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In Metairie Louisiana the Elenians & Bocce Club partner for St. Joseph’s Day

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Elenians making St. Joseph Altar Cookies

That favorite time of year again, and a labor of love for Italian families….St. Joseph Day.  Many families, Catholic Churches and schools are starting to gather their supplies, treasured ornamental items, and baking for St. Joseph Altars.  This is a time honored tradition that started right here in our New Orleans Area, and let’s make this one our own.  It is an incredible opportunity for our clubs to share our Italian/Sicilian heritage and appreciate the unique offerings of each organization. 

3 great ways to participate: 1. Altar Donations Items & Planning, 2. Assist Elenians’ Italian Cookie Making, 3.  Day of St. Joseph Evening Meal’s Meatless Dish Donations & Altar Attendance.  3 Sign Ups online for designating contributions & RSVP attendance: ( click links below or go to Sign Up Genius and search under ElenianClub@gmail.com)

Make Italian Cookies March 8th 11am

Elenians are purchasing the ingredients and we need you and maybe your tools, like cookie sheets, heavy cutting boards, dough scraper, aprons, and loving hands. 

St. Joseph Altar is traditionally all donated items and this sign up lists many items you can select to donate/volunteer.  Non-perishable Items should be brought to the Bocce Club Sunday, March 15th, after the St. Patrick’s Parade 5pm.  Fresh items are requested for 4pm to 6pm Thursday, March 19th at The Bocce Club of Metairie, 2340 Severn Ave.  We will gladly make arrangements to pick up donated items if need.  We plan to open doors soon after for viewing, and at 6:30pm to share our bounty to members of the contributing Italian organizations and families. 

Generation to Generation

Altar Prep & Display March15th 5pm   

St. Joseph Day brings Italians together to be thankful of our heritage & homage.  It makes it special that we come together and contribute to the altar, then send prayers of thanks to San Giuseppe that watches over us.  The Bocce Club of Metairie will host the Altar at 6:30pm on March 19th and sharing the bounty that we create.  Our efforts do both for recognition of needy and poor and show efforts directly with Bocce Club to maintain its status as our ancestors intended. Our meal is your achievement…we need you, please contribute your God given heritage talents.  

The Bocce Club of Metairie, 2340 Severn Ave., will host the Altar at 6:30pm on March 19th and sharing the bounty that we create.  RSVP with this link for the St. Joseph Day Meal – Thursday March 19th

Thank you for supporting the Italian loving community! 

It makes it special that we come together and contribute to the altar, then send prayers of thanks to San Guiseppe that watches over us.  This is an incredible opportunity for our clubs to share our Italian heritage. 

Who has the willpower not to start eating now.

The Bocce Club is a beacon in the Italian community of Southeast Louisiana. It was built in the 1970s to provide a community center for Italians and Sicilians in Jefferson Parish and Southeast Louisiana. Congrats to both the Bocce Club for providing a place for the Elenians St. Joseph Altar and to the Elenians for promoting the valuable asset to the Italian Community.

Several generations have been born since the time of “Little Italy” of the French Quarter, and now the Italian connections may be more electronic than next door.  No matter how fraction… Let’s get to know US better.  The metropolitan area has a unique reach in the New Orleans regional area and even across the lake.  Let’s come together.  Our Italian clubs recognize the necessity of reassembling & maintaining our heritage for this area as generations evolve, and the Bocce Club does just that with an excellent space and family oriented game fun.   Get as close to the pallino or suffer the raffa! 

Please direct your questions to Lisa Ingraham at the ElenianClub@gmail.com

To assist with planning, please reserve your volunteer slot on the links provided.  

Bocce League Play on Wednesday and open play on Thursdays

Please Sign Up & RSVP attendance, but direct your questions to Lisa Ingraham at the ElenianClub@gmail.com

Thank you for supporting the Italian loving community!

Success for Bocce is our heritage reward.

Five Serio Brothers were in the US Army in the 1940s

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The three oldest Serio brothers served during World War II, at one point during the same time.  A few years later, two more sons were away at the same time.  The youngest served during the 1950s from 1953-1957. From 1941-1957, there was only a two-year period when a Serio Brother was not fighting for our country.  Their mother also had three girls.

Their mother was remembered as sleeping on the floor during WWII because she couldn’t bring herself to sleep in a comfortable bed while her boys were sleeping on the ground.  She could often be found walking around her yard and praying the rosary.  The safe return of her six sons has been attributed to her fervent prayers. Here are their stories.

Pasquale Serio served in the U S Army from 1941-1945

Pasquale Serio attended LSU for 2 semesters in 1938 and was in ROTC in the artillery unit. He enlisted in the army and was drafted on December 3, 1941, along with some other boys from Pointe Coupee. He was 21 years old. He was first sent to Camp Livingston in Alexandria, La. He stayed about a week then was sent to Camp Shelby in Mississippi. He was overseas for 24 months, leaving behind a four month old baby.

In his words: “On December 7, 1941 while at Camp Shelby, at around 8:30 am, while we were milling around the tents, some guy said, ‘the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.’ We were all like ‘Huh. So what.’ We didn’t know what that meant or where that was. We soon found out though what it meant.

I was then sent to Fort Bragg, NC to learn more about artillery for about 9 weeks. Then I was sent to Fort Dicks to join the division that was going to Africa, where fighting was already taking place, but they realized they had enough boys going already so they sent me back to Fort Brad for a while. Eventually I was sent to Africa.”

Pasquale, whose name was Americanized Charlie, was in Field Artillery and a forward observer. Back then, they didn’t have the lasers to point to where you drop the bomb. It was done by two-way radio and he was the person telling you where to drop the bombshells. In May of 1942, on a 10-day fur low, he married Rita. He was awarded “the Bronze Star” for his efforts. He returned to Morganza.

Frank Serio Jr. in World War II

Frank Serio, Jr. enlisted in the army in 1942 with a good friend of his, Jimmy Purpera. They left in his dad’s car to enlist in Baton Rouge. When they finished the paperwork, the enlisting officer told Buddy “You’re in the army and the train leaves in a few hours”. He said he had to get his dad’s car back first, but they wouldn’t let him. His train passed through his hometown of Morganza on his way to his camp assignment. He was stationed in Florida.

In February of 1943, his girlfriend Myrtle Carmouche and his mother Marie Zito Serio caught the train and went to Stuart, Florida so Buddy & Myrtle could get married. Shortly after they were married, he was sent to North Africa. When he was discharged, he moved back to Morganza where he and Myrtle lived the rest of their lives. They had one child, Kathy. Buddy worked at Serio’s Service Station repairing TVs, radios and other electronics until he passed away.

Sam Serio served in World War II

Sam James Serio was drafted into the Army on November 27, 1944 soon after competing High School. He trained at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas for six weeks and was then deployed to Europe. Traveling by ship he arrived in La Harve, France in May of 1945 on VE Day. He remained in Germany serving with the occupation forces for just over a year. After being discharged from the 94th Division of the Infantry Regiment on August 30, 1946, he returned to Morganza.

Shortly thereafter, Sam moved to Lafayette to attend college at Southeast Louisiana Institute, now University of Louisiana at Lafayette. While attending college, he married Nora Mae Ramagos on February 26, 1951. They eventually moved back to Morganza where Sam secured a job with the State Department of Transportation, a job he held until retirement. Their family of six children was raised in the house he and his brother Charlie built and completed in 1958.

Vincent Serio served in Europe

Vincent Serio enlisted in the army in 1948 to serve for 2 years. After the two years, the Korean Conflict happened. He was “frozen” and remained a third year. He was assigned to the army signal corps in stateside telephone communications. He married my Louise in April 1951 and he was discharged in August 1951. He and Louise raised their family in Baton Rouge where Beaty worked for the telephone company. They had 4 children.

Eugene Serio served in Europe

Eugene Serio, nicknamed Jacko, enlisted at same time as Beaty. He enlisted in the army in 1948 to serve for 2 years. He remained for a third year once the Korean Conflict started. He was stationed in South Carolina, Alaska, Hawaii, Arkansas and Washington State. He worked in Personnel & Records until 1951.

While in Morganza one day, he saw Ann Bondi through the window of a friend’s house she was helping paint. When he saw her, he said he had to meet her. They were married in June 1955. They had four children. He still operates the Serio Service Station started by his father.

Rudy Serio served in Europe

Rudy Serio enlisted in the Air Force in March 17, 1953. Ten months later he was deployed to the Philippine Islands when a truce was signed after Korean Conflict. He left his pregnant 19-year-old wife and didn’t return home until his child was as 13 months old. He recalls that the US had to pay the Philippine government $1 for every tree that was damaged by US troops during WWII. He and his wife raised four children in Baton Rouge. In the 1980s, he retired from Western Electric in the 1980s.

The Serios represent the patriotism of Morganza, which is one of towns on the Blue Star Highway of Louisiana west of the Mississippi River.

Morganza is a small village that produced many veterans, memory is maintained in the high school gym.
Morganza is in Pointe Coupe Parish. In the high school gym photos of veterans are displayed.
The Serio Brothers still operate the family gas station in Morganza.
The Serio Gas Station in Morganza.
Blue Star Highway Markers are throughout America
The Blue Star Highway Memorial in Ferriday Louisiana, just north of Morganza
The Memorial to the Armed Forces in Point Coupe Louisiana, just south of Morganza
The Serio Sisters and their children are part of the Ladies of San Giuseppi. The annual altar of thanks to San Giuseppi to feed the poor is March 19th.

Italy-America Chamber of Commerce of Texas opens office in New Orleans

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Franco Valobra Board Memebr; Liz Williams Founder of the Southern Food & Beverage Museum; and Federico Ciattaglia Consul in Houston

On February 10, 2020 the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce of Texas opened an office in New Orleans to promote Italian food and beverage products. New Orleans food culture is nearing $9 Billion annually.

In Jerry Thomas’ 1862 Bartender’s Guide for drink #105 “The Cocktail & Crusta” he writes: “The ‘Cocktail’ is a modern invention, and is generally used on fishing and other sporting parties, although some patients insist that it is good in the morning as a tonic. The ‘Crusta’ is an improvement on the ‘Cocktail,’ and is said to have been invented by (Joseph) Santini, ….”

Joseph Santini owned the orginal Jewel of the South Bar in New Orleans. A restaurant in his honor reopened inn 2019. From the “Crusta” numerous other drinks were derived, such as the margaritta. Jewel of the South explained.

New Orleans Southern Food & Beverage Museum Founder Liz Williams, who maternal side is Italian, welcomed the Italian Consul and the officers of the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce of Texas to New Orleans. Her remarks were followed by displaying the commerce sign. Following the ribbon cutting Italian food & beverage products were available at the reception.

On March 31st the Chamber will expand its Business Roadshow from Houston and Los Angeles to include New Orleans. For more information: TasteofItaly@IACCTexas.com or visit www.TasteofItalyHouston.com

On left: Federico Ciattaglia, Brando Ballerini President, Francesca Bacci Business Development Manager Italy-America Chamber of Commerce. On right: Niccolo Lorimer, Alessandra Salvatori and Paolo Chirumbolo.
Alessia Paolicchi Executive Director Italy-America Chamber of Commerce, Francesca Bacci, Liz Williams, and Alessandra Salvatori
Italian food and beverage
Charles Marsala President American-Italian Federation of the Southeast with Brando Ballerini. Alligator Marsala is the Cajun-Italian version of Veal Marsala.

Alligator Marsala was first made by Chef Andrea in Metairie, Louisiana

A sampling of Italian Meats, Cheeses, jams, and wines
Alessia Paolicchi and Maurizio Gamberucci Deputy Director Italy-America Chamber of Commerce.

The Nina & Pinta visit Biloxi 20 February – 1 March

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The Nina & Pinta will be in Biloxi February 20 to March 1st.

The February 29 Tour and Lunch is being organized by the Gulf Coast Italian-American Cultural Society

The Society is part of the American-Italian Federation of the Southeast
The Gulf Coast Italian-American Society hosts an Annual Columbus Day Dinner. Featuring international students sponsored by Rotary Clubs.
Annual recognition awards are given.
GCAICS President Joseph Ventura prepares to a tiramisu at the Sliver Slipper Italian Buffet during the Columbus Day dinner. The Sliver Slipper provides a special banquet room to GCAICS for the event.

The Gulf Coast Italian American Cultural Society, Inc. is a non-profit corporation. It was founded in 1976 in Gulfport, Mississippi, to organize local relief efforts for victims of the 1976 Friuli earthquake in Italy.

It has grown into a social organization for immigrant Italian-Americans with a continuing passion for charitable work.

The Gulf Coast Italian-American Cultural Society has organized a group tour to visit the Columbus Ships, “The Nina and the Pinta” which will land in Biloxi this month and will remain until March 1.

The tour is $5.00 will take place on Saturday, February 29, 2020 at 1 P.M. Groups are limited in size, so reserve early. Multiple tours might be needed. A lunch is being organized at the Palace Casino prior to this event at 11:00 am. For more information please reach out to the GCIACS via Facebook.

Facebook Page for Gulf Coast Italian American Cultural Society

General Admission:  $8.50 for adults, $7.50 for seniors (age 60+), $6.50 age 5-16 (not in a school group), age 4 and under are free
Group & School Tours:  minimum of 15 people, $5 per person

The Niña – Most Historically Accurate Columbus Replica Ship Ever Built

The Niña is a replica of the ship on which Columbus sailed across the Atlantic on his three voyages of discovery to the new world beginning in 1492.  Columbus sailed the tiny ship over 25,000 miles.  That ship was last heard of in 1501, but the new Niña has a different mission.  We are a floating museum, and we visit ports all over the Western Hemisphere.

Pinta – Our Second Columbus Replica Ship

Pinta was recently built in Brazil to accompany the Nina on all of her travels. She is a larger version of the archetypal caravel and offers larger deck space for walk-aboard tours and has a 40 ft air conditioned main cabin down below with seating. Pinta is available for private parties and charters.

The Biloxi stop is sponsored by The Columbus Foundation, British Virgin Islands Ship’s cell (787) 672-2152

The ships are located at the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum
Schooner Pier Complex
367 Beach Blvd
Biloxi, MS 39530

Italian Chefs Featured at St. Michael’s Special School Celebrity Fundraiser

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Celebrity Chefs for St. Michael’s School was started in 1978. The event’s original chefs were Gunter Preuss and Goffredo Fraccaro. Goffredo was on stage with Greg Reggio of Zea giving a cooking exposition.

Chef Andrea of Andrea’s Restaurant and Capri Blu Bar is part of the next generation of chefs contributing to the great event. Numerous high school students serve the amazing dishes to donors.

Before the luncheon, the celebrity chef’s give a cooking presentation. As Chef Andrea stated: “Momma Mia!” on the amazing taste of the dishes.

Chef Goffredo Fraccaro with Greg Reggio of Zea.
Chef Andrea Apuzzo
St. Michael’s Angels Patron’s Dining
High School Students served the fabulous dishes. Brother Martin and Holy Cross
Mount Carmel Students
Archbishop Chappell Students

Sicilian Contributions to Music Marker Erected in New Orleans

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Members of the American Italian Federation, American Italian Cultural Center and guests meet to dedicate an historic marker at the New Orleans Jazz Museum.

Left to right: Frank Maselli, Paul Vitale, Charles Marsala, Janet Vitale, Lavon Berthelot, Glen Miller, Dana Cusimano Farley, Claudia Abramowitz, Sal Serio.
Charles Marsala, President of the Italian American Federation of the Southeast, and Sophia Parigi, Italian and Patriotic singer.
The Sicilian Heritage marker focuses on the contributions Nick Larocca, Louis Prima, and Cosimo Matassa
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The marker features a QR Code linking to free tour app of 40 points of Sicilian Interest in New Orleans with 10 additional points in Louisiana.

As timing and karma would have it three Navy fighter jets flew over twice during the dedication, which was followed by lunch at the Italian Barrel.

We The Italians has shared our post.

Sicilian Heritage Marker on Contributions to New Orleans’ Industry and Public Safety Funded

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Two Heritage Markers have been donated for the French Quarter of New Orleans by the Marsala Cultural Fund. There is text on both sides of each marker with a QR Code to a free tour guide of forty Italian & Sicilian points of interest in the French Quarter. Additional markers are being designed and will be sent in 2020 to the required state agencies and LSU History Department for approval.

The first marker of Sicilian Music contributions has been erected at the state managed Jazz Museum on the corner of Decatur and Esplanade. A dedication was held on the morning of January 25 prior to the annual Sports Gala hosted by the American Italian Cultural Center.

A second marker has been approved by the State of Louisiana, LSU History Department. It was manufactured in September 2019 and is waiting an approved location by the City of New Orleans. The State of Louisiana has approved the markers for any state managed property or highway.

The second marker tells two stories Italian and Sicilian involvement in the Civil War and Economic Contributions during 1880s to the 1960s.

A peaceful transition back to the Union was provided by the preventing of any fire which would have destroyed the French Quarter.
The marker was installed for this photo temporarily at the Jazz Museum.

The Italian Brigade of New Orleans in 1862 patrolled the French Quarter for a safe transition back to the Union. During April 24th to May 1st of 1862, the Mayor of New Orleans asked the Italian Militia to patrol the city for an orderly transfer of control back to the Union Army. The Union Navy arrived on April 25th, but the Union Army would not arrive until May 1, 1862. When the Union Navy’s gunboats arrive, the Confederate Army decided to abandon the city rather than see it destroyed in a battle.

The Italian militia was led by Agnello Rafaele. Following the war Rafaele started a stevedore company on the Mississippi River unloading ships. The presence of Italians and Sicilians was banned on the docks of New Orleans in 1891. At this point many moved to Kenner, Grande Isle, and Independence Louisiana.

Looting and fires happened in Algiers during that 8-day period in 1862 as the residents did not want the Union Army to benefit by seizing the cotton warehouses.

The French Quarter had already been devastated by two major fires in the 18th century. The fire of 1794 burned 894 buildings. The Great New Orleans Fire of 1788 destroyed 856 of the 1,100 structures in on March 21, 1788, spanning the south central Vieux Carre from Burgundy to Chartres Street, almost to the Mississippi River front buildings. An additional 212 buildings were destroyed in a citywide on December 8, 1794.

Thus the 280 members of the Italian Brigade were approved by both the Mayor of New Orleans and the Union Admiral as a ‘neutral party’ during the Civil War as most had just arrived in America with no ties to either side. For eight days they patrol the streets of the French Quarter until the Union Army arrived to protect the facilities.

Joseph Santini, who owned the Jewel of the South Bar and has been credited with inventing new cocktails, such as the Brandy Crusta, was part of this peacekeeping force. In 2019, in honor of Santini, the Jewel of the South was re-opened.

A Forever Postage Stamp celebrates the week New Orleans converted back to the Union. Union Navy ships cleared Forts Jackson and St. Philip in Buras on April 24th. New Orleans surrendered without a battle.

The LSU Tigers and The Sicilian Zouaves of 1860

Louisiana State University ranks at the top of college polls for fan support. The Tiger mascot is an integral part of their fans’ enthusiasm. It’s origins can be traced to 1,600 Sicilian prisoners of war in Abruzzo, who were shipped in 1861 New Orleans to fight under Major Wheat. The state approved marker gives a description of this connection.

Roberdeau Wheat was a lieutenant during the 1846-1848 Mexican-American War. During 1860-1861, he was a major under General Giuseppe Garibaldi in the Italian Unification War. On May 10, 1860 Garibaldi and Wheat landed with 1,000 men in Marsala Sicily. At the time, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies included Naples and had Spanish influence. Many Sicilians were quick to join with Garabaldi, with other fighting and becoming Prisoners of War.

Wheat suggested to Garibaldi that 2,000 Sicilian POWs be sent to New Orleans with him to fight as Confederates. Garibaldi agreed and six ships of POWs left for New Orleans in the Spring of 1861. At the time the Zouave uniform was the military uniform worn in Italy. Many of Wheat’s Tigers wore the Zouave uniform during the Civil War.

From the Civil War Camp Moore Museum in Louisiana: Zouave Uniform display with photo of Major Wheat in upper right.
The museum in Abruzzo Italy tells the story of the Sicilian POWs that opted to fight as “Tigers” under Wheat in the Spring of 1861 rather than remain POWs. Six ships left for New Orleans.

General Garibaldi advises Lincoln to make the Civil War about ending Slavery.

In 1861 Abraham Lincoln offered Giuseppe Garibaldi a Brigadier General position. Garibaldi responded only if Lincoln made the war about ending slavery and made it a Major General position.

On May 11, 1860 Giuseppe Garibaldi landed in Marsala to begin the unification of Italy as France, Spain, and Austria were seeking to conquer regions of Italy. Garibaldi believed a unified Italy was needed to stop the taking of land from the five Italian kingdoms.

By March 17, 1861 Garibaldi’s Italian mission was complete. Lincoln set a representative to offer Garibaldi the Brigadier General position in September after major military defeats.

Sicilian Commerce in New Orleans

From 1884-1915 a large Sicilian immigration of over 60,000 came to New Orleans after having been recruited to work on sugar cane plantations. Many realized that in just three years, they could save enough to buy a building to open a grocery store on the bottom and live above the store.

By 1910, half of the grocery stores in Louisiana were owned by Italians from Sicily. Soon they ventured into other businesses.

As a result of the 1897 Dingley Tariff on importing pasta, eleven pasta factories opened in the French Quarter.
The marker was installed for this photo temporarily at the Jazz Museum.

Conceptual of the proposed location for erecting the second marker. In the center of the photo is a red brick building that was once the Taormina Pasta Factory and is now Muriel’s restaurant.

Taormina Bros Pasta Factory.
Conceptual of where the marker would be installed. The Taormina Pasta Factory can be seen to the right of the sign.
Conceptual of where the marker would be installed.

On March 7th 2020, Charles Marsala President of the American Italian Federation of the Southeast was invited to make a one hour presentation at the National Park Service on Decatur Street on the Sicilian Migration. The presentation consisting of sixty slides was recorded.

The Jean Lafitte Center on Decatur Street.

The New Orleans City Council and NORD were Petitioned for approval in September 2019

While the State of Louisiana has a published process, the City of New Orleans does not. Proposals are due to the State Department of Tourism in early May and must contain supporting research. Once reviewed by the Department of Tourism the packets are sent to LSU History Department. After approval by LSU History for accuracy, the packets are sent to a state committee for political approval.

In New Orleans, the decision is up to NORD or New Orleans Recreation Department to allow the markers to be erected. A presentation and request was made in September 2019 to New Orleans City Council member Kristen Palmer and the Quality of Life Committee.

In December 2019, Mayor Cantrell announced funding with approximately $3 Million annually non-profits promoting Culturing Tourism. In March, her Chief of Staff presented to the City Council and acknowledged the Italian efforts.

Other cultural markers have been erected around New Orleans.

The Pythian Temple was built in 1908 by a black fraternal organization called the Grand Lodge Colored Knights of Pythias. It had a theater, rooftop garden, a local office of the NAACP, and numerous black-owned businesses.
The Pythian Temple Marker was installed in Duncan Plaza.
Lafayette Square in New Orleans.
The Daughters of the War of 1812 host an annual ceremony in Jackson Square in which the American Flag is changed, credit is given to all who fought in the Battle of New Orleans, and wreaths are placed at the Statue of Major General Andrew Jackson.

Mitch Landrieu bypassed State Review and Approval for markers erected in 2018

In 2018, Mayor Mitch Landrieu opted to not fund $200,000.00 in requests by cultural, health, and educational non-profits to erect markers to the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Since these markers are on city land, approval was not sought by the State of Louisiana or verification by the LSU History Department.

The markers erected by Mitch Landrieu have been challenged for their omissions. During the Muslim Caliphates of the 8th, 9th, and 10th African slavery expanded. Slavery was part of the Wolof people since their earliest known history. In the pre-colonial era, slaves were either born or acquired through purchase or capture.

With the Arab conquests of West Africa in last centuries of the 1st millennium CE, one theory states that the Wolof people were forced to move into north and east Senegal where over time villages developed into autonomous states such as Baol, Kayor, Saloum, Dimar, Walo and Sine the overall ruling state being that of Jolof who came together voluntarily to form the Jolof Empire.

A major source of slaves sold by Wolof elites, and of Wolof slaves, were the war captives taken during the wars between the ethnic groups in West Africa. Slave raiding, just to obtain slaves for sale, were another significant source of slaves in Wolof territories.

The Transatlantic Slave Trade began centuries after internal African Slavery and TransIndian Ocean Slavery.

No mention in the New Orleans markers is given to the Slave Trader, Human Trafficker, and Pirate Jean Lafitte.

Monroe Louisiana Sicilians & The Columbus Social Club

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Geno’s Italian Restaurant in Monroe opened in 1964 by Geno Bruscato near “Little Italy” of Monroe.
Lt. Governor Nungesser presented Geno’s a Proclamation in 2018. Today Geno’s is operated by Geno’s son Lt. Colonel Frank Bruscato (ret) and Geno’s daughter Phyliss Bruscato.

Reprint of

Italians in the Delta: “Pioneers of Monroe”

By April Clark Honaker

The Italians in Monroe, Louisiana, are a small, tight-knit group of successful, family-oriented people who have established deep roots in the Delta while maintaining a connection to each other and to their home country, despite pressures to become mainstream Americans. Even though Italians were the largest immigrant population of turn of the 19th century Louisiana, they have remained understudied. Surprisingly, the Italians once comprised the biggest immigrant population in Louisiana, totaling 20,233 in 1910 (Cordasco and Bucchioni 40).

However, many Italian immigrants were quick to adapt and disappear in the melting pot of American life if doing so meant a chance at greater success. According to Joseph Logsdon, whose focus was Italians in south Louisiana, “[A]ssimilation had to come at the expense of Italian-American ethnicity. It was (and is) necessary to divest oneself of the outward signs of one’s Italian-ness in order to climb the vaunted ladder of ‘success’ in the American social system” (26).

Thus, at a glance, the Monroe Italians appear to be fully assimilated. Despite this fact, their inner Italian-ness remains very much intact. As a group, their origins and religion are similar to other Louisiana Italians, but they are pioneers whose own family stories and traditions truly bond them.

Striking Out on Their Own: Italian Settlement in Louisiana

Most of Louisiana’s first-generation Italians were farmers who came from poor regions in southern Italy and Sicily in the late 19th and early 20th century, and they were looking for success. Industrious and motivated, many of them were able to turn the meager wages they earned working sugarcane and other crops into enough money to strike out on their own (Becnel) or to return to their home country (Boudreaux). Frequently, Italians who came through the Port of New Orleans worked hard on local farms, saved enough to buy land, and settled around Independence in Tangipahoa Parish where they could profit from the booming strawberry industry (Becnel). However, others travelled further north, many on the railroad. A few settled near rivers in towns such as Waterproof, Vidalia, and Lake Providence (Gregory), but many were drawn to urban areas across the Mississippi and Louisiana Delta, such as Monroe.

By 1928, Monroe had a population of just over 27,000, and according to the Monroe-West Monroe Chamber of Commerce at the time, “‘The eyes of the nation’s investors [were] turned toward Dixie where . . . a prosperous empire [was] rising'” (qtd. in Harvey 28). Many Italians who had managed to accumulate enough money to invest found opportunities in Monroe, Louisiana. Once settled, they often established businesses, including bars, bakeries, grocery stores, restaurants, and fruit stands. According to Tony Cascio and Anthony Bruscato, descendants of immigrants in Monroe, many of the Italians there owned rental houses in addition to starting small businesses. Delta Italians also took advantage of educational opportunities to ensure that future generations were able to climb further in socioeconomic status (Wilson).

According to Gregory, some Italian families in the Delta have since seen their offspring establish careers as doctors, lawyers, and scholars. Indeed, Tony and Marguerite Cascio confirm this trend. Tony Cascio said, “Most of the Italians here—they weren’t well-educated. Most of them didn’t go to college,” and Marguerite Cascio continued, “They were just working people, [but] I would say the third generations were your lawyers and your doctors. We have quite a few of them now.”

By 1928, Monroe had a population of just over 27,000, and according to the Monroe-West Monroe Chamber of Commerce at the time, “‘The eyes of the nation’s investors [were] turned toward Dixie where . . . a prosperous empire [was] rising'” (qtd. in Harvey 28). Many Italians who had managed to accumulate enough money to invest found opportunities in Monroe, Louisiana. Once settled, they often established businesses, including bars, bakeries, grocery stores, restaurants, and fruit stands.

According to Tony Cascio and Anthony Bruscato, descendants of immigrants in Monroe, many of the Italians there owned rental houses in addition to starting small businesses. Delta Italians also took advantage of educational opportunities to ensure that future generations were able to climb further in socioeconomic status (Wilson). According to Gregory, some Italian families in the Delta have since seen their offspring establish careers as doctors, lawyers, and scholars. Indeed, Tony and Marguerite Cascio confirm this trend. Tony Cascio said, “Most of the Italians here—they weren’t well-educated. Most of them didn’t go to college,” and Marguerite Cascio continued, “They were just working people, [but] I would say the third generations were your lawyers and your doctors. We have quite a few of them now.”

Grasping Opportunity: The Italian-American Dream

The dream of making a better life for themselves and their families drew many poor Sicilians to Louisiana. Anthony Bruscato, a third-generation immigrant and practicing lawyer in Monroe, has spent much time reflecting on what might have motivated these immigrants: “I think it was remarkable. I guess it was the time. It was occurring around the world—not only the Italians and predominantly the Sicilians, but people all over Europe—Eastern Europe, and Asia, and whatever—migrated to the United States. There was a lot of hardship, poverty, lack of opportunity, repressive governments, people looking for some room and for some opportunity to better themselves and provide a better opportunity to their children. That’s what had to have drove them to what they did because the migration to the United States was worldwide. “

The St. Matthew’s Cemetery in Monroe lists the cities in Sicily those interned came from. Many of those buried formed the Columbus Social Club of Monroe.

Bruscato said news began to circulate through letters and care packages back and forth from Monroe to small towns in Sicily—Cefalu, Caccamo, Vicari, Salaparuta, and Corleone—that one could leave home and find family in Monroe. According to Marguerite Cascio, word of job opportunities also traveled back to Sicily: “The way I understood it, you had to have somebody more or less not sponsor you, but you had to know someone living here that would probably offer you a job. You almost had to have a job promised to be able to come in to the country.”

Still the people drawn by the American dream and the promise of support were disproportionately poor. Even Bruscato could not imagine why a family of firm middle class standing would want to relocate, but for those with little prospects, the decision was easy:

If you’re poverty-stricken, no job, no opportunity, can’t find the funds to buy clothes or food for your family, and you make and do, and your diet is horrible, and you hear that there’s a place over there, another place in the world—there’s jobs, there’s opportunity, you can achieve things you want to do in life, I guess the attraction would attract anybody. . . . I guess that’s what happened.

Though many Italian immigrants came into Louisiana with nothing, they quickly got busy pursuing the American dream and often found the work easier if they joined forces with other Italians.

Building Little Italy: A Network of Pioneers

Once settled in Monroe, the Italians stuck together, building and supporting one another’s businesses, creating “a little network” according to Bruscato. Along with businesses, they built homes and established Italian social clubs, such as the Columbus Social Club and the Progressive Men’s Club. Bruscato believes it was his mother’s uncle Antonio Messina who built the first Columbus Social Club at the corner of DeSiard and Sixth around 1906. His description of the Monroe club illustrates the importance of the site in maintaining Italian folk traditions such as rituals and music:

And every area where all of these immigrants, and particularly Sicilians, they all stuck to each other when they got where they were going. Here in Monroe, of course Christopher Columbus is a national hero of Italy, and most Italians wherever they populated in the United States would start a club called the Columbus Social Club. And we had one in Monroe, Louisiana. While on the rooftop [of the club]—if you talk to the old timers the immigrants—they would have their socials up there, they would have their weddings, their receptions, their birthdays or gatherings. My grandfather on my father’s side played the accordion and he was part of the entertainment. Somebody else would play this instrument, so it was a close knit—where the Italians would get together and enjoy each other’s fellowship and friendship. Most of them were members of that club.

According to Bruscato, these clubs, especially the Columbus Social Club, were a favorite site for weddings, receptions, birthdays, and other celebrations. They served as a point of connection for the Monroe Italians, as well as a place for them to celebrate their Italian-ness.

Both Bruscato and Tony Cascio also reported that the overall Italian presence in Monroe was much greater than most realize. They were involved in the community at every level. While small grocery stores were a common livelihood for Italians, Bruscato said, “Not all Italian immigrants opened grocery stores.” Italians did many things to provide for their families. Vincent Anzalone, a second-generation Italian, said his family initially had barber shops.

Then in 1940 he and his brother opened a hardware and furniture store: Star Hardware. Cascio said his father started “just about any type of business you can name: a grocery, a barbeque business, and we had a little dry cleaning plant. All this was on Oak Street . . . where we was born. He had a little Italian restaurant too. That’s the way we all took off from there, you know.” In addition to owning small businesses, Italians worked in city government, ran buses and trolleys, and practiced trades including carpentry, tile setting, general labor, and plumbing. Many passed on their trades to their children.

According to Cascio much of downtown Monroe was populated by the Italians up until Mayor Howard expropriated the land needed to build the Civic Center. Cascio said,

Where the fountain is [in front of the Civic Center] that was my daddy’s property. In fact when they . . . cleared all that out, that was “Little Italy.” From Seventh Street back to the railroad, where the Civic Center is, all that property was “Little Italy” . . . . Well, you can call it “Little Italy” because they had so many in there. . . . You know you had about 500 houses that they destroyed when they built the Civic Center.

Cascio was not sure what year the land was taken, but the Civic Center was built in 1965, and the changes did little to slow progress for the Italians, especially the Cascios. Cascio explained,

So when the city took our property, me and my brother-in-law had a little old bar on the end down there, so they bought it from us, and we just borrowed, we all, me and my brothers, borrowed money from the rest of the family. That’s how we went into the restaurant business, and, of course, we had it all together. We had eight or ten restaurants in Monroe.

Bruscato also recalls how his father who continued in the family grocery business came back from World War II “and moved to Louisville and Riverside streets where he converted a large building into a place to live and some commercial outlets.” According to Bruscato, after a few years, his father became restless and wanted to try something else:

[H]e had this wanderlust attitude that the world was bigger than Monroe, L. He sold [our] house, and I remember him counting the money on the kitchen table, what he received in the proceeds of that sale, and he bought . . . a brand new Studebaker, a land cruiser, and he bought a late ’30s truck, ton and a half truck. Loaded all the furniture and hired a driver and with the three boys and my mother and father, headed west. It took us three weeks to get to California because there were places along the way he might have wanted to stop and live, but he kept going. I guess if it wasn’t for the Pacific Ocean we’d still be going west. Well, anyway we stayed out in California from my age eight till age sixteen in southern California and L.A. County and then came back to Monroe in 1956.

Though the Bruscato groceries no longer exist in Monroe, their legacy remains. Tony Cascio remembers them: “Yeah, Bruscato’s folks had a place . . . right next door there [to Star Furniture] . . . they had a big grocery store with fresh seafood back then. Hell, that’s before the war so we’re going way back, and that’s how we started in the restaurant business . . . fresh seafood. That was our secret.” In many ways, it seems the Italians were a very connected group in Monroe, often telling stories about each other.

In fact, Bruscato told about the Varino family’s grocery business and the impact it had on the community, especially smaller grocers. His story describes a process in which credit trickled down in the hardest times:

There was a family here in Monroe, their last name was Varino, and they were from a small town near Caccamo on the coast called Termini Imersi. And he still has relatives there. When he came over, Frank Varino and his wife, they had a large family. He was in the Wholesale Grocery business. It was located on Trenton Street, the old section of West Monroe. Well, all of his children worked in that wholesale grocery business, and they would be salesmen making rounds with these grocery stores that these Italians were running, and that was where they would get their credit to get in to business—to stay in business. All this transpired in the teens and the twenties and thirties, during the depression. So it was extremely important they got credit, these people who had these grocery stores.

The customers that would come into these grocery stores would also get credit. To a large measure most of them were African Americans where the businesses were located. And they would get credit. So it’s interesting how the credit line was extended from the wholesaler down to the ultimate purchaser, particularly during hard times when people didn’t have any money to buy food but they needed food and they found credit. So there was a great deal of affinity among grocery store operators and the people who traded with them, because they could always go down there and get something to eat. Every one of them had a little box with what is the credit balance that you owe.

Such stories suggest the loyalty the Italians had to one another and their concern for the wellbeing of the community as whole, not just for their personal advancement.

In 1906 Italian National Organizing begins in Shreveport

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From Shreveport to Monroe to Northern Louisiana to all of Louisiana to a National Organization for Italians.

During WWII the Italian Moderna Society changed its names and opened membership to all.
On July 31, 1906 the Italian Moderna Society was established in Shreveport Louisiana.
Sam Marsala and his Champion Cucuzzas

In the 1930s other clubs opened in North Louisiana in places such as Monroe, Baton Rouge, Alexandria, and Opelousas. In the 1970s, Louisiana organized the full state. At the same time the National Italian American Federation was formed.