California Council for the Humanities

California Stories Initiative

Years of Valor, Years of Hope

Tulare County and the Years 1941-1946

Tulare County Library

The Friends of the Tulare County Library

And the Tulare County Historical Society

Interviews in 2003-2004

Interviewee: Ida Romanazzi

 

Date: March 1, 2004

Report No: 72

Interviewer: Colleen Paggi

 

Place: Tulare County, CA

Place of Interview: Visalia, CA

ITALY

VISALIA

RACE RELATIONS

CP: My name is Colleen Murphy Paggi, today is Monday, March 1, 2004 and I am at the home of Ida Romanazzi in Visalia, California. This interview is being done in conjunction with the oral history project of Tulare County entitled Years of Valor, Years of Hope, in World War II during the years 1941 to 1946.

Good morning Ida.

IR: Good morning.

CP: I’m just going to start with some general background and why don’t you give me your name and your place of birth.

IR: Okay, my name is Ida Romanazzi but I was born Ida Giotta to Nicole and Carmela (Grassi) Giotta and I was born at 442 South Bridge Street, Visalia, California.

CP: You were born on Bridge Street?

IR: Yes, Bridge Street.

CP: Oh, my grandma lived on Garden, not very far from Bridge Street.

IR: Who was your grandmother?

CP: Oh, her name was Charet Turner, they came out of Tennessee. MY mother’s name is Sue Murphy. Her maiden name was Turner. Mamie Sue, they used to call her.

IR: Mamie Sue Turner.

CP: Oh, gosh, oh gosh. Tell me your parents’ names and could you tell me where they were born?

IR: My father and mother were born in Putignano, Italy .

CP: How do you spell Putignano? What part of Italy is that?

IR: It’s near Bari; it’s on the heel of Italy , on the Adriatic side.

CP: Down at the bottom, in Southern Italy?

IR: Well, it’s in Southern Italy, but not way down at the bottom. You know how Italy goes and has a little boot here, a little spur? That’s where it is.

CP: Do you have brothers and sisters?

IR: Yes, I have my brother Vito, who just passed away. He was 91 years old, 92 years old actually. I have two sisters who have passed away. Antoinette (Trigleth) was a nurse and Louise (Ellis) was a telegraph operator. Then my brother, Pete.

CP: You have a Pete, that’s my husband’s name.

IR: Pete Giotta, you’re going to interview him, I understand. Or somebody is.

CP: Somebody is. Did they name him Pietro?

IR: Um hum, um hum.

CP: Were you and all your siblings, born here?

IR: Okay, my brother, Vito, was born in Italy . He came with my mother in 1920 when he was nine years old. My father was already here, because he fought in the First World War.

CP: He did?

IR: Yes, and so he was already here. So he sent for my brother and my mother and they came to Visalia and then I was born.

CP: Did they come through Ellis Island?

IR: Yes.

CP: Then did they come on the train all the way out here?

IR: Yes. I can’t imagine them coming all that way and not speaking English, especially my mother. My father did, but not my mother and my brother.

CP: After the interview I want to tell you a couple of things I know about the Italians, since my husband is Italian, because it is interesting.

How old were you when World War II began?

IR: Twenty, I guess, yeah.

CP: You were 20 years old.

IR: 1941, yeah, 20 years old.

CP: So, were you in school?

IR: Yes, I was in Visalia Junior College, and I graduated in June of 1941.

CP: Graduated from the . . .

IR: Visalia Junior College, which is now C.O.S., College of the Sequoias. Our class was the first class to graduate from where C.O.S. is right now.

CP: Did you start at Redwood High School?

IR: We started at Redwood High School, our first year of junior college was at Redwood and then the second year was at C.O.S., well, Visalia Junior College.

CP: So, you weren’t married.

IR: No, I was not married.

CP: Are you married now?

IR: Yes, I’m married now and we’ll be celebrating our 60th anniversary June 18, this year.

CP: What is your husband’s name?

IR: Lawrence.

CP: What is your date of marriage?

IR: June 18, 1944.

CP: You didn’t have any children then?

IR: No, our children didn’t come to us until 1950 and it was a girl and then the boy came in 1952.

CP: What are their names?

IR: My daughter’s name is Donna Jean Romanazzi. She is now Donna Grist. And my son is Larry Romanazzi, just like his dad.

CP: Were you still living at home with your mother and father when the war broke out?

IR: Yes. We were at home and I think I was sweeping the floor in the kitchen. And when we listened to the radio, the war had broken out.

CP: What was your reaction?

IR: Well at that point, I think we were just awed. We just didn’t know what was taking place. But then the next day I went to work, because immediately after I had graduated I got a job with the Tulare County Welfare Department as a transcriber/typist. So the next day we went to work and our director called us all together and explained to us what was going on. So at that point then we all got, what would you say, nervous. We didn’t know what was going on and that’s the reaction we had. And then, our welfare department was, do you know where it is right now on Court Street? All right, there was an old section of the courthouse at that point, the old, old section of the courthouse that they tore down. We were in the first floor.

CP: Where the welfare department is now, was that the courthouse?

IR: Yes, it used to be the courthouse. That was the new part of the courthouse, but the old part of the courthouse was on the east side of it and then they just attached this to it. We were in the old part and then, of course, when the soldiers came, they all landed at the depot. You know, where the depot is right now.

CP: What soldiers?

IR: During the war.

CP: What do you mean they landed at the depot?

IR: They did land, yeah, soldiers would, all our military . . .

CP: Oh, on the train. They would come in to where the depot is now, the Depot Restaurant. Really, I’ve only know it as a restaurant. I forgot it was a depot.

IR: It was a depot, just almost like it is now and the military used to come there and, of course, all the girls, we were excited; all these men in uniform used to come there. (chuckle)

CP: I’m sure, I’m sure. During the war was there any change in your family’s housing situation?

IR: Not really, not at our house, because my brother, Vito, was already in San Francisco and he served with the FBI at that point.

CP: The FBI? How fun.

IR: And he was going to USF up there. What year did you join the Navy, Lawrence? He’s asleep. He went in 1942, I believe, yeah. One night he was on the beach or the wharf and he ran into my brother. (chuckle)

CP: Oh, for heaven’s sake. They knew each other then.

IR: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah.

CP: Were you dating Lawrence?

IR: Sort of, off and on. My family didn’t like him.

CP: Why not?

IR: Just because he was ornery. (chuckle)

CP: Who lived at home during the war? Your mother and dad, and you . . .

IR: And my two sisters and Pete.

CP: Oh, because Pete was the baby.

IR: And we all lived at 442 South Bridge Street until I married in 1944, June 18, 1944. Then I moved up a block and now it’s a freeway. The apartment we were in is now a freeway.

CP: Did anyone else live in the home with you besides your immediate family?

IR: No.

CP: Did the war affect your family’s economic situation?

IR: Well, not really, because we were all young and, like I said, I got a job with the welfare department and that was big time, $75 a month, big time.

CP: Oh, my.

IR: And then my sister Toni, Antoinette, went on to college in San Francisco right after graduation. She graduated the following year from C.O.S. Then she went up to St. Mary’s Hospital, I believe it is and became a registered nurse.

CP: What did your dad do during the war?

IR: He was a farmer.

CP: So, the farmers didn’t get hit much economically?

IR: Not here. No.

CP: Do you remember if there was difficulty getting food or clothing?

IR: No. The only thing we had difficulty with was gas, of course, because we had gas rationing. For food, the Italians, you know, they manage very well in baking their own bread. We made our own bread. Every morning we had to punch that, and . . .

CP: You make it now?

IR: No, no. (Chuckle)

CP: Were your father and mother nationalized citizens?

IR: Yes, my father became a nationalized citizen because he served in the war in 1918. And then, my mother became a nationalized citizen and, poor lady, she really had to study hard. She had to learn how to say Abraham Lincoln and Washington. (Chuckle) That was hard for her, but she struggled and she passed it.

CP: Do you remember, since they were citizens then, they didn’t have to fill out those alien registration cards or anything, did they?

IR: No, not that I remember.

CP: Pete’s family (Colleen’s husband, Pete) - a lot of them weren’t citizens yet, so they had to fill out those alien registration cards. They looked like little passports almost.

So, was Vito the only one you were separated from during the war? Well, besides the fella you married?

IR: Yes, because you see Pete is 10 years younger than I am, so there was almost 20 years between Vito and Pete. So Pete was the baby.

CP: During the war, what gave stability to you and your family? What made you feel secure during that time?

IR: Just the fact that we were all together and we worked. I had a good job, you know, at the welfare department. And my sister was in nursing school.

CP: What about Louise?

IR: Oh, Louise, she worked for the Western Union during that time. So, she was really up on what was going on with the war.

CP: Oh, I guess so. I bet that was kind of sad, too, to work for the Western Union at that time.

IR: Oh, yes, especially when the telegrams came through for the kids that died in the service. Yeah, it was right out on Main Street, right over, you know where Dolce Vita Restaurant is right now? That was the Western Union Office, in there.

CP: Really. Were there any blackouts during that time? Did you have things on the windows?

IR: No, not here, no. Did they in Tulare?

CP: I don’t know. I don’t think so, but I read about it.

IR: The Italians here weren’t singled out that way during the war, out here in Visalia, in this area.

CP: Yes, Tulare County.

IR: The Japanese were, because remember? There is a railroad track, you know, that goes on Santa Fe. I remember going there one time, when they were loading all the Japanese to take them away.

CP: How did you feel when you saw that?

IR: Well, at that time you wondered why. But then, you know, there were so many things in the paper about the Japanese. So you felt, well okay, that’s okay, that’s good. That’s the way it was at that time, I mean like now, you read in the paper about this, this, this and this, and you form opinions. So that was what happened with the Japanese. You know, they had property on the north end of the county and they said they were planting trees that gave an arrow to the Sequoia Field. I mean all those crazy things that you read about in the paper. So, when they took the Japanese away, that was no big deal to be sad about.

CP: I would imagine there was a little bit of fear.

IR: But I understand that in the northern part of California they weren’t very nice to the Italians. And they took some of them to camps. I don’t know where they took them. But it really didn’t affect the Italians here in Visalia.

CP: That’s good, that’s good. Did you take vacations during the war, your family?

IR: Well, it was just my husband and I. Yes, we took vacations.

CP: During the war, before you were married, did your mother and father take vacations?

IR: During the war, no, no, no vacations. Our family was very poor. My mother and dad, you know, we were a very poor Italian family. He was a farmer and there were all these kids, me, my other sister who was right behind me and my third sister, right behind her. Then we had another baby brother, but he died when he was 11 months old and then Pete. So there were a lot of us there and we didn’t have very much money.

CP: There wasn’t money for vacations.

IR: No, no money for vacations, but we had a lot of friends that visited, the Italians, like the Ziegler’s and all the people around there, they visited.

CP: Are you talking about Herman Ziegler?

IR: Yes, he lived right across the street from us.

CP: He did?

IR: When Pete was born, that’s where we all went to wait for the birth to happen.

CP: Herman looks great. I saw him the other day over at Quail Park and he looks great.

IR: Yeah, he comes to the dances at the hall.

CP: He does?

IR: Um hum.

CP: Did your family participate in any war bond campaigns?

IR: Well, we bought war bonds. Yes, I did, because I worked. I made $75 a month (chuckle).

CP: Tell me what a war bond is. I am not real, real sure about them.

IR: Well, you bought them for $18, and they were worth $25 at maturity.

CP: How long did it take for them to mature?

IR: Oh gosh, I don’t remember.

CP: Well, that’s okay.

IR: I think that it was either 20 years or something like that, but you kept them. We didn’t cash ours in until after we were married.

CP: You think people still have some? Are they still good?

IR: Probably. Oh yeah, they are always good, forever.

CP: I wanted to ask you some questions about dating and romance during the war. Do you think the war affected how people dated and romances in Tulare County?

IR: I don’t know. Well, a block down from where we lived, there was the Sierra Ballroom. That’s where everybody went on Saturday nights.

CP: My mom went there.

IR: Yep, we’d all walk down Bridge Street and dance away. And then we’d all go home again, together. And some of us dated guys.

CP: How about the soldiers that were here, did they all go down to the dance hall?

IR: Oh, yeah.

CP: So, I would imagine there was a lot of romance. My mother used to tell me stories, you know, about the war and it just sounded so romantic, with all the soldiers in town.

IR: Oh, it was so much fun to go and to have a date with a soldier. But at that time, you know, it wasn’t a sex thing like it is now. You went out with them, you danced with them and you drank with them and all that stuff.

CP: Just good clean fun.

IR: That’s right. I guess some of them got in trouble, but that wasn’t the main thing, like it is now.

CP: Yes. Do you think women’s roles and responsibilities changed because of the war? Was it different then, than it is now?

IR: Oh I think so, because a lot of them during the war came and worked in the factories, where before women really didn’t work in places like that.

CP: Don’t you think that if it hadn’t of been for the war, more women would have gotten married sooner and wouldn’t have gone to work.

IR: That’s correct. If it hadn’t have been for the war, a lot of people would not have come to California, like they do now.

CP: That’s a good point, because they were all out here. All the soldiers were out here . . .

IR: Well, not so much the soldiers, they had, what do they call them, factories where they built things for the war. There were a lot of factories out here. A lot of people came.

CP: Did your family have different things that they did to support the war? Did they grow victory gardens?

IR: Oh, yes, they had victory gardens. Of course, most Italians have gardens anyway all the time, except the ones now-a-days don’t. Oh yeah, my dad had a little ranch on the north side of town, way out, and he grew everything. They grew their own vegetables, their own fruit, made their own bread, so the survival was not too bad.

CP: What about home crafts?

IR: My mother sewed. She made all our clothes. All our clothes: we never had a factory or store-bought dress.

CP: My grandmother made all my mother’s things too, everything.

What about volunteer activities? You see on the movies, you know, women sitting wrapping bandages and stuff. Did they do that here?

IR: Yeah, they had that. We had a sewing club at the office. The young girls had a sewing club.

CP: There’s one question I wanted to ask you. How do you think the World War II years in Tulare County affected you personally? This is an important question.

IR: It is an important question. Like I said, we were young and I had just got a job. It really didn’t affect me personally, except, you know, a lot of our high school boys went to war at that time. That was sad. It was sad to hear when one of them got killed. Because, I think every family that was here had a son that went to the war. Like, Lawrence was in the South Pacific. A lot of our friends were in the European War. I don’t know.

CP: You were in school when Pearl Harbor was bombed?

IR: No, I was just out of school. I had just graduated in June.

CP: Did you sit and listen to the radio about it?

IR: Oh yeah, uh huh. That’s the only means of communication we had. I don’t think we even subscribed to the paper.

CP: Was there a lot in the paper? Oh, I’m sure.

IR: Yes, there was a paper. For a long time I kept the paper where it said WAR. And then when I retired from work, I don’t know what I did with it.

CP: When did you retire?

IR: In 1979. I’ve been retired 24 years.

CP: From the welfare department?

IR: I worked 38 years.

CP: Did you know Mark Kandarian’s aunt? Bernice . . . I can’t remember her last name. Oh, I’ll ask you later.

What do you remember about the atom bomb being dropped on Japan ?

IR: We were all excited. At last the war was gonna be over and a lot of the boys would be coming back home.

CP: Do you think it was all right to do that?

IR: At that time, yes. At that time it was, I mean, whatever happened at that time was okay. I mean, people now-a- days want to make a big deal out of it, that we shouldn’t. But at that time, we should have. We had to. There was no choice, you know. Because they had movies showing the Japanese people killing our kids, our boys like nobody’s business. And you developed a little hate for these people.

CP: Was that the newsreels?

IR: Newsreels and everything.

CP: At the movies? Did you go to the movies a lot?

IR: We went to the movies all the time. That’s the only thing, almost every weekend. Sometimes during the week. I read and I kept a diary the first year we married and we went to the movies all the time.

CP: Do you still have that diary?

IR: Yes.

CP: Good. Do you remember exactly where you were when the war ended?

IR: Lawrence, where were we when the war ended?

LR: We were here in Visalia. We lived on Conyer.

IR: We didn’t move to Conyer until 1951. The war ended in 1945. Okay. We were at 315 East Mineral King and he had, I know I must have been at work when we got the news that it had ended. And he had an old Model T Ford and we drove that all the way to Tulare and back with a bunch of kids on it.

CP: I bet it was a lot of celebration.

IR: Oh, yes, a lot of celebrations all over the place. The Model T Ford was a 1918.

CP: Oh, it was a 1918 Model T Ford?

IR: No top on it or anything, it was just like a

CP: Like a touring car, kind of.

IR: Yeah, well, he has pictures of it someplace in his wallet.

CP: What happened after the war was over. What did you and your husband do? Did it change your life after the war? Did you have a better life?

IR: Well, let’s see, he got a job with the telephone company and I continued on with the welfare department. Let’s see, we got married in 1944 and we didn’t have our daughter, Donna Jean, until December of 1950. So we did a lot of running around, you know, going to the city. We took vacations.

CP: What were your general feelings about the war at that time? Have your feelings changed any since then about the United States being at war?

IR: Well, it’s a hard question. But things have improved since then, because what was going on in Europe with the Nazi’s and all that, that was bad. And even in Italy that was bad. Now everybody there is very happy.

CP: Have you been back to Italy ?

IR: Oh, several times. We go almost every year or every other year. We just got back in October. We took the family and had a beautiful time.

CP: Ah, that sounds fun. Were there any organizations in Tulare County that were against the war?

IR: Not that I know of. The Sons of Italy was already started in 1927. During the war they lost a lot of members. And, you know, it was very low key. Not for any reason that I can remember, but it was just low key. But right after that, it picked up. We joined in 1949 and it just picked up like nobody’s business after that.

CP: How was the attitude of the men in town about the draft? Basically, the young men.

IR: Well, their attitude was very positive. I don’t think anybody was really anti-draft, really. They all went. And every once in a while we’d read who went and that was exciting to read who went and where they were. Everybody kept close with each other during all that time.

CP: Did you know anyone who died during the war?

IR: Um huh.

CP: Fellow students, friends?

IR: A friend.

CP: How about different ethnic groups that were in the community?

IR: At that point, as far as I was concerned, there weren’t any. And if they were against the Italians, I didn’t feel it.

CP: That’s wonderful.

IR: I didn’t feel it at all. I mean, I’m sure that when I went to school I didn’t speak English. I’m sure of that. But I don’t remember, I don’t remember anybody being . . .

CP: When you started school, you probably didn’t speak English.

IR: Well my dad did and now thinking back, maybe he’s the one that would have taught us whatever we knew, because he was very adamant about: here in America , you speak English. I mean it’s not like that now, but at that point, you know, it wasn’t popular not to speak English.

CP: After the war ended and the world found out what the Nazi’s had done to the Jewish people, what did you think about that? Do you remember any talk about that in Tulare County, about the Holocaust?

IR: No. I can remember reading in the paper about it, but I don’t think there were that many Jewish people here in the city in the first place.

CP: When the war ended, what was the reaction in Tulare County toward Italian/Americans who returned from the war?

IR: It was very good as far as I was concerned. You, know, by that time Italy was an ally. They loved the Italians. I mean, they loved the Americans in Italy at that point because . . . and a lot of them came back with wives.

CP: A lot of the American soldiers came back with Italian wives? Were they accepted pretty well?

IR: You bet, you bet, oh yes.

CP: Good. How did Visalia or Tulare react to the end of the war? Were there parades, were there . . .what happened when everyone found out the war ended? Do you remember any parades?

IR: No, I don’t remember any parades. They had celebrations in the streets, just a lot of celebration. Not parades per say, you know, but just a lot of celebrating going on.

CP: How do you think the World War II years affected the way Tulare County is now?

IR: I think like I said, a lot of people came to California at that time. I think it just helped with the growth. I really do.

CP: Well, that’s about all the questions I have. Is there anything that you’d like to add about your life in Tulare County during World War II?

IR: Well, there were a lot of young Italian kids at that time and we all kept close together. Like I said, we all went to the dances together and we all celebrated together. All the families kept together. There was about 40 different families in Visalia from Putignano, Italy . Most of the people in Visalia at that time were from Putignano, Italy . You know, we’ve since made Putignano our sister city to Visalia.

CP: It is?

IR: Um huh. Since 1980 we’ve been a sister city here. It is beautiful because all the different groups, different people that came from Italy settled in different areas. And like Visalia was the Putignano part. They settled here and they were all Putignanese and they all spoke the dialect and they just kept real close together during the war.

CP: That’s wonderful.

IR: They had celebrations just at the drop of a hat. It was just great.

CP: Were the stores in Visalia stocked very well, like the grocery stores or the clothing stores are now?

IR: There’s no comparison right now. (Chuckle) I mean at that time they were stocked to fit the needs of what we wanted at that time.

CP: How about clothing stores? Because so many women sewed and made clothes, were there very many clothing stores?

IR: Oh, yeah, there was a few clothing stores. After I started working, well, my mom didn’t make my clothes for me anymore; I bought them. I’d go to Fresno or someplace.

CP: Well, I think that just about ends our interview.

IR: Well, this has been very interesting.

CP: Thank you very much.

Colleen Paggi/PD 3-20-2004/Ed: JW 8/9/04

Ed: Italicized words were added or changed as a result of a phone interview with Ida Romanazzi on August 9, 2004. Also, Ida informed us that her husband came home before the war was over with a medical discharge, as he had shrapnel in his hands and could no longer operate a gun during the war.