An Italian Immigrant, Salvatore Conigliaro

My nonno passed away when I was very young, much too young to appreciate the sacrifice he made for his family. After coming across an interview my mother recorded with him, I’m reminded of what an incredible person he was and how different of a life we had. This is about his story as an Italian immigrant who believed in the beauty of America and found it.

We were taught in school the evils of the Fascist regime. Therefore, it is hard to believe my nonno, Salvatore Conigliaro, started each school day singing the Fascist anthem. Praying for Mussolini, the King, and The Pope was routine for the Sicilian youth; yet, we were routinely taught to resent Mussolini and his allegiance with Adolf Hitler. As a young boy, he believed “Mussolini was like a God. There was law and order in the streets. You could be arrested if you were outside and used God’s name in vain. We could sleep peacefully with our doors unlocked knowing we were safe.” While we imagine ourselves as heroes, Salvatore would never forget the sight of American soldiers entering his town not only because of his 10-year-old wonder but because of how it altered his life. He remembers things being worse once the Americans came. “Roads were destroyed, trains weren’t running, and we weren’t getting anything from the mainland because they were still fighting the allies”.

Despite his initial impression of Americans, Salvatore believed there was a better life in America for his wife and future children. His wife worked in the U.S. for two years before she returned to marry him in 1960. After becoming pregnant, they had to decide the life they wanted to have. Under the impression that the American born child would make Salvatore’s immigration to America easier, they decided to send her back to the U.S. to have their child. However, due to strict immigration laws, he couldn’t come until April 1962--a year after his first child was born.

At first, America was not the magical place he had only heard about from the few people from his small town that actually ventured to this land of prosperity. While he obviously had difficulty in adjusting his palette from real Italian cuisine to American cuisine, he mostly didn’t like the more relaxed Sundays spent in America compared to the eventful and lively Sunday nights in Sicily.

While he had enjoyed his career as a hairdresser in Sicily, he quickly learned this wouldn’t cut it for him and his growing family in America. He became a laborer in the construction field. Working sometimes six to seven days a week, he didn’t get to see his family but was able to buy a home by 1974. He instilled his great work ethic in his children who all were able to get jobs, a feat that would have been difficult in Sicily.

Despite the difficulties he faced trying to make it in America, he had said, “the United States have been my home for 38 years and I could never go back to live in Sicily. When I was growing up the only thing I always heard about America was that it was the land of the rich. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s true. In the United States, you can achieve whatever you want as long as you have the ambition to so”.

I hope his story could be one that reminds people of how lucky we are to have the freedom we do and use that freedom to pursue your dream life.