Newspaper Archive of
Boston, Massachusetts
May 31, 2013     Post-Gazette
PAGE 13     (13 of 16 available)        PREVIOUS     NEXT      Full Size Image
PAGE 13     (13 of 16 available)        PREVIOUS     NEXT      Full Size Image
May 31, 2013

Newspaper Archive of Post-Gazette produced by SmallTownPapers, Inc.
Website © 2018. All content copyrighted. Copyright Information.     Terms Of Use.     Request Content Removal.

POST-GAZETTE, MAY 31,2013 Page13 N"anna by John Christoforo q3abb onno A Nostalgic Remembrance Socially Scene (Continued from Page 9) The New Mericana Nanna one day said to the family, "Voglio diventare una cittadina Americana." (I want to become an Ameri- can citizen.) Babbononno had applied for and received his citizenship years earlier, but Nanna, now with an Ameri- can husband and grown American children, wanted to be an American. She and Babbononno discussed her wishes and then brought the conversation to my mother and uncles. There was only one problem, Nanna had never been to school and couldn't read nor write either in Italian or English. This was a common prob- lem among that first genera- tion of Italian immigrants. I hate statistics, but they do indicate that over 90% of that first generation coming here from southern Italy had the same problem. Babbononno was lucky. He went through the first 6 grades. Most of his late 19th century contempo- raries weren't as lucky; they signed their name with an X. If Nanna was to become a citizen, she would have to learn how to read and write in English and take an exam at a government building and if she passed, would take an oath of allegiance. She then would be issued papers stating she was an Ameri- can. Attempting to learn how to write English was a long tedious process. The only time she had to herself was at night after the chores of the day were in the past and the family was in bed. By then, she was tired and things didn't work out too well. Exasperated, she asked Babbononno to obtain the booklet necessary to study for American citizenship. Curious about the situation, Babbononno asked how she was going to read the book- let. She explained that she wasn't going to read it. He was going to read it to her and he and the kids would give her the correct an- swers. She knew that the only writing she would have to do would be to sign her name and she asked the whole family to teach her how to write Giovannina (Jenny) Contini on the docu- ment that would declare her an American. Nightly, from that point on, my grandfather, mother and uncles would coach Nanna reading the contents of the pamphlet to her. Babbo- nonno, who knew American history rather well, told her stories about the Pilgrims, Puritans and colonials and the revolution that happened in the late 1700s. He ex- plained the reasons for that war and the next one, the Civil War, and then the Spanish American war in 1898. She next listened to the stories about the expan- sion west and the taming of America. Each night, she listened to a different story from the family on some aspect of American life and memorized every thing she heard. Once the family was in bed, she would practice writing her name. This routine continued for quite a long period of time. Then, on a given day, she declared to the family that she was ready to try to become a 'Mericana." One of my uncles picked up the application to be filled out. She was asked the ques- tions contained within, but Babbononno did the writing. When it was complete, she took out a piece of paper, practiced signing her name, and when she thought it was the way it should look, she signed the application. Finally, Nanna received a notice that her application had been accepted and she would have to report to either the state house or a federal building in Scollay Square, I'm not sure at this point. She painstakingly dressed for the occasion that morn- ing, making sure she looked like a proper Bostonian. Bab- bononno even shined her shoes and her pocketbook to help her out. With the seams of her stockings perfectly straight, her hat adjusted just right on her head and her white gloves covering her hands, she and the fam- ily headed out to watch Nanna become an Ameri- can. Once inside the build- ing, they searched for the office that Nanna had to enter to be examined. Once inside, she was not alone. There were dozens of people who were there for the same reason. She heard Italian spoken between some of the applicants and Yiddish com- ing from several others. She didn't understand Yiddish, but did know some of the words as she did her shop- ping in stores that were Jewish owned and operated. She looked around and saw people that were tall and blond, people who were -- FOR YOU WHO APPRECIATE THE FINEST -- THE MUSIC FOR ALL OCCASIONS 781-648-5678 black, brown and some that were Asian. She became a bit overwhelmed but was assured by her family that they all were there for the same reason, to become Americans. When it was her turn, the interviewer began asking her questions. She held her own answering them. When the man asked her, "What flies over the state house," she answered, "Birds." The man looked up at her as if to tell her she was wrong, but just then someone going through the same question- ing nearby faked a sneeze and added the word "bandera" to the sounds. Nanna took the hint and said, "No, eyema meana the Americana flag." The man nodded in the af- firmative and continued with the questioning until he fi- nally said, "OK Mrs. Contini, you've passed the test, now please sign your name here on the dotted line." Nanna picked up the pen in front of her, dipped it into the ink bottle aside of it and squeezed the pen so hard, her fingers turned white. This was the point of no return. She put the pen point on the line indicated and wrote out in 'cursive, Giovannina Contini. After waiting for all the oth- ers who passed the exam, Nanna and the others took the oath of allegiance and were sworn in as new American citizens ... she had passed through the whole process and could now say, "I am an American citi- zen." Instead of going home, Babbononno decided it was time to celebrate and the family headed for the North End and a restaurant where they could have lunch and toast Nanna. On the way back to East Boston, my grandmother said little, but had the look of contentment and accom- plishment on her face. I think the psychologists would call it self-satisfaction. She had proven to herself, that in spite of her handicap with the English language or should I say, "With the written word," she had suc- ceeded and her dream had come true. That night, after every- one had gone to bed, Nanna took out a bottle of polish and a clean dry cloth and then headed for the liv- ing room. On a shelf was a prized possession that was the first thing she bought in America, the Statue of Lib- erty. She shined it until it was perfect. It now had new meaning for her. GOD BLESS AMERICA The Penny Jive m a tale of murder and mystery will hit the stage in Cambridge on June 3rd. (Photo courtsey of American Repertory Theater.corn) days of nonstop "rock your socks off" Celtic music, dance, food and entertain- ment at the largest Irish fes- tival on the East Coast. Get going and attend a Kick off Concert with Eileen Ivers. Other events include; Bos- ton Irish Festival FEIS, 5K Road Race, World Record Redhead Photo, Tug of War Competition, Kids Village, Irish Shopping, GAA Games, Darts Competition and much more! Special guest, Atlantic Steps -- Live Show will take place on Sunday, June 9m at 2:00 pro. Atlantic Steps is the inspiring epic story of Ireland's sean-n6s (old style) dance, portrayed through the vibrant music, song, and dance of the West of Ireland. Centered around the joyful dancing and unbridled en- ergy of extraordinary Irish dancer Brian Cunningham, the show is moving festival and theater audiences to their feet, bringing sean-n6s dance to its rightful place on the world stage. Rain or shine the fun will run: Friday: 6:00-11:00 pm, Saturday: 11:00 am-ll:00 pm (Feis begins at 8:30 am) and Sunday: 11:00 am-6:00 pm (5k run begins at 9:00 am). For more information on entertainment you can visit Working in collaboration with Irish organizations and the Irish government -- as well as with the region's educational, arts, and cul- tural institutions -- the ICCNE is poised to expand current programming and to actively support Irish cul- tural activities throughout New England. They have made it a priority to cel- ebrate this heritage with events and activities that bring the culture to life, con- necting people of all ages and making the ICCNE one of the region's most active cultural institutions. June 7th-9th the Irish will celebrate and entertain with their three day festival. There is something for ev- eryone, it is a family fun event not to be missed. The Irish Cultural Centre of New England is located at 200 New Boston Drive in Canton. You can 781-821-8291for in- formation on tickets or visit for up- coming events or to get involved. A Tasty Treat to Compli- ment Your Time in the City .... La Summa Cucina Italiana is a local fan favor- ite in the North End of Bos- ton with their fine cuisine from Sicily and various regions in Italy. So many restaurants today lack tra- dition but this heartwarm- ing letter on the website makes you feel right at home. "From the time I can remember, while I was growing up in this Italian neighborhood, the North End of Boston, my grandmother, Crocefissa Barbara Summa, was a great influence in my life. It was at her dinner table that I learned of f/lend- ship and love and by her side I discovered the art of Ital- ian cooking. I learned it all begins with the best ingredients to bring out the simplicity of flavors of Sicilian cuisine as well as the many various regions throughout Italy. So, in 1983, when I opened my restaurant, it was a natural and loving choice to name it after my grandmother. At that time she was still with us and enjoyed coming here to help and converse with our guests. She would sit with pride in the small dining room and assist with minor chores while making sure our guests were prop- erly served." This hospital- ity and delicious dishes can be found at La Summa located at 30 Fleet Street, North End, Boston. You can call 617-523-9503 for reservations or log on to for more on their menu. JUSTINE YANDLE PHOTOGRAPHY - 781.589.7347 JUSTINE.YANDLE@GMAIL.COM wwwJ USTINEYANDLEPH OTO GRAPHY.COM