Immigrant Stories: From a strong Italian … or Austrian family
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Terry and Susan Fattor have lived in Glenwood Springs for over forty years. They have a daughter, Christie, and three sons, Eric, Nicholas and Troy.
Terry: My grandparents came from a small town in Italy called Romeno. It’s in the very northern part near the Alps. They came to the United States in 1910.
Susan: They were married in April of 1910 and, two weeks later, they left for the U.S. by boat and landed at Ellis Island on May 8th.
Gallacher: What are the stories from back then?
Terry: Well it’s interesting. There is no question that I am Italian, but if you asked my grandma and even my uncles and dad, when they were alive, there was resistance to being Italian. According to them, we were Austrian. Even on the chart that we have from Ellis Island, they signed in as being from Romeno, Austria.
Grandma would get pretty upset when anyone would assume that we were from Italy. In those days, the Austrian and Italian border was moving back and forth, depending on the politics. Some days it would be Austria and some days it would be Italy. So I guess they got to choose.
My grandparents came to Cambria, Wyoming. My granddad got a job in the coal mine and they started a family. My granddad didn’t have any experience as a coal miner. Romeno is farm and orchard country, but coal mining was what a lot of immigrants did to get started.
My grandfather died from influenza when my dad and his brothers were pretty young. My grandmother was left to raise four sons and a daughter on her own. We’re still not sure how she was able to get by. The kids were all very young. My dad was only seven. They were living in Denver by this time.
When my granddad died my grandmother told her oldest son, my Uncle Lou, who was nine at the time, to gather up all the photos of Grandpa. They collected every picture that had my grandfather in it and buried them in the backyard.
To this day, I have never seen a picture of my grandfather. I guess my grandmother was saying to herself and her kids, “O.K. this part of our life is over”. She never remarried and she raised five kids. Actually, she had six but she lost a son when he was just a baby.
They were a very tight family who depended on one another. Grandma raised them as strong Catholics. Faith was important to them throughout their lives. They grew up in poverty in a little house near the railroad tracks.
Those kids took care of their mom. Dad used to tell me of how he and his brothers would hop up on the trains as they passed and throw coal off the side of the cars. That was dangerous and illegal activity that could have gotten them in trouble with the rail yard cops. But Dad said that the engineers would see them and look the other way. They must have known that the family was struggling to get by.
The boys would gather up the coal and that’s the way they heated their home and cooked their food. The house was a one-bedroom with a tiny kitchen, a living room and a bathroom.
My Uncle Lou was the oldest and the first one to go to school. Apparently, he got beat up because he spoke mostly Italian and very little English. Grandma was a very strong personality, so I’m sure she went to the school and complained, even though she couldn’t speak much English herself. After that Grandma told the kids, “O.K. that’s it. We speak English from now on. No one speaks Italian ever again”. And, according to my dad, they never did. Grandma spoke very rough English, but it was English, never Italian.
Gallacher: There was a lot of discrimination toward Italians during that time.
Terry: Apparently so. At that same time, my Grandma changed all of kids’ names from Italian to English. My Uncle Luigi became “Lou”, Aunt Ana became “Ann”, Uncle Mario became “John”, my dad was Angelo James and he became “Eugene James” or “E.J.”, Uncle Arturo became “Art”. Our last named was pronounced “Faator” in Italian. That was changed to Fattor (fatter).
They all started working at a very young age and they were all very successful. Only one of them went to college but they all helped take this country to a whole other level. It’s amazing what they were able to do without much education. They grew up in the Depression and worked very hard for everything they had. Money was something to be saved and respected because you could lose it all tomorrow.
Gallacher: How did your dad’s childhood experience color his life?
Terry: He made sure all of us went to college and he was always careful with his money. It was only late in life that he finally felt like he had any money. I think his one goal was to make sure all of his kids went to college, and we all did. He was typical of that generation who didn’t want their kids to have to experience the hardships they did.
Susan: I think Terry’s dad always felt like he had to be the person who provided. When he started dating Terry’s mom he had to stop because he was going to night school and he couldn’t concentrate on his studies and have a girlfriend. When he finished night school they started dating again.
They were married at six in the morning. There wasn’t a wedding. They just went down to the courthouse and got married because he had to go to work that day. He didn’t feel like he could take the day off.
Terry: Mom was a dancer who could have had a career, but once they got married she couldn’t do that anymore because Dad felt like he was the one who was supposed to provide.
Gallacher: What kind of Italian traditions did your dad bring to the family?
Terry: We didn’t have much other than polenta. Like I said, my dad insisted that we were Austrian right up to the end. You know, I never thought about my heritage much, growing up. But when my dad died it was my son, Eric, who wanted to know more about our family’s roots. When we were sorting through my dad’s things, he found an Italian magazine that my dad subscribed to.
The magazine was in Italian and published in the Romeno area. Eric found a website and sent an email. A few days later, my cousin Ricardo responded to him. That was the start of a long relationship and five years ago we got the chance to go to Romeno for a family reunion.
It was a very emotional experience for me. I didn’t expect it to be that way. I met a whole new part of my family there. They are wonderful people. They spoke no English and we didn’t speak Italian so there was a severe language barrier but the feeling was there. We understood each other on a whole other level. We had somebody translate for us most of the time, but we couldn’t really converse like I wanted to. I wanted, so much, to join in and have a good time with them and I couldn’t.
Romeno is a very Catholic town and we went to church in the same church where my grandma had gone to Mass as a young girl. It was very moving to be in the town where my family has been for generations.
In the middle of Romeno there is a fountain where people have gathered for probably hundreds of years. I made a point of drinking from that fountain like my grandmother and grandfather did as children. It was an experience I will never forget.
– To read other Immigrant Stories go to http://www.immigrantcolorado.blogspot.com
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