Italian Americans of Greater Erie
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The migration of Italians to the area began in 1864 with Raffaele Bracaccini, who was attracted by the beauty of Lake Erie and the countryside. By 1938, Erie's 18,000 Italians comprised the third largest ethnic group. Erie had its own Italian language newspaper from 1915 to 1940. St. Paul's Church was built with the contributions of Italian immigrants. Columbus School, Columbus Park, and Rose Memorial Hospital were established. Societies and businesses flourished. This book contains more than 200 photographs collected from local families representing the collective memory and history of Erie's Italian community from the 1860s to the 1950s.


Sandra S. Lee, Ph.D., professor and research associate in the Alberto Institute of Italian Studies at Seton Hall University, authored Italian Americans of Newark, Belleville, and Nutley. An Erie native, she has lectured widely on Italian immigration. A historian and retired teacher, Mary Lou Scottino's interest in Italian culture stems from her husband's heritage, as well as from her volunteer work teaching English to immigrants from Italy, Bosnia, Ukraine, Iraq, and Russia. Norma Palandro Webb, born of Italian immigrant parents in Erie's Little Italy, is active in Erie's Italian American Women's Association. She chaired the Erie County Historical Society's exhibit on Italians in 2003.


Title: Our view: Erie's all-American flavor enriched by newcomers

Author: Staff Writer

Publisher: Go Erie

Date: 7/4/10

Immigrant Caesar Morelli played with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show before moving to Erie in 1899, where he organized Morelli's Band and became the first Italian in the Erie Philharmonic Orchestra.

Refugee Oda Nzeyimana's roots are in Burundi, but she was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, spent her early years in Tanzania and moved to Erie in 2008. Just 17, she's started Mandelo, a song-and-dance group for young Burundian girls here. Welcomed into Erie neighborhoods by people from their own countries, Morelli and then Oda, a century later, enriched our community with their talents.

But as we glory in what it means to be an American on the Fourth of July, some will insist that America's traditional embrace of newcomers came with an expiration date.

For instance, in announcing a rally set for today at Independence Hall, Teri Adams, president of the Independence Hall Tea Party Association, said: "Our speakers will focus mainly on the issues of immigration, foreign policy, national defense and security."

Notice that the quote says "immigration," not "illegal immigration." David Gergen, an adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, made that distinction in Parade Magazine on June 13.

"Since the early days of the Republic, talented foreigners have streamed to our shores to till the soil, build industries and turn the country into a scientific and technological powerhouse. They converted the U.S. into the first global nation, giving us adaptability, an intuitive feel for other cultures and an innovative edge," Gergen writes. He points out that the founders of Google, Yahoo! and eBay came here as the children of legal immigrants.

Through the work of the International Institute, Erie has also taken in refugees -- people forced from their native lands because of war and political oppression. Oda Nzeyimana, the Burundi teen, grew up in Tanzania, where hunger was a fact of life. Now resettled in Erie, she is teaching her native songs and dances to neighborhood youngsters. We ran a photo story about Oda on June 20, and you can watch her students practice at

Morelli's story is recounted in a new book, "Italian Americans of Greater Erie," by Sandra S. Lee, Mary Lou Scottino and Norma Palandro Webb, part of the "Images of America" series by Arcadia Publishing.

The book notes that Italian immigrants clustered together in Erie neighborhoods, where they started small businesses, founded churches, and, yes, made music. One photo shows longtime Erie City Councilman Mario Bagnoni playing clarinet. His brother Walter plays accordion, his sister Rita the piano and their dad, Oreste, the guitar.

The book stresses that these immigrants became part of America's melting pot without abandoning their own culture. Did you know, for example, that Egidio Agresti published his Italian-language newspaper in Erie for 35 years?

This is something else you should know. When photographer Janet B. Campbell interviewed Oda about her Burundi dance group, Oda answered in accented but precise English. That's the American way.