Immigration to the United States

The Rodolico Family

By Daniel Piraino

Nicola Rodolico was born in the town of Prizzi in the hills of Western Sicily. Today his great grand children who, along with their parents and grandparents, have lived in Lercara Friddi for generations, are still known as i Prizzitani. Nicola and Rosina (Neglia) Rodolico had 4 children: Luciano, Andrea, Serafina (my mother) and Giuseppe. Luciano was the only one of these who did not immigrate to America and as a result his descendants still live in Lercara Friddi.

Andrea first immigrated to Argentina before joining his sister and younger brother in Manhattan. There are two stories about how he happened to go to Argentina. One is that he got on the wrong ship by mistake and the other that he sought better opportunities in Argentina and when they didn’t materialize, he went on to the US. In any case the three siblings lived in the lower East side in Manhattan in what my mother described as awful living conditions in tre stanzi (three rooms) in the tenements of the era. After a few years Andrea and Serafina and their families moved to the relatively bucolic atmosphere of Staten Island. In Serafina’s case this move was made necessary by the asthma she suffered from and which was exacerbated by the crowded, airless atmosphere of lower Manhattan. She actually threatened my father that she would return to Lercara Friddi if she couldn’t get out of Manhattan. Staten Island provided a good compromise.

Giuseppe served in the American army in World War I. He fought in the trenches and there he met a charismatic Pentecostal minister who was fighting next to him. In the course of their time together, the preacher converted Giuseppe to his religion. When he got back to his home in New York, nothing would do but he worked on converting his brother and sister to his new-found religion. And that explains why they left the Catholic church and how all their descendants ended up as non-Roman Catholics despite our Sicilian heritage. In fact my parents conducted a weekly prayer meeting in our home and Andrea later became the pastor of the Staten Island Italian Pentecostal church. The Lercari Friddi branch of the family are of course still strict Catholics.

I first visited Lercara Friddi in 1959 while serving on a Navy ship operating in the Mediterranean. I was welcomed with great enthusiasm and treated like royalty by the cousins there: Domenico and Andrea and their wives as well as their mother, Luciano’s widow. The third of Luciano’s children, Nicola, was killed in World War II on the Russian front. The living conditions in Lercara Friddi at that time were very much like those my mother had described as existing when she was growing up. The cousins were still trying to eke out a living on a small holding of worn out land (la campagna). The houses were poorly heated with the living quarters above the stable and with rudimentary sanitary facilities. When I visited again in 1996, conditions had changed dramatically. The next generation (Domenico’s and Andrea’s children) had gone to Turin for several years and there they learned trades and earned hard cash. They then returned to Lercara Friddi and started a business. Several of the cousins own a factory together which manufactures high quality doors and windows. Their living conditions had improved dramatically since my last visit and their houses rivaled anything we had in the US. It was wonderful to see how much better their economic situation had become. The only thing that hadn’t changed was the wonderful hospitality they provided my wife and me during our brief visit.