WRITTEN BY JERILYNN SMITH CRIVELLO
Two Stories of Sicilian Women’s Strength and Loyalty During the Emigration to Monterey
There are many family stories of brave Sicilian women who emigrated to the California cities of Pittsburg (formerly Black Diamond) and Monterey during the early 1900s. I chose to write about Francisca Coniglio Crivello and Rosa Davi Floris, even though one of them did not leave her native land, because they were the grandmothers of my husband, Raymond Flores Crivello. During our marriage, I have heard many stories about them from Ray and his sister, Frances “Bella” Crivello Ferrante, and their cousins from the Crivello, Compagno and Bruno families in Monterey and in Isola delle Femmine, Sicily.
Francesca “Franca” Coniglio Crivello (Zia Cicca)
Franca Coniglio was born in1862 in Isola delle Femmine when it was a little fishing village. Her parents were Filippo and Rosalia Coniglio, who were born near Palermo and died in Isola. Franca was always called Zia Cicca, by her descendants in both Monterey and Isola delle Femmine, Zia as a term of respect and Cicca is a nickname for Francesca.
Franca was betrothed to Vincenzo (“Bottone” or Button) Crivello (b. Dec. 1, 1855, d. Jan. 24, 1941), the son of Antonino Pietro Salvatore Crivello (b. 1821, d.1882), who was born in Portocello, which is the place origin of the Crivello family name.
Franca and Vincenzo married on December 31, 1879, in Isola delle Femmine. Members of the Crivello and Coniglio families continue to be close cousins, and they still have a business together in Monterey.
During the first half of her 60-year marriage, Franca ran the family household mostly on her own--feeding, dressing and educating their 12 children while her husband traveled to find fish to catch most of the year. As her children grew into adults, Franca started several small businesses, among them a store in the front of the bottom story of her home and a rental cabana of summer tents and chairs on the beach for the tourists who came to sunny Sicily on vacation. These successful enterprises and an excellent restaurant, established later by her descendants who retained her right to put a business on the beach, are still owned by her grandchildren and great grandchildren. Today her home still exists on the plaza and is owned by Franca’s descendants, who use some of her beautiful crocheted hand work for curtains and cherish her well-cared-for
Franca’s house (center rear) in plaza of Isola delle Femmine in late 1800s. This photo is from Storie e leggende di Isola delle Femmine (1855-2005), published Edizioni del Mirto (Palermo, 2005).
Franca did so much on her own because, like many other Sicilian wives, her husband was, for long stretches, away fishing--locally in the Mediterranean, near Africa and in western North America. To provide for his large family Vincenzo often undertook an exhausting journey, ferrying from Palermo to Naples, sailing to New York and riding the train to San Francisco Bay. There he found a ship sailing to Alaska and finally arrived in time for the short summer fishing season. Then he reversed the trip to return home. It took six months, and though it was costly, he brought more money home than he could have earned by fishing or any other kind of work in Sicily for a year.
Vincenzo enthusiastically told his children about the abundant fishing in the Pacific Ocean. When they grew up, five of his sons followed his lead and emigrated to California, while two sons and two daughters stayed in Isola.
Franca and Vincenzo’s first child, Angela (b.1880), named for Vicenzo’s mother, died at five years of age. Their second child was a son, Antonino (b. 1882), named after his paternal grandfather. Antonino became a respected “legal adviser without a law degree” to the Sicilian fishermen in Monterey, often helping them wade through unfamiliar legal matters, and he died here at age 75. Their third child was named Filippo (b. 1884) after Franca’s father. Unfortunately, he died at seven months. The next year another boy was born and also named Filippo. He lived, emigrated to California and became a fish buyer in Oakland. A second daughter named Angela was born in 1888; she, too, died young, at age ten months. The sixth child was a girl named Maria Grazia (b. 1890). She was healthy, and she lived to 91. The next child, Giuseppe “Joe V” (b. 1892), also lived a long life, dying in Monterey at almost 99. The next four children were boys. Two of them, Giovanni (b. 1897) and Salvatore (b. 1900), emigrated to California but died early and did not have children. Two boys stayed in Sicily--Orazio (1895-1968) owned a restaurant in Mondello, and Vincenzo (1903-1985) was a fish buyer in Isola delle Femmine. Their 12th and final child was again named Angela and she was born in 1905, and lived 96 years, dying in 2005. Naming a daughter Angela was important, because it honored Vincenzo’s mother, Angela Davi.
Although the Crivello siblings were separated by an ocean and a continent, they stayed close by writing and later by phone calls. The two world wars created many hardships for the Sicilians and greatly reduced their travel opportunities. During World War II, family members in Monterey sent clothing and other helpful items--including food canned locally and wrapped in cotton flour sacks--to their family in Sicily.
Franca was an exceptionally capable woman, who survived 12 home births with nine children reaching adulthood. Her family was separated through emigration. She saw three of the boys only once during the rest of her life after they left, and she never met their families; but the respect her children held for her continued through the following generations. One example of Franca’s influence was that Joe V’s only daughter, Frances Bella, who was born in Monterey in 1924, was given the opportunity to live away from home while going to secretarial school in Oakland. This was extremely unusual in Sicilian families at that time. Bella was an excellent student, and she became a professional secretary to the adjunct general at Fort Ord. No doubt because Joe V’s mother was a capable and respected woman, he recognized these abilities in his daughter.
When World War II was over, the families in Sicily and California began to visit each other. The first was Vicencino, Antonino’s first son, who came from Sicily to visit his American relatives. John and Raymond, cousins who were in the service stationed in Europe after the war, were the first from California to make the trip to Sicily. Later other family members also visited. Joe V. visited his sister Angela many times until his late 90s, even participating in Angela’s daughter’s wedding. Raymond was very proud to have taken his three grandsons to visit family in Isola della Femmine in 2009.
Rosa Davi (Panzarica Davi Family) Floris/Flores
As a young girl, Rosa Davi (1862-1924), daughter of Bartolomeo Davi (b.1833) and Francesca Siino Davi (n.d.), was betrothed to Vincenzo “Zulu” Floris/Flores (1857-1916), son of Gaetano Floris (1830-1869) and Mariana Cardinalli in Isola delle Femmine, Sicily. They married, and their first child, Mariana (November 1886-April 1958), was born in Isola.
Vincenzo made his living as a fisherman in the Mediterranean Sea near the large Italian island of Sicily. Every night the men wanted to come home, but due to the lack of fish close to land, they traveled farther and farther away from Sicily, until they were fishing near the coast of Africa. Because the women and families were very concerned that the men were so far from home, they decided to create a small community on the north coast of Africa, made up mostly of families and friends from the other Sicilian fishing families.
For a time life and the fishing was good there, and Rosa and Vincenzo welcomed their second child, Gaetano (Thomas) Vincenzo (1889-1940). After a few years, circa 1890, Vincenzo grew unhappy with the poor fishing and decided to travel across the Atlantic Ocean and then the United States to a California fishing town called Black Diamond (now Pittsburg), located where the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers meet. He worked hard to become established, and soon he was participating in the summer fishing industry in Alaska. It was hard work. He traveled north to Alaska on slow sailing ships, fished during the brief season and came back on sailing ships. After some time, he set up an outfitter business to provide the fishermen clothing and equipment needed for fishing in Alaska. On their return from Alaska, the men would get paid and then walk to Vincenzo’s table to settle their account with him before they could leave the ship.
During this time, Rosa stayed back in the fishing village on the coast of Africa with her children and other family members. They learned to eat couscous and grains that were grown in Africa. Rosa couldn’t read or write, so the only communication she had with her husband was when someone would bring news. Finally, after ten years apart, she received word that it was time to travel to California to join her husband. There is no information about how she did this, but she probably traveled with other family members. Vincenzo had a home waiting for his family when they reunited in Black Diamond, circa 1900. Their third child, Frances, was born there on August 31, 1901 (d. 1985). Each of their children was born on a different continent!
Vincenzo and Rosa lived the rest of their lives in Black Diamond/Pittsburg. They lived well with the outfitting business and also through investments made with Rosa’s Davi family in the silent movie business. Vincenzo died at age 59, and Rosa died eight years later at 60. She had diabetes, and in her later years she became blind. They are both buried at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Antioch, surrounded by family members. Although Vincenzo and Rosa never lived in Monterey, all of their children did. Their first child, Mariana, had been betrothed to Francisco “Bagaredda” or “Baghedetto” Bruno when she was a baby in Isola delle Femmine, and she married him in Pittsburg. One day the Black Hand (a local Mafia gang) came to the Floris family’s door in Pittsburg to extort money to protect Vincenzo’s business. Only Rosa and her children were home, and they said they had no money to give them. The gang said that if the money wasn’t there when they returned, they would steal Frances, the youngest Floris child.
When the Mafia men returned, Francisco Bruno, Mariana’s husband, was there and ready with a gun. He shot one man, and the other ran away. After that, the Bruno family had to get out of town fast, so they fled to Monterey where Francisco had relatives. They never went back to live in Pittsburg. Apparently, Francisco’s show of bravery against the gang permanently warned away any danger, because the Floris family was never again threatened. Mariana and Francisco were the parents of six sons--Neno, Thomas “Pops,” Vincent “Sterling,” Joseph “Corky,” Bartolo “Art” and Albino, and two daughters, both of whom were named Felipa, because the first baby died. Art had three sons--Frank “Stoney,” Tom and Bobby Bruno.
Vincenzo and Rosa’s second child, Gaetano “Tom,” married Eva Figoni (1894-1943). They lived in Monterey and Pacific Grove and did not have any children.
Rosa and Vicenzo’s third child, Frances, married Giuseppe “Joe V” Vincenzo Crivello in 1919. Joe was already established in Monterey. He fished, had a card room on lower Alvarado, won money in prize fights and later owned a fishing boat, the Sea Traveler.
They had three children--Vincent “Khakie,” Frances “Bella” and Raymond Flores Crivello. Ray became an engineer for the Monterey Fire Department and owned rental property here.
Regarding Rosa’s full name as written above in the subtitle, it should be noted that Panzarica is a clan name for some Davi families. Vicenzo’s surname, Floris, has a Spanish origin, most likely stemming from the time Spain ruled Sicily. The varied spelling, Flores, came about sometime during the 1930 to 1950 time frame.
I admired Rosa Davi Floris for her loyalty and bravery. I think of her waiting so long and so patiently on the coast of Africa with two small children, hoping that her husband would send for her soon. Finally with her reunited family, she had to deal with the threat from the Black Hand Mafia gang to take her young daughter. At the end of her life she suffered from diabetes and lost her vision. She endured so much, and she persevered, keeping her family together through separation and many challenges.
Before 1880 fewer than 1,000 Sicilians emigrated to America each year, but in 1906 over 100,000 left Sicily for a life in the United States. Members of both Francisca Coniglio Crivelo’s and Rosa Davi Floris’s families were part of that migration, and they were fortunate to come to California and especially to Monterey. Zia Cicca and Rosa possessed strength and loyalty and set an example that made it possible for their husbands and their children to work hard and find success in a new land with a new language. Francesca and Rosa were two of many sicilian women who faced difficult situations while their families immigrated to Monterey.