First Ward Genealogy Heritage Immigration

Never Forget Where you Came From

I heard that phrase all the time growing up…

“Never forget where you came from.”

It’s a short sentence, but it is packed with a lot of meaning. But what does it really mean?

For me personally, my story begins in the Old First Ward of Newark. But for the full family story, I need to go back to Italy.

But it wasn’t actually Italy.

At the time my great-grandfather, Gabriele Ficetola, was born, Italy didn’t really exist. Unification of the nation of Italy didn’t take place until 1861. He was born in 1856 in Calabritto, Avellino, which is part of the Campania region. He was the first of my family to come to America in 1888. When he arrived at Ellis Island, his name was changed to what I’ve known my entire life – Gabriel E. Fucetola.

My great-grandfather, Gabriele Ficetola’s birth record. (Source: Ancestry)

The peninsula of Italy has been inhabited from 800BC. Since classical antiquity, ancient Etruscans, various Italic peoples, including the Celts, Magna Graecia colonists, French, Austrians, Germanic peoples, and other ancient societies have inhabited the Italian Peninsula. You can find influences from the Greeks, Arabs, and more. If you attended a Western Civilization class in high school or college, just about every society mentioned called Italy home at one point.

Just like how most of us look at New Jersey, Italy is kind of the same. The Northern and Southern regions have different and distinct ways of life. Northern Italy was one of education and industry, Southern Italy was poor and hungry. Post unification, most Italian immigrants to the United States came from the Southern regions of Italy; specifically Campania, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, and Sicily. Between 1880 and 1914, more than 4 million Italians immigrated to the United States.

So as those individuals emigrated, they didn’t have that strong emotion for a united Italy. They had strong emotions about their province. As time passed and generations grew, they looked at their heritage less from a regional association and more from a national heritage. Americans of Italian descent were just that. They weren’t Campanian, they were Italian. We now have an incredible pride in our heritage, be it regionally or nationally.

But it proves what I’ve always said, everyone wants to be Italian.

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