Around the turn of the 20th century, a young Italian immigrant named Enrico “Henry” Caputo arrived to work in the steel mills of western Pennsylvania. In 1906 he married another Italian immigrant, Anna Fuoco, the 14-year-old daughter of a janitor. (The Fuocos would later Americanize their last name to its literal translation: “Fire.”)
Henry and Anna would have eight American-born children together. Here’s the family in Cleveland in the 1930 census, along with Anna’s widowed mother, Emily Fire, and a son-in-law.
But it’s important to remember that Italian immigrants like the Caputos and the Fuocos were not exactly welcomed with open arms.
In 1891, 19 Italian-Americans were indicted for the murder of the New Orleans police chief. After many of the defendants were acquitted, and a mistrial declared for others, a massive riot broke out at the prison where they were being held. 11 of the men were brutally lynched by an angry mob.
This is how those murders were covered on the front page of the Pittsburgh Dispatch, an hour away from where Enrico Caputo would soon make his home. The Italian men are referred to as “demons,” “wretched” and “hunted animals.”
Here’s a headline from the Pittsburgh Press in 1903, just as Enrico Caputo was getting adjusted to life in his new country. The “undesirable” immigrants? Italians, Greeks, “some Turks” and Syrians, who, the article complains, had created urban strongholds “in which every one of the undesirable home customs is perpetuated and in which the people seem to have no idea beyond eking out an existence with as little effort as possible. They usually do not even take the trouble learn our language.”
You can peruse this fascinating “History of Anti-Italianism” compiled by the Italian American Museum of Los…