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Queens Chronicle

Ozone Park author digs up Italian roots

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Posted: Thursday, August 6, 2009 12:00 am

You could say Anne Romano now belongs to a long-standing fraternity.

Her new book, “Distant but Loyal,” which the South Ozone Park resident self published after 10 years in the making, examines her family’s migration from Itri, Italy to Cranston, R.I. In it, she analyzes the Itrani character — studies their culture, heritage and religion; explores the ways in which their traditions were transcribed once their feet hit U.S. soil.

Romano traveled back and forth to Itri — hit all the libraries, interviewed countless residents and snapped photos of everything that could have meant anything to her parents, Maria and Giacinto. She also clocked in more than a few miles trekking between Queens and Cranston. Her first trip on I-95 north to visit her family’s many relatives took place the summer of 1996, when her father was 91. Arriving during the feast of the Madonna della Civita, Itri’s patron saint, Romano’s father was treated as if he’d never left home.

“On the day of the feast, men carrying this 500-pound statue of the saint stopped in front of my dad, kneeled down and let him kiss it. I was so moved and touched by that,” Romano recalled. “I began to wonder what it would have been like if I’d been brought up in Rhode Island. That started the whole inquiry into what pushed them out of Italy in the first place.”

The desire to inspect and throw a spotlight upon her family’s heritage puts Romano in the same camp as other cultural detectives — luminaries such as Frank McCourt, who explored his upbringing in Brooklyn and Ireland in “Angela’s Ashes”; Ignazio Silone, an Abruzzese native who captured the struggles of Italian farmers and the poor in “Bread and Wine”; and with less fanfare, Caroline Seller Manzo, an Englishwoman who fell in love with the peculiar and precious oddities she unearthed in her husband’s Sicilian paese in “Casa Nostra: A Home in Sicily.”

Romano’s setting, however, is virtually uncharted literary territory. Itri is a city of 10,000 people in the central region of Lazio — that same wonderland most famous for containing a little city called Rome. It boasts a castle, a 12th century bell tower and a fortress used by freedom fighter Fra Diavolo to ward off France in the 18th century. It’s close to the mountains and minutes away from the Tyrrhenian Sea, yet, many of its residents, including Romano’s mother and father, flocked to Cranston after the war to find work as vegetable farmers, masons and clothesmakers.

Romano’s family eventually moved to New York City, settling in Manhattan. The author planted her roots in South Ozone Park after meeting her Queens-born husband. The couple raised three sons in the neighborhood while Romano, who earned her bachelor’s degree from Queens College and master’s degree from Columbia University, acquired her doctorate in sociology from Fordham University. She has published numerous psychology, criminology and sociology books and is a professor of sociology at Nassau Community College. She also serves as president of the American Italian Historical Association, Long Island Chapter. In 2005, Romano was even named Queens Woman of Distinction by former state Sen. Serphin Maltese, around the same time she was in the process of researching and writing “Distant but Loyal,” which she said had as much to do with her desire to contradict societal myths about Italians as it did her personal curiosity.

“I was in tune with presenting positive images of Italians — hardworking people who came here to make a better life for themselves and their families,” Romano said. “Yet, all you see on television is the “Sopranos” and the “Real Housewives of New Jersey.”

Romano recounts one trip to Cranston when she located her father’s nephew’s address and knocked on the door, eager to chat with her unfamiliar relative. The man was out for the afternoon but his wife insisted her new neice return that evening for dinner.

“We were invited back for dinner without even knowing them,” she said. “She took us all in and fed us. It’s that hospitality and warmth you don’t find on the streets of Manhattan.”

Romano will speak at an author’s luncheon on Wednesday, Sept. 23 from 12 until 3 p.m. at Pompeii Restaurant at 401 Hempstead Ave. in West Hempstead, Long Island.

To learn more about “Distant but Loyal” or purchase it, visit amazon.com,barnesandnoble.com or borders.com.

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