Clan Culture: Diary of Joseph Antonio Iovino


Let me begin by sharing that this story hasn’t seen the light of day for over a decade. As a third-year Anthropology major at the University of Rhode Island in the early 90’s, I had to interview a first-generation United States citizen about their upbringing, and how culture shaped their lives. I chose my Uncle Raymond, my Dad’s oldest living brother at the time. I came across this story quite by accident today, and remembered I’d promised to send it to Sandra Iovino Bartlett that day at SCH. Here’s a good ‘ol dose of culture from The Hill. Framing the story in a diary format came to me after some struggle and desperation in trying find a creative outlet for all of the information I’d compiled. I still have pages of hand-written notes from our conversation tucked away in a box, along with a copy of the textbook.

“Textbook” you ask? One of my prouder college moments  – and believe me, there are some I choose to forget – is about a week after turning the paper in, my professor called me over and said the following “You know you got the best grade in the class, right?” I just stood there and gawked. I knew it was special, but my hard work was validated by the only person besides myself, that really mattered with regards to this project. He stuck a clip-boarded form in front of my face, asking for my permission to add this paper into a future required textbook. I was published for the first time, along with one other student with an Italian relative from Westerly, RI. Of course I signed. I’ve updated the document to reflect more recent events, but I pray the loop won’t be closed for many, many more years. Enjoy!


May 1906

A son is born to Antonio and Maria Iovino, given the name of Guisseppe Antonio Iovino, he will live in Marzano Appia, Italy with his parents. He is the fourth child to be born to Antonio and Maria. A formal baptism will be held in five days.

October 1918: 12 years old

Antonio Joseph and Maria Alicia Iovino are killed in a horse and buggy accident. They are survived by 4 children: Antonette, 20 of Lawrence, Massachusetts, USA; Marianetta, 26 of Hartford, Connecticut, USA; Alphonse, 27 of Providence, Rhode Island, USA and Guisseppe, 12 of Marzano Appia, Italy. A private funeral will be held in two days.

November 1918: 12 years old

Brother Alphonse has sent for me to go and live with him in Providence, Rhode Island, USA. I am very scared to leave the land I know and love, but I cannot live here without my Mama and Papa, and so I must go. My sisters Maria and Antonette want me to go and live with them also, but they do not have enough money to support me, so I will go to Alphonse, for he is a baker with his own shop. Oh how I miss my Mama and Papa, but other family and a new life await me in America.

December 1918: 12 years old

After weeks on a large ship, I have finally arrived at my destination. Brother Alphonse and Sister Antonette are waiting for me on the dock of a city unlike any I have ever seen. Alphonse is waving papers at a man who gave me trouble; apparently I need a sponsor and a job to be able to come to America. Brother Alphonse says everything is okay, that he has taken care of everything, and we will have a Christmas after all! Just being here with my family is all the Christmas I need.

February 1919: 12 years old

I started in a new school, which has been very difficult for me. The teachers are speaking a language I am unfamiliar with, but I am sure to catch on quickly. The teacher gets annoyed with me easily though, and she is always saying that I must learn things the “American way”, or I will not be able stay in school. I must try harder to please her.

March 1919: 12 years old

Brother Alphonse is very pleased with me, as my teacher has moved me from the sixth grade to the eighth grade in just a few months. I am learning English much quicker now, as Brother is always speaking the language now so that I do well in school. Besides learning a new language here in America, school seemed a lot harder in Italy.

April 1921: 15 years old

I have left school so that I may help Brother Alphonse in the bakery all the time. I am disappointed to leave something that I am doing so well in, but responsibility lies with Alphonse, for I would not have this wonderful life in America if it were not for him. I believe that I already know everything that is important to know anyway, but I will miss the friends I have made.

May 1926: 6 days before my 20th birthday

I have met the woman of my dreams. Her name is Pasquelina and she came into the shop today to buy some bread for her Mama. She asked me if this was my shop, and I said no, it is Brother Alphonse’s shop, but I am in the dough anyway! Oh what a smile she displayed. Mark my words, someday she will be mine forever.

July 1926: 20 years old

Pasquelina and I are to marry tomorrow. It has been some years now since my Mama and Papa passed away, and the memories seem to be fading fast and sometimes I cannot remember what they look like. I wish so hard that they could meet my lovely bride to be, but alas it was not meant to be. Tomorrow I will be surrounded by friends and family, and hopefully Mama and Papa will be smiling down on me from Heaven.

April 1927: 20 years old

I am so proud, for Pasquelina has given me a son, and we have named him Raymondo Joseph. He will be christened when he is a little stronger. We are living now on Cedar Street, in a fine but modest home; a good home to bring up many children. I am still baking with my brother, however, he has not been feeling well as of late, and I am very worried. I have written to Marianetta and Antonette to tell them about our brother, they will come immediately for a visit.   Although we do not have much room for them here with the arrival of Ramondo, we will make do.

October 1929: 22 years old

I have once again been blessed with another son to carry on the family name. This is very important to me, for there is only Alphonse and I to carry on our name, but we will not survive forever. Our second son, named Joseph Alphonse was born at home today. It is strange to have a baby in the house again, for Ramondo is getting so big, so fast. We speak Italian to him, and he is picking up many words very fast. His first word was Mama. Oh how he made Pasquelina proud!

November 1933: 26 years old

Today we received a note from Raymondo’s teacher saying that she must come over at once to speak to Pasquelina and I about Raymondo. I can only hope that it is nothing serious and that no shame has been brought to the family. I have told Raymondo to go to his room until after his teacher has left just in case the news is not good.

Pasquelina and I have been blessed with three more sons: Alberto Renaldo born in November, 1931, Renaldo Armando born in July, 1932 and Thomas Guisseppe born in May of 1933.

November 1933: 26 years old

Raymondo’s teacher has informed us that we must speak English to Raymondo at home all the time, as it is not enough to just speak the language in school. Pasquelina is very upset at this, for this is our one connection to our homeland. But alas, I remember my teacher saying the very same thing. Pasquelina and I will give it much thought before we make a decision to further cut our ties to our homeland of Italy.

September 1934: 27 years old

I have a new job working for the WPA which has been started under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. I make $13.00 a week. Brother Alphonse has sold the bakery, as he is too sick to take care of it and I must make more money than the bakery can give me to support my large family. So I have taken a government job, and hopefully this will lead to many more job possibilities for me.

December 1934: 27 years old

Today, the WPA dropped off a large box of toys for the children for Christmas. Pasquelina told Ramondo not to tell the children where the toys had been hidden, which was on the top shelf of his closet. So what do you think he did?

April 9, 1938: 30 years old

A sad day has come. Brother Alphonse has passed away, on the very day a son was born. He has been sick on and off now for about ten years because of a heart ailment, and I feel the loss very much. He is now with our Mama and Papa, looking down proudly. But for every man who has passed, one will come anew. Pasquelina has given birth to yet a sixth son named Roberto Ricardo in March of 1934. Unfortunately, Pasquelina miscarried between the births of Roberto and our first daughter Dorothy Maria, named after my Mama, born in August of 1936. She is the apple of my eye. I have always wanted many sons, but there is something special about my Dorothy. Ricardo Donato is the blessed one, born on the day of the death of my beloved brother Alphonse. He must be special to have come to us on such a sad day. There will be no more children for us, as we feel this is certainly a sign. We have been very lucky to bring into the world so many healthy children that we do not dare to press our luck.

May 1938: 31 years old

Pasquelina is very sick today, and I must go to work, so I have kept Raymondo out of school to go to the store. This is a big test of responsibility for our Raymondo, and I am positive he will do well, for he always helps his Mama and Papa when we need him to. I have given him a list of vegetables and other assorted groceries to take to the store and purchase. I have given him instructions to prepare the food so that when I come home, I can show him how to cook a good meal for his family.

December 1939: 32 years old

I believe my son has embarrassed me very much. Last week I came home from the bakery to find a sled in our hallway. I knew that this sled did not belong to any of my children, so I asked my oldest where the sled came from. Raymondo replied that the sled was lent to him by a friend. We will see.

December 1939: 32 years old

Well, that sled is still here one week later, and I cannot imagine someone giving up such a beautiful sled for so long, so I told my Raymondo that he better tell me the truth, or he will get a beating. He told me that he stole the sled. I told him that he must put the sled back in the child’s hallway immediately, and to never do such a thing again. Hopefully we will not be found out, for this could give the family a very bad reputation. Stealing is a very dishonorable thing to do in this neighborhood. I do not bring up thieves in my family.

June 1941: 34 years old

We have moved to a larger home to accommodate our large family. Our new home is on Spruce street. Our oldest son, Raymondo has left school to help his Mama and Papa support the family. He has been a big help around the house, and I know no responsibility is too great for my son. Besides, is there ever such a thing as too much responsibility? He also does things for the markets down the hill. He can not keep much money for himself however, for a child with too much money to spend becomes a very spoiled child.

June 1944: 37 years old

Another sad day, yet also a very proud one. My oldest son Raymondo, now 17 years old, has signed up to serve his country in the Navy. He has been sent to Samson, New York for boot camp, and his Mama and I already miss him. But he must make his own decisions now, for he is all grown up. We still have a full house, and the responsibility of helping Pasquelina around the house and with the children has fallen upon Joseph. Joseph does not seem as responsible as Raymondo, he seems very wild. But I am sure he will do his best, as I have brought up all my children to work their hardest at everything.