Silicon Valley Still Rich of Traditions Amid Booming Technology



Our Santa Clara Valley is known the world over nowadays as the site of the “Silicon Valley”, where high-tech companies spring up over night and blossom and grow into unbelievable heights.

But long before the computer companies began to grow, the Santa Clara Valley was known for something else…Fruit. Thousands of acres of fruit trees flourished and the Santa Clara Valley was the nations’ leading grower of prunes, apricots, walnuts and cherries. And it was in the shade of these trees that our family histories flourished.

The Statue of Liberty stands 151 feet, 1 inch high and weighs 225 tons. The length of her right arm is 42 feet long, her hand 16 feet 5 inches long. Her facial features include a prominent nose that measures 4 feet, 6 inches set between eye 2 feet 6 inches in width. Standing on her concrete pedestal base, she rises to a neighborhood of 305 feet. Under her huge feet are broken shackles representing liberty’s victory over tyranny.

Lady Liberty needs her mighty dimensions to hold a 23-foot-high cement tablet in one hand; the “Torch of Freedom” high above her head, in the other hand; and the hopes and dreams of millions, upon million, of immigrants cradled in her bosom.

Between 1901 and 1910, nearly 9 million immigrants, from all parts of the world, came to this country. Like my grandparents, many of these travelers came here from Italy and settled in the Santa Clara Valley. Unfamiliar with the language and customs of their new country, the hard-working immigrants settled in to the poorer sections of town, often taking jobs in industries in which poor conditions, low wages and long hours prevailed.

Back in the old country, the young and naive immigrants had been told wondrous stories of how the streets of America were paved in gold. But when they got here, they discovered three important things: First, the streets weren’t paved in gold; second, they weren’t paved at all; and third, they were expected to pave them!

My Grandmother Maria Carmela came to this area from the little town of Tricarico, Italy. The young daughter of a tight knit Italian family, she and her siblings came to America after her parents had both died of influenza. Rather than face another year in the town orphanage they pooled their monies and boarded a ship for America. Now their long journey had brought them to a gloomy brick building that peered bleakly out at them through the murk of New York’s harbor fog. Its arched windows, high ceilings and ominous gables instilled a feeling of foreboding in the young travelers.

Having no idea what lay beyond, my grandmother, Maria Carmela Mazzoni, and her young siblings, walked bravely through those doors and toward the long hours of intense scrutiny ahead of them.

For Grandma, the processing interrogation went smoothly. She was given her papers and permitted to continue to California. But for her youngest sister Rose things didn’t go so well. Rose had been born with a slight limp and the long, arduous journey , had left her weak. The port authorities were leery of anyone with an illness or disability entering the country and firmly decided to turn her away.

For days, Grandma Maria Carmela campaigned on her sister’s behalf, begging the inspectors to please reconsider. She and her sister had come so far that the thought of leaving Rose behind now, when they were so close to their destination was unthinkable. While Rose lay detained in the Ellis Island infirmary, her brother and sisters remained by her side, nursing her back to health with hot meals and daily prayers. Though they were touched by all this devotion, port authorities still refused to rescind their decision and grandma’s little sister, Rose, was ordered to return to Italy, and to the orphanage where she would reside until years later when she was finally allowed to return to America and join her family in San Jose.

With a heavy heart, and a promise that they would do everything they could do to assist their sister in returning to America, Grandma and her young siblings continued their journey to the Santa Clara Valley.

In San Jose, their sister, Andonia Caputo awaited their arrival at the Southern Pacific depot. Jobs and arranged marriages were waiting for them, as well.

Although Maria and her intended husband, Antonio Curci, had never laid eyes on one another, when they finally me, it was love at first sight for the happy couple.

Unfamiliar with the language and customs of their new country, the newlyweds settled in a poorer section of town. Unskilled, they took jobs in industries that offered low wages and poor working conditions. Like most newcomers, they were viewed with some suspicion and hostility. As a result, they gravitated to communities of people from their home country. Despite it all, Grandma and Grandpa Curci knew instinctively that America was the place for them. Obtaining their citizenship papers had become a shared goal. Every night, after work, they attended classes in U.S. history

The young Italian immigrants came by the thousands, settling into neighborhoods in what was then San Jose’s West Side. Others located in Almaden and other orchard lands of the Valley.

In July of 1904, the conscientious immigrants began working together with one goal in mind: to construct a lavish church that would embody the spirit of their newly established Italian community. It would be a church that represented century old traditions and beliefs; it would exemplify hope and prosperity. Architect Alberto Port would construct the church. It would be located in the heart of the community at River and San Fernando Streets. Its design would be a small duplicate of the great St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome.

The donations for this monumental task came form the valley’s prune orchards, fields, and the emerging fruit industry.

My Grandparents, Maria and Antonio Curci, like their fellow immigrants, worked long hard hours in the orchards and canneries of the valley, contributing much of their time and earnings toward the completion of this grand project. Their dream for a community church was realized on October 6th, 1905.

Heavy contributors to the church included the Christian Mothers, Holy Name Society, Italian Catholic Federation, and the Holy Family sisters.

Grandma Maria and Grandpa Antonio were among the many young couples to marry in the Holy Family church.

The day of her wedding, Grandma Maria’s heartbeat fast with excitement as the moment of the ceremony drew near. As a devout young catholic, she had taken communion earlier that day at the rail of the Holy Family Church. Her impeccable spirit, now as pure and white as the bibbed collars worn by the parish nun’s.

The year was 1910; the spectacular church was filled to capacity with community well wishes who had come to bestow their blessings upon the handsome young couple. Friends and onlookers crowded the church steps standing three-deep in doorways to witness the holy sacrament.

A wedding among the young immigrant community was a welcomed celebration. The event represented a continuity of their people.

Adhering to their sacred beliefs and family traditions, Maria and Antonio recited their marriage vows in the sanctity of the Holy Family church. And there, for the next 60 years, their descendants would also attend Sunday mass and receive the holy Sacraments.

During the early years of their marriage, Grandpa Antonio went to work laying track for the city railroad lines. Work was scarce, and, like many immigrant workers, he was fearful of loosing his job; refusing to miss

even a day’s work though he was suffering from influenza. His condition worsened and he developed double pneumonia. At the tender age of 32, just 6 years after his wedding day, Grandpa Antonio passed away leaving Grandma Maria a widow with two children and one on the way.

It was during this time of her life that Grandma experienced her greatest comfort at the prayer rail of the Holy Family church. Unable to find work, her children sick with influenza and the bank about to foreclose on her home, she found courage and inspiration while praying to her patron Saint Mary.

With a prayer in her heart, and her rosary beads in her hand, Grandma Maria attempted one last time to find work on the cannery lines.

That morning, through coincidence or divine intervention, a new foreman was on the job. He felt compassion for grandma’s plight, and gave her a spot on his cannery line. After a few years on the job, a romance blossomed between Grandma and the cannery foreman, Tony Dinapoli. He was a widower with six children who greatly admired Grandma’s dedication to her family. They were later married in the Holy Family Church and together raised a total of 12 children.

I remember once asking my Grandma Maria why it was so important to her people that they construct such a lavish cathedral when many of them barely had enough food to eat. Grandma answered with an Old Italian saying. Translated it means: “Out of our habits grow our character, on our character we build our destiny”.

The church had come to represent the spirit and character of these hardworking young immigrants, who they were, and what they would become. It stood, for many years as a tribute to the good habits and fine character of a brave and tenacious people. But, what the 1906 San Francisco earthquake couldn’t do to the church, a bulldozer accomplished in 1960 when the grandious church was leveled to make way for the city’s Guadaupe expressway.

But another church would soon take in its place and like its namesake, the new Holy Family Church, located on Pearl Avenue, arose like a phoenix out of an orchard of prune trees. The original bell that rang for so many years from the old church belfry is now preserved in a revered spot at the new location. The new Holy Family Church may not be as ostentatious as its namesake may, or as lavish with artifacts as the original, but its spiritual foundation remains equally as strong.

My generation shares a deep love and respect for our immigrant grand parents, for our grandfathers who worked two jobs and sharecropped the local ranches and for our grandmothers who spent long hours on the cannery lines, earning 5 cents a bucket cutting ‘cots and tomatoes so their kids could climb out of poverty and take their place in society. The success of the valley and the generations that followed is a tribute to their dedication.

Today, our once fruitful valley has become known for its microchip production. But I suspect there would be no Silicon Valley if not for the bounty given our economy by our early valley orchardists.

Valley ranchers, along with the canneries, packing plants and immigrant labor, all worked in separate ways to achieve together what we all enjoy today-a valley rich in family traditions and agricultural history.

Cookie Curci is an experienced freelance writer, born and raised in San Jose, California. Cookie writes syndicated columns across the country, and wrote a “Remember When” column for The Willow Glen Resident for 15 years. Her work has been published in 15 Chicken Soup for The Soul books, and in the series of “Mother’s Miracle” books ( Morrow books).

She has a short story in the new book “ELVIS”, Live at the Sahara Tahoe; has been published in San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury news, Woman’s World, Primo magazine, Mature Living, and many websites.

Cookie is currently writing for several Italian American newspapers and magazines, they include LaVoce Las Vegas, Amici Journal, L’italo Americano, Life in Italy and Italiansrus.