1921. As a young boy he immigrated to the United States with his parents Luigi and Christina (Ferrero) Franco and his brothers and sisters. The family went through New York on the way to California to stay with relatives in the Almaden Valley. Young Joey picked fruit (prunes and apricots) in the valley until he was old enough to work in Franco Brother's markets, owned by his cousins Henry and Joe Franco, located in downtown San Jose. Joey married Florence Benzo in 1939 and opened his first store, PW Market on Jackson and Alum Rock Avenue, in 1943. His chain of PW Markets grew to seven stores. Joey Franco died in 2003, but PW Markets remains a family-run business.

Dominic and Isabelle Cosentino emigrated from Termini Imerese, province of Palermo, and initially settled in Ohio. In 1945 after World War II ended, they moved their family to San Jose where Dominic purchased ten acres of farmland. In 1955 the Cosentino’s Vegetable Haven sold fruit and produce, and soon after the first of three Cosentino Markets opened. Sons Phil, Sal, Marino and Dominic were involved in the family business. Phil Cosentino still maintains two acres that produces 100 varieties of fruit at J&P Farms: “The Last Working Orchard in Santa Clara County.”

Amadeo Peter (A.P.) Giannini

Luigi Giannini and his wife Virginia Demartini Giannini left Genoa and moved to San Jose in 1869. One year later, their son A.P. was born on a small farm. Sadly, a young A.P. witnessed his father’s murder in 1877, and his mother remarried, Lorenzo Scatena, a Teamster. The growing family moved to San Francisco when A.P. was twelve years old. As a young man in the fruit and vegetable business, A.P. loved to share stories and he never forgot a name. He married Clorinda Cuneo in 1892, and they started their family in 1894. His father-in-law Joseph Cuneo was a bank director and stockholder. A.P. began his banking career via his father-in-law. His goal was to create a bank for “the little fellow” and Italian immigrants. With an original investment of $150,000, the Bank of Italy opened in 1904. The first branch outside of San Francisco was in San Jose in 1909. Giannini opened additional branches in cities with large Italian populations including Stockton, Oakland, Fresno, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles. In 1928 he merged with Bank of America Los Angeles, and in 1929, the bank was renamed Bank of America. (Dana) Giannini started the Foundation of Agricultural Economics at the University of California in 1930 and the A.P. Giannini Foundation to support innovative Medical Fellowships in California in 1945. Giannini died in 1949.

The Church

Two San Jose churches were known as Italian churches: Holy Family (San Fernando and River Streets) founded in 1905 and Holy Cross (East Jackson Street) founded in 1911. A third church, Sacred Heart (Willow Street) was located in an Italian neighborhood. Construction of Chiesa Italiana della Sacra Famiglia (Holy Family Church) began in 1905 and was designed by architect Alberto Porta as a smaller replica of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Fr. Filippo Magnacco, SJ (Society of Jesuits) developed the church to minister to Italians in the area. The church was dedicated on October 6, 1907 and Fr. Joseph Cataldo, SJ, was the first pastor. When Fr. Aloysius J. Roccati, SJ became pastor in 1927, the gorgeous stained glass windows were added and he founded the Italian Catholic Federation. Fr. Harold DeLucchi was assigned to the Church in 1940. Mario and Elena Iacomini, emigrated from Tagliacozzo and eventually settled in San Jose and both worked at Holy Family. Mario cooked for the priests from 1965-1970. By the 1960s the Church property was condemned due to a redevelopment project. The last mass was said in 1969 and then the Church moved to Pearl Avenue. (

Patron Saint Celebrations

Two San Jose families, the Iacominis and the Salciccias, celebrate the Madonna Dell’Oriente, each year with a picnic on the second Sunday of September as they have since since 1960. The patriarchs of each family were from Tagliacozzo, in the Abruzzo Province, and each one emigrated to Yonkers, New York and finally settled in San Jose. In their home town of Tagliacozzo, they celebrated for a week each September, then walked in a procession to the Church on the Hill. During the Holy Wars, when religious paintings were burned in Turkey, a painting of Mary and the infant Jesus, survived and was carried by a soldier named Giacomo to a church in Cappadoccia (Abruzzo). The painting later disappeared and was found in a tree in Tagliacozzo. A church was built where the tree once stood. People prayed to the Madonna at the Church especially during times of distress, and their prayers were answered. The tradition continues in California, albeit, with a few changes. The picnic is held at a park complete with a portrait of the Madonna and a mass said in Italian. After mass, the families feast on BBQ and pasta. Multiple generations play soccer, and there are games for the children. (Amico) A raffle is held and monetary collections are taken. The proceeds go to the Church of the Madonna in Tagliacozzo and in past years to earthquake victims of L’Aquila (2009) and Hurricane Katrina relief charities (2005).

La Festa di San Giuseppe—A St. Joseph’s Table and Altar are set up in homes and organizations around the country on March 19 to honor St. Joseph, the patron saint of Sicily. During a terrible famine, Sicilians ate fava beans in order to survive. They prayed to their saint for relief but were grateful for the favas “lucky beans.” When their prayers were answered and the famine ended, farmers honored St. Joseph by creating an altar with their most valuable possessions, the food they harvested. At the Italian American Heritage Foundation (IAHF), a celebration is held every March 19 complete with a St. Joseph’s Altar, mass, and a feast for three hundred people. The Altar which contains no meat because the celebration always occurs during lent, features elaborate breads in the shape of lambs, crosses, fish, and doves, decorated cakes, pastries and cookies, oranges, lemons, flowers, palm leaves, wine, whole fish (represents the apostles), bread crumbs (the sawdust of St. Joseph), angels, and of course fava beans. Since 2002, Pietrina Di Piazza adorns the Altar with her flower arrangements. Her father, Salvatore Marino, emigrated from San Vito lo Capo, the Province of Trapani, Sicily and brought with him several wood angels which are also placed on the Altar. The Mass for the 2010 celebration was said by Monsignor Joseph Milani who reminded the audience that St. Joseph is the patron of a happy death, Italy, the diocese of San Jose and its church. Milani’s first parish in San Jose was Sacred Heart. At the time, the Bishop told him he needed someone who spoke Italian for that parish. Milani, who was from Milan, obliged as he spoke the language. He soon realized the overwhelming majority of his parishioners were Sicilian and didn’t’ understand one word of his Italian dialect. Today the people who celebrate the feast at the IAHF Hall eat their meal for free, and donations are collected and distributed to local charities. The Italian American Heritage Foundation remains a gathering place for Italian Americans in the San Jose area and it “is the largest and oldest Italian Cultural Center on the West Coast.” (

Dr. Teri Ann Bengiveno