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Reviewed by:
  • Italy on the Pacific: San Francisco’s Italian Americans
  • Gerald R. Gems
Fichera, Sebastian. Italy on the Pacific: San Francisco’s Italian Americans. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Pp. viii+239. Notes, bibliography, and index. $85.00 hb.

The book represents a revision of the author’s doctoral dissertation at University of California at Los Angeles and is one of the offerings in the Italian and Italian American Studies series from Palgrave Macmillan. Sebastian Fichera offers little in the way of historical or sociological assimilation theory, favoring a political economy model that defines community as “one which can keep its own human resources” (p. 8). Success is measured by the maximizing of human and material resources.

Within such a framework the author posits that San Francisco differed from both New York and Chicago in its more successful assimilation of Italian immigrants. In order to buttress his findings the author asserts that the early arrival of mostly northern Italians [End Page 343] during the Gold Rush era established economic footholds and a community that was further energized by the arrival of southern Italians and Sicilians after 1900.

Fichera provides detailed accounts of successful wineries and other entrepreneurial ventures, such as canneries, ethnic products (Golden Grain Macaroni Company), the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, etc. with a special attention on bankers. Amadeo P. Giannini founded the Bank of Italy in 1904, which became the Bank of America in 1930 and the largest private bank in the United States by 1947 (p. 76). The bank funded many of the Italians’ entrepreneurial efforts.

The author maintains that San Francisco Italians enjoyed a higher standard of living than their counterparts in New York and Chicago and that they were more committed to residence in their adopted country. The Californians reinvested their money in their San Francisco businesses rather than sending it back to Italy. For Fichera San Francisco resembles Frederick Jackson Turner’s frontier, where residents learned to be more resourceful, democratic, and assimilated than in the more congested urban ghettoes of the East and Midwest.

The focus on the middle and upper classes results in only casual mention of pool halls, gymnasia, playgrounds, and popular culture. Adequate attention is given to the Italians’ internment and regulation after the commencement of World War II; a policy that affected the parents of perhaps the most recognizable Italian American, Joe DiMaggio, but Fichera is unconcerned with the sporting exports of the San Francisco Italian community. His examination would have been of greater benefit to sport historians if he would/ could have explained why San Francisco produced an inordinate number of Italian Major League Baseball players in the first half of the twentieth century: Ping Bodie (Francesco Pizzola), Tony Lazzeri, Frank Crosetti, and the DiMaggio brothers to name just a few.

While of little value for sport history courses, the book would be a worthwhile supplement to ethnic or urban studies classes. [End Page 344]

Gerald R. Gems
North Central College


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pp. 343-344
Launched on MUSE
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