Immigrants from Southern Campania
(The Cilento)to The USA: Noting the Mohawk Valley
and Central Pennsylvania Presence

James C. Mancuso
Los Angeles, California

Usually the Southern Italians and Sicilians who emigrated to The United States of America would find their way to communities in The USA where they would find people who came from their own regions of the land which they had left. Thus, in the city of Albany, New York, most to the descendants of this region would trace their families back to either the Ionian Sea side of "the toe" of Calabria or to Sicily. If one visits the Italian communities in the cities of the Mohawk Valley, to the west of Albany, he/she would find that many of the Italian-Americans would trace their forebears to the southern portion of Provincia di Salerno. In the Mohawk Valley, the immigrants found work in the thriving manufacturing establishments that grew up along the course of the Erie Canal, which was later paralleled by the railroads. Similarly, the people from the Southern end of the Province of Salerno also readily found employment in the coal fields of Central Pennsylvania. Once several families from Il Cilento became established in the area of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, they enticed other families to join them. Thus, many of Hazleton's current citizens are able to visit Il Cilento to find families with whom they share relatively close familial ties.

Observing the map, one can trace the shore of the Mare Tirreno around the Bay of Naples to the Sorentino Peninsula, then around the Amalfi Coast around the Bay of Salerno. At the south end of the Bay of Salerno, one finds an almost "rectangular" peninsula which juts out from "the boot," just above "the instep," where Calabria begins. This peninsula is covered with steep, imposing mountains. The area is dotted with little mountain-top villages that are typical of the geography of southern Italy. In that the northern region of the rectangular "peninsula" had been referred to as "The Cilento," the people of the region often call themselves "Cilentani;" and they speak of the entire peninsula as The Cilento.

Like other regions of Southern Italy, this region was occupied by one after another outside force, up until the time of the unification of Italy in 1860. A significant event in the history of the region occurred following a veritable Muslim invasion of the Campania region in the year 882. Before the dukes of the region managed to form an alliance that was capable of blocking the invasion, the Saracens had actually approached the walls of Rome. Driven back, the Arabs moved toward the South, rather than toward Rome. One of the important cities in The Cilento, Agropoli -- located at the northernmost location on the peninsula -- had the distinction of being occupied by the Saracens from the year 882 to 915. From this base, the Saracens regularly invaded the mountain regions, pillaging and taking slaves. Thus, many of the inhabitants who had escaped the city before it was captured, found themselves in peril of enslavement as a result of the invasions. Many of the histories of the towns in the mountains record the terror of the inhabitants who found themselves under siege while the Saracens systematically destroyed town walls and castles. The Muslims were driven from the region only after Pope John X, who assumed the Pontificate in 914, organized a Christian coalition that laid siege to the other important Saracen stronghold, Garigilano. When that city fell, the Arabs decided that their situation at Agropoli was untenable, particularly since a Byzantine flotilla appeared off the coast. They withdrew from that part of the Italian peninsula.

This terrible period set the tone of destitution and disorganization from which the region only recently has emerged. When, after 1870, the inhabitants of the region were relieved of the constraints placed on them by the nobility of the region, they applied for passports through the newly formed Republic of Italy. Thus, like so many other impoverished regions of southern Italy, the area sent thousands of its inhabitants out to seek opportunity in The New World. The South American continent attracted the peasant people of Il Cilento. Farm land was readily available in Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina , Many of those emigrants found their way to the Mohawk Valley. And, as also was frequently the case, the Italian immigrants to the Mohawk Valley have many connection to other Italian-American communities in which the Cilentani have settled. For example, many families in Amsterdam, New York, have relatives in the community of Hazleton, Pennsylvania; where many other Cilentani had made their homes.

In recent years The Cilento has benefitted from the tourism that has grown up around the striking geography of the region. The beauty of seacoast of the region is unmatched by few other coasts in the world. The visitor who has already traveled the California Coast between Monterrey and Santa Barbara will find the coast of the Cilento to be comparable. The beauty of the town of Palinuro has assured that it is a favored resort town. .

The history of the towns can fascinate visitors and the descendents of the Italy-to=The-USA immigration who return to visit the places of their families' origins. The town of Palinure, for example, has significant historical and literary attractions. Virgil (70-19 B.C.) tells his readers that Aeneas, on his seven year journey from Troy to settle in the Tiber Valley, first landed on the Italian Peninsula at Palinuro. To further ground his tale, Virgil writes that the helmsman of Aeneas' ship, named Palinuro, had been washed overboard, but was alive when he reached the cape, Capo Palinuro. Aeneas found that the natives of the area had tended the dying helmsman, and had buried him. The fleeing Trojans -- the ancestors of the founders of Rome -- then held funeral games and named the site for their dead comrade.

More typical of the towns of this area, however, is the town of Pisciotta (pictured above). The town has all the characteristics of an medieval southern Italian town. It is built on a high headland backed by even higher mountains. Thus, the town could build practically impregnable fortifications. A visitor can sit at a table in one of the outdoor cafes enjoying the magnificant seacoast vistas. Long stretches of sandy beaches in the area offer the opportunity to take long walks and dips in the sea while acquiring a Mediterranean tan. Though the cultivatable areas of the region could not be regarded as particularly rich, the food production is varied and supports the exquisite, simple cuisine of the area. The picturesque settings, on which are built the classic ancient hill towns from which the waves of emigrants departes -- narrow streets, solid stone buildings of every type, charming piazze, etc. -- lures visitors from all parts of Europe. A cooking school and a language school add to the attractions of the area, as do the opportunities to visit the other ancient villages which dot the area.

Vigorous, well educated leadership has spurred the economic development of the region. The well engineered roads allow an ease of communication that would astonish one of the emigrants who left the area before the mid-XXth century. An active grop of the citizens of Hazleton, Pennsylvania -- descendents of the Cilentani immigrants to central Pennsylania -- have collaborated with the people of the political unit known as Communita" del Lambro e Mingardo to form a Sister Cities relationship with Hazleton. The Communita' is composed of 14 of the small villages that sent so many of its citizens to Hazleton to work in the coal mines. T he collaboration has resulted in exchanges of visits and pleasing reconnection between members of families that had been separated but a century and several thousand miles.

Any of the Italian-Americans from the region who have managed to maintain or to reestablish such contacts with their families of origin can count on a warm reception while visiting the area. Anyone so fortunate would miss a superb opportunity if he/she would deprive himself of receiving such a welcome.

This essay was developed as a part of the effort of The Albany (NY) Area Lodge of The Sons of Italy to make available material that will develop an appreciation and understanding of The Italy-to-USA Avventura. The writers of this essay and other text found on this world wide web site claim sole responsibility for the content of their productions.


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. The author, Jim Mancuso died on June 10th, 2005. We maintain this site in memory of all the things that he did for us.

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