by Ernesto R Milani

Ecoistituto della valle del Ticino ,Cuggiono, Italy


“Il Corriere del Pomeriggio” of  the Gruppo Lonatese of San Rafael, Marin County, California.



     There are places we have never been that nonetheless convey familiar images as though they were present in us, in our past, in our subconscious. Maybe we have actually heard of them or perhaps just dreamt them. It’s mysterious why we have a longing to go there at a precise moment in our life and then leave.

     San Rafael, California, USA and Lonate Pozzolo, Lombardy, Italy have been and continue to be such places for a number of people. According to the people of Lonate, America is actually California and specifically San Rafael and the same applies also to the descendants of Lonatese abroad. The tale originates in 1880 when records show that among the dozen Italians present in San Rafael were Peter Rosa, his family and Giuseppe Soldavini - all from Lonate. Both worked as gardeners in a thriving community of almost 2,500 people where the foreign element was comprised of Portuguese from the Azores, Irish and Chinese.[i]

     The migration from Lonate, then a village of about 6,000, had just started. Between 1880 and 1924 nearly 1,000 Lonatese crossed the Atlantic in search of “America”. Their voyages and train trips were eventually stopped by the American 1921 and 1924 Quota Acts and the Italian fascist plan to colonize Africa.[ii]

     The mass migration had a strong economic basis. Italy was a country where agriculture was privileged over industry by the Cavour government and by 1870 agriculture production was significant. The eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 and the sale of cheap American grains to Europe, made more easily available by virtue of the new faster steamships, precipitated a long depression which landowners battled largely with taxes and by increasing the cost of the main dietary staple: bread. Consequently, all labor relations were altered and migration became a form of protest and rebellion.[iii]

     The first point of entry of the Lonatese was San Rafael and thereafter they disseminated all over the Bay Area in search of jobs. They had no time to write their history, Furthermore, many were illiterate. What happened from 1880 to1985?  In spite of the magnitude of the event, not many in Lonate really had a precise and complete vision of the movement.

     For many, it represented just a Christmas card or a few photographs (frequently of nameless people) sometimes tossed into the garbage bin. San Rafael was no more than a few relatives attempting to utter a few words in an incomprehensible dialect and asking a lot of strange questions about a long forgotten past. Not even the patrons of the bars where the game of Pedro is played to this day ask themselves the meaning of the American jargon they still use.[iv]

     Restoration of the Prestinari organ of St. Ambrose’s church in Lonate Pozzolo generated a great enthusiasm for the history of this small town. The Pro Loco gathered a dozen local scholars who had studied the evolution of the Lonate and engaged them the task of narrating several aspects of its history to better celebrate the event. This author wrote the chapter on migration. The result is the memorable and hefty volume “Lonate Pozzolo: Storia, Arte e Societa’” published in 1986 which made its tortuous way to California and was read by Olivia and Teresa Dalessi, two inquisitive sisters from San Rafael. Their interest prompted the Pro Loco of Lonate Pozzolo to the author as its emissary to San Rafael and investigate the case of the last surviving original Lonatese and their descendants. It was November 1987 when a small group gathered at the Dalessi home. This small party consisted of old-timers who were ready to reestablish ties and to learn more about their heritage and personal history. They were eager to learn why, a after a century in America which had indeed changed many customs and behavior, they still preserved traits that made them diverse Americans. Not an easy task.[v]

      Let me here describe our methodology, and the role of oral history in our project. The first step consisted in the formation of a Gruppo Lonatese, organized on November 7, 1987 with the primary purpose of promoting closer ties with Lonate Pozzolo and sustaining the cultural links between the Lonatese and their descendants in California. The enthusiasm generated among the Lonatese in San Rafael and in Italy culminated on September 29, 1988 with a 100 person delegation from Lonate Pozzolo warmly welcomed at the celebrations held at the Marin County Civic Center designed by Frank Lloyd Wright proclaiming Lonate and San Rafael sister cities.[vi]

     The following September  ( 1989) a group from the Bay Area journeyed to Italy for  a three day series of sister city festivities in Lonate that renewed relationships, stirred emotions and cemented new bonds. On that occasion the abridged version of the book Lonate Pozzolo: Storia, Arte e Societa’ was presented to the Lonatese of San Rafael. It had been translated into English while the chapter on migration was revised and expanded with more photographs and documents. Also the annual calendar Tacuìn da Luna’ was renamed Tacuìn da Luna’- Lonatese Calendar. The 1989 edition featured the history of St. Ambrose church in Lonate and that of St. Raphael in San Rafael.[vii]

     On September 19, 1990, the need for formal communication among the members of the Gruppo Lonatese marked the birth of their newsletter: Il Corriere del Pomeriggio with a display of the Lonate crest with the three moons and the Mission St. Raphael’s church bells. The perusal of the entire set of issues tells the story of the accomplishments of an ethnic group that otherwise would have been lost. It took a while to organize, but the loose community had finally found a way to unite and celebrate while increasing   knowledge of their heritage. Roy Bottarini who had a personal interest in the matter, frequently lectured to a passionate audience about life in Lonate on topics such as  Roman times, dialect, nicknames, silk-making, and specific historic events such as the battle of Tornavento. Rose Scherini and Lawrence Di Stasi also spoke at Gruppo meetings about Italian immigrants as enemy aliens during WW II.[viii]

     Il Corriere was also full of local news that never made the local newspapers but which helped to keep everybody informed of coming events. In January 1991, John Rostoni led a research trip to McNear Brickyard, the first large employer of Lonatese in the area. Documents and photographs were secured for future reference.[ix]

     In 1992 the Gruppo began the annual clean-up of Mount Olivet Cemetery which had not been properly maintained for years. Volunteers obtained gravel and artificial poinsettias to adorn the monuments in such an attractive manner that even the Archdioceses of San Francisco sent a letter

of praise.[x]

     October 10, 1992 marked the ground-breaking ceremonies at Albert Park where Mayor Al Boro and Pro Loco president, Gianpiero Bertoni, mixed local and Lonatese soil to renew the existing friendship. Albert Park had fallen into decline and the city had planned to rejuvenate and make it a more integrated part of the residents’ lives by involving them directly in the work. Several groups partnered with the city to make plans for improving the area according to their vision. The Lonatese were directly involved in the construction of the bocce courts, the Lonatese Gardens and the Italianate water fountain at its center. The Gardens were formally completed in 1997, a $200,000

project that was the result of years of hard-volunteer work by the Lonatese who had prepared countless polenta and stew dinners in the old Lombard tradition, organized picnics, yard and garage sales and other fundraisers to fulfill their dream. Supervision, materials and financial donations were also provided by the Ghilotti Construction, Inc. as will as by McNear who gave 1,000 new and also old bricks, possibly made by earlier Lonatese migrants. The tiles of the fountain were all hand painted by Gruppo member Brenda Rose de Clario who also volunteered to meet the individual request of her supporters by painting, for instance, the old houses of some Lonatese migrants.[xi]

The bocce courts proved very successful with players coming from all parts of California.  Even the Gruppo itself form two distinct teams.[xii]

     Coinciding with this event, Olivia and Teresa Dalessi and Judy Milani published a self-guided tour of the area around “C” street in Gerstle Park. This document is the first detailed analysis of the Lonatese residences and while the number of household is only 100 it is amazing that after such a long time, it’s still feasible to find names, photographs and short stories about the people who lived there.[xiii]

     “San Rafael Avenue GERSTLE PARK. The Gerstles had three houses, one by the

      tennis court, one in the middle and one by the playground area. Their daughters

      used these homes…The property was deeded to the city for a children’s playground

      along with $900 to buy equipment. When Caesar Bettini retired as a caretaker,

      Mario Soldavini was hired by the city of San Rafael as gardener and caretaker

      of Gerstle Park…”[xiv]

     “Angelo Zaro. Born in Lonate on June 6, 1895 and died on February 2, 1956.

       He came to San Rafael in 1906. He worked for the railroad, McNear’s Brickyard

       and the Marin Municipal Water Co. He went back to Italy and married

      Carolina Fontana in Somma Lombardo on May 11, 1912. They left the same

       month for San Rafael. In 1915 they purchased the Clorinda Avenue house.”[xv]


 Being illiterate didn’t hamper the imagination of many migrants such as Angelina Arbini Bottini who bought a house on Marin Street as a rental income: “Angelina was from Lonate Pozzolo. She could neither read nor write. She had an envelope for each tenant. Each month when the rent was paid, she put a straw from a broom until they were twelve. Then she started again, adding a new straw for each payment.”[xvi]

     Il Corriere often reports on the connection with the Lonatese of Walla Walla, Washington engaged in agriculture, especially in the cultivation of onions. The famous WallaWalla Sweets were originated with John Arbini. Curiously, in San Rafael, another Arbini, Antone (Antonio) Arbini kept up the family tradition by developing a new chrysanthemum variety called Golden Arbini.[xvii]   


     The 1994 edition of the Tacuìn da Lunà was dedicated to paintings in Lonate, with a special section devoted to the  American works of Luigi Brusatori. Born in Sant’Antonino of Lonate on July 20, 1885, he graduated from the Brera Academy of Art in Milan in 1903. He then started to work as a fresco painter but the family economic pressures forced him to follow his brother Ambrogio to San Francisco where he arrived alone in April 1912, having left his wife and children in Italy. Life as an artist was not easy in California either but he succeeded in obtaining several important commissions to paint frescoes in churches in Red Bluff, Fresno and Milpitas. He made a portrait of Archbishop Cantwell of Los Angeles who was so pleased with it that he commissioned Brusatori to paint frescoes for the church of Santa Clara in Oxnard. He netted the incredible sum of $5,000 and soon after, in 1921, returned to Lonate for good. St. Francis Receiving The Stigmata

His outstanding works in San Francisco are to The Stigmata and the Death of St. Francis. In the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe Brusatori painted the frescoes, The Last Supper, The Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes, The Coronation of the Virgin Mary and The Worship of the Holy Sacrament and he decorated the entire church. All these paintings were professionally reproduced by photographer Lionel Ashcroft after

 Gruppo fundraiser. Gene and Gina Brusatori, San Rafael descendants of Luigi Brusatori, teamed up with Gruppo Lonatese to petition to save these churches from demolition and make them San Francisco landmarks. While they met with success in the case of St. Francis, the fate of Our Lady of Guadalupe is still awaiting positive outcome.[xviii]

     In 1990, Dorothy Baciocco began collecting recipes among the Lonatese. Her detailed research into the memories of many family cooks has evolved into a volume with photographs of old Lonate illustrating the tradition. Recipes were gathered also by people from San Rafael while they were in Italy and comparisons were made. Some recipes no longer used in Lonate were still used in a variety of ways in San Rafael. Anecdotes relating to a sporadic rather than continuous interaction between the two places make the book a historical account. Given the importance Italians attribute to food and wine, highlighting their joyous approach to life, it’s no surprise that Italian recipe books abound and distinguish themselves all over the world. Gruppo Lonatese Family Cookbook was published in 1997. This comment about the  minestrone con riso recipe was  recorded by Scott Gordon :

          “Whenever I go to Lonate I have the wonderful fortune of staying at my

            grandmother’s  cousin’s  house. His name is Gino Taglioretti.  There is

            a picture of his father in the 1989 Lonatese calendar. Fortunato Taglioretti

            went to live in San Rafael for work and then returned to Lonate. Gino’s

            wife Rosetta never uses garlic, she is a fantastic cook, but of course rarely

            measures how much of each ingredient to use. So her recipes are full of

            words like “a bit of this” and a lot of that.”


Lonatese cuisine was very simple and based on polenta, rice, pasta and vegetables. Meat was seldom eaten. Some remembered dishes that are not as popular in Italy as they used to be, such as trippa (tripe), casseoula (a winter specialty made of pig knuckles, salami, pork ribs, vegetables and cabbage), dandelion green salad, fried zucchini flowers and lentils with pork (lenticc). Many recipes have been adapted to the new land or new ones have been added outright such as those based on hot-dogs or prawns. Some recipes such as “the Ping” brought to California by Dorothy Baciocco’s grandmother from Ottone(then province of Genoa and now Piacenza) are definitely old and from pre-cholesterol times: besides six packages of Swiss chard or spinach, it called for  3 or 4 loaves of stale bread and 18 beaten eggs and sometimes. At the end of the process the delicious pings are served with spaghetti like sauce. The cake section at the end is very small. The Lonatese had little time for sweets, save for homemade biscuits. However, the several recipes that carry the caption “This is not a recipe from Italy but it’s a recipe that my mother was famous for” indicate an acculturation process whereby Italians enjoyed the culinary traditions of others, while being appreciated for their own.[xix]

     The Gruppo Lonatese has also been active in granting scholarships to students willing to do research on migration. The same was also done on a couple of occasions by the Pro Loco of Lonate but the program was eventually discontinued. Unfortunately, the interest in Lonate was confined to a few people and lost momentum after the emotions of the various official gatherings created by the visiting groups faded. It’s always very difficult to maintain enthusiasm and focus, especially when there are no major projects and goals to be met.[xx] And this is what happened to the Gruppo Lonatese.

     In May 1999, a Gruppo trip to Lonate had the unexpected pleasure of taking part in the dedication ceremony of  a new town park  named  Parco San Rafael  to honor the sister city. This event was accurately mentioned by Il Corriere. In the same issue, though, the new president had inaugurated his term with a plea for volunteers: “The crowd of working bees is getting smaller and smaller and we need new blood and fresh ideas.” The maintenance of the Lonatese Gardens was at stake and risked  being shamelessly farmed out due to non-availability of volunteer labor. The malaise that seemed to pervade the Gruppo was disclosed again in the president’s address of July 2002: “We had a small turnout at our Spring dinner (…) we are having a difficult time getting people to help in committees or events(…)Let me know what you feel about the future of the group.”[xxi]

    Our Lady of Guadalupe - San FranciscoHowever, in spite of this alarm bell, the polenta and stew dinners, the cemetery clean-up, the August picnic, the Italian film festival and Italian street art festival sponsorship, the scholarship grants, and the Gardens’ maintenance were still ongoing.

     At this crucial time something happened and it drew attention to a subject that had been long discussed: Oral history. As of October 2002, Il Corriere added brief family histories provided by Gruppo members with the aim of convincing more people to add narratives of their own experience. The response was good and over 90 stories are now published in The History and Genealogy of Gruppo Lonatese compiled by Olivia Dalessi in 2004. The book fills a void that risked becoming permanent; it records the events of some of the Lonatese families who migrated to San Rafael plus other Italians, Irish and Swiss with whom they interacted. It represents an adequate mirror of the migrant’s way of life. The contributors wrote what they remembered and the flow of information was not professionally manipulated. There exist only a few interviews and biographies of Lonatese and thus this book rewrites some of the history of San Rafael where Italians are rarely mentioned.[xxii]

     Joseph Ferrario provided a biography of Caesar G. Canziani Ferrario and Maria Zocchi Zaro. His recollection explains the destinations of the Lonatese, their migration patterns and their customs in California. Cesare had two brothers and two sisters: Steve (Stefano) settled in Livermore; Ernesto worked at the C & H Sugar Plant in Crockett with other  paesani of Sant’Antonino, Samarate and  Ferno eventually returning to Italy for good; while Rosa and Maria migrated to the farm area of Tres Arroyos in Argentina. Cesare arrived in California in 1907 and started to work digging tunnels for Western Pacific Railroad then transferring to W.S. Dickey Brickyards in Union City.

Maria migrated to Livermore in 1919 and worked at Cresta Blanca Winery and later in a laundry

in South San Francisco. She married Cesare at St Peter and Paul’s in San Francisco on July 4, 1920 in a double ceremony where her sister Maddalena married Antonio Zaro. Lonatese preferred to get married in this church in Washington Square because masses were said in Italian and the tradition also required the reception to be held at famous Fior d’Italia in Union Street. Joseph was born in San Rafael after his family moved there. His father practiced gardening, raised small animals, canned and preserved homegrown vegetables and made homemade wine. The collation of many family histories echo the shared experiences but their entire collection, accompanied by simple documents and photographs accurately kept, chronicle the life surrounding migrants that has either almost faded into oblivion or been misrepresented on both sides of the Atlantic.[xxiii]

     Mary Ferrario O’Brien, Gruppo Presidentessa for five years elaborates on her grandfather Carlo who had been to San Rafael in the 1890s, worked at McNear’s Brickyards for a few years and then went back to Lonate. Her father Mario was born then in 1899. At age 15 he went to work in Switzerland and was soon drafted to fight in WWI. After the end of the war he worked at the vegetable farm in Malpensa, close to Lonate, owned by the Umanitaria, a benefit society that helped migrants and fed them while they were in transit from Milan Central railway station to their ports of departure of Genoa or Le Havre. In 1921 he left for San Rafael where he found work with Carlo Caletti developing Yosemite National Park. They paved roads, cleared land and built bridges. He married Giuseppina Colombo who was one the last migrants to arrive from Italy in 1934. Mary was born on December 2, 1935. She spoke Italian and Lonatese dialect until she went to grade school and in fact still does. An analysis of the family histories shows the trends in migration and reveals a new approach to the definition of ethnicity because the country of origin was not erased and therefore a heritage that should have been assimilated and almost forgotten in the mainstream of the American way of life is still largely familiar to their descendants and survives with a strong accent, for instance, on family values and the work ethic.[xxiv] “If you don’t work, you don’t eat. The State is not an employer. I need to buy my house.“ [xxv] 

     The Lonatese settled in San Rafael first and stayed close-by. They found ample job opportunities both in dependent and independent activities in a state with a mild and salubrious climate that rarely required overcoats and where Mission San Raphael for convalescent Native American was established in 1817.  Quite a difference from the harsh weather of the East Coast or central plains or the hard and unsanitary jobs in the mining camps or the sugar and malaria-plagued cotton plantations in the South. The arrival in California was dictated by personal choice and family ties rather than the dreadful inducement by steamship agents or mining agents, the padroni and their

accomplice agents who scouted the impoverished Italian plains in search of cheap unskilled labor.

California seemed to be a magnet of its own.  Who went to America? Able-bodied young males either single or married. The norm was to stay away a few years, make money, buy a piece of land and build a house. This dream was partly fulfilled and broke the large landowners grip on the land, especially around the 1920s. Lonate also has its row of American funded houses.[xxvi]

     The majority went home, got married or often sent for a wife of the same village or married by proxy. A study of the narratives, the ship manifests, and the naturalization petitions, list all possible situations: fathers away with sons or daughters, wives in Lonate; men voyaging continuously back and forth pending the final decision to either stay in Lonate or leave with the entire family; children of returnees who migrate alone; brothers going to San Rafael and sisters to Argentina and vice versa. The uprooted Lonatese never gave up their roots. The family ties were kept along with their traditions. Weddings represented a milestone that had to be remembered in the family. Besides the church decorations and the lavish receptions, the engraved and enlarged sepia portraits were sent back to the relatives to demonstrate their new affluence. Magnificent and striking lace dresses with laces and bouquet for the bride; often rented well-tailored suits for the smiling grooms. This was a visible change from the gloomy family pictures taken in Italy where poverty was still visible on their tight lips and their knotty hands  proclaimed sadness. San Rafael was the beacon everyone referred to as an extension, almost a distant suburb of Lonate. Later came the other names that enumerated the new migration around San Rafael where moving from one house to another or even buying one was affordable. These towns mark the boundaries of the Lonatese migration around San Rafael.[xxvii]

     Inspection officers usually classified Lonatese as laborers and peasants but most of them had skills that surfaced when personal capabilities could be freely and easily turned into well-rewarded professions.[xxviii]

     McNear Brickyard was the initial employer where various skilled and unskilled jobs could be obtained. Some also worked at W.S. Dickey Brickyard in Union City and at Remillard Brickyard in Larkspur. The Bay Area was developing and needed construction and reconstruction material. Gardening for large estates of wealthy San Franciscans or just in the back yard was a serious business for the Lonatese who had always been close to the land and appreciated its inner value.

A character from Liguria, Pasquale Nave, formerly Petronave, had started the future fortunes of the present Nave Enterprises growing and selling produce and peddling all over Marin County in the early 1900s. The Lonatese had actually entered the horticultural business in Walla Walla, Washington around 1890. The main onion crop was later supplemented by growing other vegetables such as asparagus, beans, squash, corn and lettuce -  quite a different alternative to factory work.

This agricultural settlement is also one of the few successful experiments that involved Italians.

Ranching was very familiar to Swiss-Italians like the Dalessi who had been in California well before the Civil War. Wine attracted Joseph Ferrario who operated the Ruby Hill Winery in Pleasanton for a few decades. Bruno Canziani became a legend at Wente Wineries in Livermore.

Employment was readily available with the various railway companies that intersected California: San Quentin Narrow Gage, Fairfax-Point Reyes Railroad Company or Northwestern Pacific Railroad. The entrepreneurship of many took them quickly into their own businesses especially those catering to the growing Italian population: grocery stores, meat shops, bakeries, bars, taverns, small restaurants and hotels, shoemakers, barbers and mechanics. Women, who had been confined to housework, silk mills and field work in Italy, found jobs as housemaids, ran boarding houses for singles, worked in laundries or factories like the Carson Glove of San Rafael and the American Biscuit Company in South San Francisco that required a long ferry ride before the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937.[xxix]

     Toil meant a better material lifestyle and they started to notice a positive change and envision a future for their children who could easily access education to enter either blue collar or white collar jobs without the restrictions they had experienced in Italy. World War I and the last groups of migrants marked a clear change in the attitudes of the Lonatese who found themselves permanently in America. The transition was as fast as the pace of  American life. The forced separation during fascism, World War II, and the new sub-urbanism, transformed the Lonatese community and apparently disintegrated it as it did other communities elsewhere in America. However, family and ancestral ties have not disappeared but have rather taken a new road where certain visible and invisible paths are still part of their life.  Acculturation and integration have inevitably taken place but strangely and surprisingly the call of the roots is still strong in spite of the territorial mobility that has broken homogeneous ethnic areas and consequently traditional family oriented life.

 San Rafael and Lonate Pozzolo still share that magical appeal.

     In Italy today Americans of Italian descent are often regarded as tourists with an Italian surname, people with some vague interest in a forlorn village and in a few ethnic dishes. This research makes this remark questionable.

Better communications, a new and better qualified migration from Italy, and reduced pressure by the American establishment to enforce an unattainable monoculture, make the maintaining or fostering of Italian heritage, whenever feasible or desired, very viable. This not grudging “multiculturalism” but de facto  acceptance of Italians as part of  American life. The same applies also to Italians who migrate from their regions to large cities.

Lonatese formed no mutual aid societies for sickness  and death benefits and the Società Lombarda of South San Francisco enrolled only a few Lonatese from San Rafael. This explains that their migration plans were temporary and that they felt independent  and even secure in their new environment. Only in 1931 did they form their own association Club Italia, as a fraternal association. They also belonged to the Italian Catholic Federation and the Order Sons of Italy in America (OSIA) but the integration process was further advanced by their affiliation with the Order of the Druids, the Native Sons of the Golden West, and the Improved Order of Redmen. The birds of passage had finally found their nest.[xxx]

     Memories overtake the power of annihilation and another President, Ann Canziani recalls: “My father-in-law took Carlo and me there (Lonate) to meet everyone and to create a bond that would keep our ties close.” Some were lucky but the majority never met their grandparents. This was the missing link that needed to be found. It was the inexplicable connection where San Rafael and Lonate Pozzolo represent the Alfa and the Omega without any intermediate stop. People made and continue to make the pilgrimage.[xxxi]

     “It was a very difficult life, but they didn’t think so”.[xxxii]

     As for another Lombard settlement, the “Hill” in St. Louis, integration was slowed by their concept of America that didn’t necessarily include the relinquishing of their heritage and old customs. It was a sort of a gamble where some stayed and played and others returned.[xxxiii]

     The mosaic of Lonatese in America is slowly being completed and the Gruppo Lonatese has certainly contributed to answering many questions related to the past and the present patterns of daily life.

     Polenta dinner was canceled in 2004 but was happily reinstated in 2005. It’s also reported that it was a financially sound event that netted $3,400 dollars but most of all recreated a festive and friendly atmosphere that had apparently waned. In the same yea, the  Tacuìn da Lunà reached the Pacific shores with a piece about the moorland around Malpensa (brughiera) and another about the history of San Rafael.[xxxiv] A clipping of a Livermore newspaper reported that Bruno Canziani Park had been named after the man who for 68 years had performed all possible duties at Wente Winery.[xxxv]

     Il Corriere and Gruppo Lonatese have been active for almost twenty years. Not many would have bet a dime on this team. Their accomplishments are really notable and prove that the same may be done elsewhere in America and Italy. The Lonatese were not afraid to unearth their roots, to reconnect, tell of their simple everyday lives, - the stories history often neglects - and come to terms with their past according to their capabilities. Their determination has also hidden many of the feelings that only surface in their various experiences. Only once, through the recounts of Fiorina, we are allowed to penetrate the mind of a migrant during her last days at home in Italy, the voyage, the first encounter with San Rafael; the emotions of the first awakening, looking out  the window and seeing a landscape of gray clouds and fog. But the symbol of the brighter future she had envisioned is right on their kitchen table: a vase of roses sparking joy, despite its thorns.

Joy, a term rarely used in migration history, is a term that needs to be revisited.


     [i] 1880 United States Federal Census, San Rafael, Marin County, California, District 235, 39. Peter B. Rosa

was born in 1951 and was married to Ursula. He was a gardener, partially blind and had been unemployed for eight months. His children Frank, Rosa and Santina were born in Italy in 1869, 1871 and 1873 respectively while two other children, Angelo and Frank were born in California in 1876 and 1878. Giuseppe Soldavini (Guisepe Solderini) 24 years was also a gardener but listed as a servant.

     [ii] Comune di Lonate Pozzolo, Prospetti dei Movimenti della Popolazione,1871-1928; Arrigo Serpieri, Il Contratto agrario e le condizioni dei contadini nell’Alto Milanese  (Milano: Editore l’Ufficio Agrario, 1910) 1-49; Italia, Commissariato Generale dell’Emigrazione, Disposizioni per l’Ammissione alla Partenza per gli Stati Uniti d’America, n. 48 ( Roma, 30 June 1925).

     [iii] Gianfranco Galliani Cavenago, Quando il paesano rifiutò il pendizio (Milano: Franco Angeli, 1999); Ambrogio Milani, Lonate Pozzolo…un tempo perduto… (Oleggio: EOS Editrice, 1997).

     [iv] Pedro is an American card-game brought back to Lonate by migrants. The Pedro is the trump of 5 valued 5 points. It’s still played with several variations in Nicaragua and Finland in the region of Swedish Ostrobothnia. Some of the terms are still referred in the American jargon such as trump ten called ghem, a corruption of game or trump two, called , from low.

     [v] Nicolini, ed. Storia Arte Società ( Gavirate, 1986) 407 ; “Un Volume, Gianni Brera e la predica ai Lombardi.” La Prealpina (Varese) 1 December 1985; “Hanno pensato di lasciar scritto quanto amano il loro paese natale.” La Prealpina 9 January 1986; “Mamma mia dammi un bel volume che l’America voglio conquistare.” La Prealpina, 30 July 1986; Lucca, Piero “Lonate Pozzolo ha un passato in California e chiede il gemellaggio con San Rafael.” Il Corriere della Sera (Milano) 28 November 1986; “Risuona dopo decenni di silenzio l’ottocentesco organo Prestinari di Lonate Pozzolo,” Il Giornale (Milano) 4 January 1986 ; “In California sulle tracce di chi ancora sogna Lonate” La Prealpina 17 November 1987 ; Quella città statunitense ha radici a Lonate Pozzolo” La Prealpina 23 December 1987.

     [vi] Bylaws of Gruppo Lonatese (San Rafael, February  22, 1989) ; Comune di Lonate Pozzolo, Deliberazione del Consiglio Comunale. 55 del 5 aprile 1988. Gemellaggio con la città di San Rafael nella Contea di Marni nello Stato di California (U.S.A.); State of California, Resolution by the Honorable Bill Filante, m., 9th Assembly District; and the Honorable David Roberti, President pro Tempore of the Senate; Relative to the recognizing the Lonate Pozzolo-San Rafael sister-city relationship; Resolution n. 421 approved by the Joint Rules Committee and subscribed on September  16, 1988.; “ AAA…Si cercano gemelli americani “ La Prealpina 17 March 1988; Lucca, Piero “ Lonate Pozzolo  rievoca oggi con orgoglio le vicende dei suoi emigrati in California” La Prealpina 17 March 1988 ; “Un lungo ponte con la California così Lonate si sente più americana” La Prealpina  19 March 1988; Baldoni., Giovanni “Lonatesi made in USA” Il Giornale 19 March 1988; “Tranquillo week-end americano alla ricerca di lontani parenti” La Prealpina 16 September 1988; “Vivono in California con Lonate nel cuore” La Prealpina 13 October 1988; “Il sogno californiano nei filmati della Pro Loco” La Prealpina 15 October 1988.

     [vii] Nicolini, ed. History Art Society (Gavirate, 1989) a supplement; Magnoli, Sara “Bentornati gemelli d’oltreoceano”

La Prealpina 2 July 1989; Magnoli, Sara “ I nipoti degli emigranti lonatesi hanno scoperto le loro origini” La Prealpina 26 September 1989; Magnoli Sara “Sono tornati a casa i figli degli emigrati: Un affettuoso abbraccio con tutti i lonatesi” La Prealpina  22 September 1989; Tacuìn da Lunà –Lonatese Calendar 1989.

     [viii] Il Corriere del Pomeriggio 19 September 1990. The first issue was prepared by Claire Villa, Jeanne Villa, Margaret Farley, Olivia Dalessi and Ann Canziani. In April 1995 it was subtitled: “The cultural newsletter of the Lonatese and their descendants” but in December 1997 a broader base called for a change into: “The cultural newsletter of the Gruppo Lonatese.” Other newsletters related to Lombard migrants are: “The Walla Walla Bulletin of Walla Walla,” Washington and “The Crusader Clarion” that was published by St. Ambrose Parish on the Hill in St. Louis during WWII. It served as a means of communication among the 1,000 servicemen from the Hill scattered all over the world. 

     [ix]Corriere, March 1991.

    [x]Corriere, 28 January, 1992.

    [xi] Corriere, March 1992; Corriere, October 1992; Corriere, June 1997; Corriere, Lonatese Gardens Edition, August 1997, Corriere, 10th Anniversary Issue, August 1997.

    [xii] Corriere, September 1994; Corriere, May 1999; Corriere, October 2002.

    [xiii] Olivia Dalessi, Teresa Dalessi and Judy Milani, Italian family homes of the Gerstle Park area, a self-guided tour San Rafael,Gruppo Lonatese,1992.

    [xiv] Dalessi and Milani, ibid.18.

    [xv] Dalessi and Milani, ibid.6.

    [xvi] Dalessi and Milani, ibid.2.

    [xvii]“ San Rafael ‘ Mums grower produces new “Golden Arbini to withstand most tests by U.S. experts.” Daily Independent Journal 2 February 1938; Caroline Arbini to Teresa and Olivia Dalessi, 15 December 1987; Hagar, Sheila “ Centenarian celebrates looks ahead” Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, 9 March 2005.

    [xviii] Richard Brusatori, San Francisco unknown artist   San Francisco  unpublished memoir 1977.; Il Fontanile ed. Luigi Brusatori Pittore: La Vita e le Opere, 1885-1942  Lonate Pozzolo, 1988; Ernesto, Milani “Il Magùt d’America“ La Prealpina 14 August 1993; Sister Carol Ann O’Mara, “San Francisco’s unknown artist” San Francisco Catholic Magazine, June-July 1986; Catherine Antolino Mervyn, A tower in the valley: the history of Santa Clara Parish

(Santa Clara); Catherine Antolino Mervyn, “The unknown artist of Santa Clara Church,” Ventura County , November- December 1986. 

    [xix] Tacuìn da Lunà-Lonatese Calendar, Cucina contadina lonatese, 1990; Dorothy Baciocco, ed. Gruppo Lonatese Family Cookbook  (San Rafael Gruppo Lonatese 1997).

    [xx] Corriere, Passim.; Lonate Pozzolo assigned two scholarships: one to Mitzi Cordera in 1992 and one to Gabriella Ponti in 1994. Both students spent a few weeks in San Rafael as guests of Gruppo Lonatese. Their research may be found at Lonate Public Library; “Gabriella alla scoperta dei lonatesi d’America, La Prealpina , 5 November 1994 ; “Dall’America una borsa di studio” La Prealpina, 17 September 1994; Olivia Dalessi to Gruppo Lonatese, letter dated 5 November 1990 explains the purpose of the exchange program to learn about the Italians of Northern Italy, to provide the public with a knowledge of the culture of Northern Italy,  and to preserve it for future generations; Corriere, November 1999.

    [xxi] Corriere, November 1999 ; Corriere, July 2002 ; Ernesto R Milani, Mutual aid societies among italian immigrants in the United States of America, a comprehensive View:1865-1977., Istituto Universitario Lingue Moderne, Milan, 1978. Dissertation Thesis. The dissolution of the Subalpina Mutual Aid Society read:” The reason why it has become impossible to continue the affairs of the Subalpina is that no one wishes to assume office or responsibility” Boston 24 Apr. 1961, Appendix A, 144.: A letter dated 25 Jan. 1955 had previously informed that: “For lack of cooperation and support among members, we were forced to give up our annual Christmas party that we successfully held for many years.” Annex B, 181.

    [xxii] Corriere, Oct.2003; Olivia Dalessi, ed.: The History and Genealogy of Gruppo Lonatese (San Rafael) : [Gruppo Lonatese] 2004; The reference to the Lonatese and even the  Italian presence in San Rafael is scarce and usually confined to the famous Olympic swimmer Eleanor Garatti or judge Charles Brusatori. See also Carla Ehat and Anne Kent, interview with Charles Tacchi, Oral History Project of the Marin County Free Library, San Rafael, 9 May 1980; Claire Villa and Ann Pogojeff, interview with Edmond Rossi, San Anselmo Historical Society Oral History Project , San Anselmo 6 June 1978. Claire Villa’s interview with Edmond Rossi anticipates her future editorial skills at Gruppo Lonatese .Carla Ehat’s interview with Charles Tacchi concentrates on California. Charles vaguely remembers his father hometown, Lenat or Lainate Pesoli where people lived in two story houses, migrated to Europe before going to America and raised silkworms. The parents spoke little about their past but today; a professional interviewer would elaborate differently on the first part of the conversation. Too late now; Francine Brevetti, The Fabulous Fior d’Italia – Over 100

Years in an Italian Kitchen, (San Francisco: Bay Books, 2004).

    [xxiii] Dalessi,, The History, 18.

    [xxiv] Dalessi, The History, 163.

    [xxv] Typical phrases repeated by Lonatese migrants.

    [xxvi] Frank L. Keegan,, San Rafael Marin’s Mission City  San Rafael: Windows Publication, 1987; The average temperatures in San Rafael range between 41F-49F in December and  peak between 67F-68F in July. The mild temperatures favored their acclimation much better than migrants in others area of the United States where winters ands summers were unbearable. 

    [xxvii] Dalessi, The History. The Lonatese spread all over the Northern Bay Area. San Rafael, Tiburon, San Anselmo, Larkspur, Mill Valley, Livermore, Cotati, Richmond, Novato, Pleasanton, Greenbrae, Point Reyes, South San Francisco, Sebastopol and Fairfax are the names of towns and places familiar also to Lonatese in Italy. Sub urbanism has broken the life pattern and there is a diminished attachment to traditions and a significant resettlement all over America due to out of state college attendance, jobs and career opportunities has occurred. However, according to 2000 United States Census Italian-Americans in San Rafael still number 7.9 % of the population, the same as Mill Valley while San Anselmo and Larkspur stands at 11, 4% and 9.5% respectively.

    [xxviii] Luigi Brusatori departed from Le Havre and arrived in New York on April 20, 1912 aboard the ship France. He was registered as a laborer. See also all different ship manifests  


    [xxix] Dalessi, The History, 166; Independent Journal, a Century of Service 1861-1961, San Rafael 1 April 1961.

This reprinted edition reproduces articles about McNear and Nave; Lund Jan “ Walla Walla Italians celebrate their heritage” Northwest Ethnic News, September 1989; David A. Taylor and John Alexander Williams, eds. Old  ties new attachments, Italian American folk life in the West. (Washington: American Folk Life Center Library of Congress, 1992); Joe J. Locati, The Horticultural Heritage of Walla Walla County: 1818 – 1977 (College Place: Color Press, 1978).

    [xxx] The Club Italia was founded on April 20, 1935. The purpose of the organization was to promote literature, social, educational and recreational functions. In the 1990s the Club had over 300 members who met once a month at San Rafael Recreational center with a dinner meeting and card playing. On September 20, 1947 another group of Italians gave origin to Marvelous Marin Lodge n.964, Order Sons of Italy in America. In the 1990s it counted over 200 affiliates

The incumbent president was Robert Pedroli. The OSIA is the largest Italian American fraternal group with over 600, 000 members scattered all over America. The association promotes charities, awards grants and scholarships beside the usual social activities. Both groups promote the knowledge of  Italian heritage. Other Lonatese preferred to join American institutions such as the Ancient Order of the Druids, based on justice, morality and brotherly love and following the rituals of ancient Druids. Marin Grove n. 208 was instituted in San Rafael on February 12, 1910. Here are some of its members: A. Simontacchi, Mario Soldavini, John Bottini, Charles Merlo, Henry Gianatti, Leonardo Berrini, Anselmo Paini, Paul Franzetti, Paul Rossi, Joe Zoppello, Carlo Zaro, John Carcano, Antone Arbini, Peter Caletti, Umberto Pedroli, John Piantanida. Silvio Bettini and John Leonardi. The Native Sons of the Golden West also attracted some Lonatese. They were founded by Albert W. Winn during California Gold Rush days to honor the memory of the early settlers. Another group that promoted Americanization through greater love for the USA and the observance of the principles of  American liberty was the Improved Order of the Redmen. Genesee, Tribe n.208 founded in April 1908. It was replaced in 1944 by Tamal Tribe 288 after WWII. Among its members were, Geo. Soldavini, Joseph Bertoni, Charles Pallavicini, Louis Leonardi, Thomas Longhetti, Norman Canziani, Charles Giudici, P. Brunati and M. Bertoni. John Canziani was publicly honored for his recruiting skills. The Red Men hall was located in the Cochrane-McNear block of San Rafael (4th Street between C and D Street).  Apparently women were not allowed to join these societies.


    [xxxi]Dalessi, The History, 22.

    [xxxii] Dalessi, The History, 93.

    [xxxiii] Gary Mormino, Immigrants on the Hill (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002)

    [xxxiv] Corriere, February 2005.

    [xxxv] Corriere, February 2005.