Italian speaker embraces her ethnic background


Samantha Zoltanski/The Chart

Dr. Vincenza Scarpaci answers questions from students outside of Taylor Auditorium after her presentation.

Robin Fjelstad, Staff Writer

Dr. Vincenza Scarpaci continued the mission of the Gockel Symposium in her presentation of “The Road Less Traveled: Italian Immigrants in America.” She showcased the international issues associated with the immigration of nearly four million Italian people to America. While many immigrants settled in the New York area, a few chose to journey farther.

Italian immigration in the US followed a regional pattern as many northern Italians settled on the west coast to take up vineyard keeping and wine making. A large number of Sicilians worked on the sugar cane plantations in New Orleans, La. Neapolitans and Calabrians took up logging and mining and established settlements in Minnesota. Italians were noted for their diligence and sobriety as workmen.

Italian workers were instrumental in the expansion of the infrastructure of the western United States, working in mines, on railroads and on major dam projects. At one point 70 percent of the immigrant workers on the railroad were of Italian origin.

McAlester, Okla., was the setting for one of the stories Scarpaci shared with her audience.

“The area of McAlester and Krebs, Okla., was a coal mining area and many miners from all over the world, including many Italians, settled there,” she said. “The Casino brothers had a macaroni factory in McAlester, the McAlester macaroni factory that produced Eagle brand macaroni that was marketed in Kan., and Mo., Ark., and, of course, Okla.”

 Scarpaci says her visit Joplin added to her knowledge of how Italian immigrants impacted the growth of America.

“On Tuesday of this week, I spoke in Tontitown, Ark., founded by Italian immigrants in 1898,” she said. “And tomorrow I’ll go to Pittsburg, Kan., Franklin and Frontenac, Kan., settled by Italians and other immigrant miners,” she said.

Scarpaci developed an interest in immigration history during graduate school and went on to teach US immigration history. She authored and co-authored several books regarding the progression of Italian immigration across the US. Scarpaci believes that exploring this topic allows second- and third-generation Italian Americans to appreciate the history of immigrant experiences.

The Afternoon session of the symposium consisted of a two-part presentation called American Injustice: The Legacy of Sacco and Vanzetti. Scarpaci presented the Peter Miller documentary, “Sacco and Vanzetti”. It is the story of two Italian immigrants who were arrested for murdering two people in the commission of a robbery on April 15, 1920. They were tried and convicted in 1921 and executed six years later. These men were admitted criminals, but the case is still widely debated and questions of jury prejudice remain.

Both session of the Gockel Symposium will air on KGCS as part of its committed coverage of the MSSU Italian semester lecture series. Air dates are Sunday, Sept. 29, at 7:00 p.m. for “Roads Less Traveled:  Italian Immigrants in America” and Monday, Sept. 30 at 8:00 p.m. for “American Injustice:  The Legacy of Sacco and Vanzetti.”