Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Gilda Cetrullo, June 16, 1982

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:11 - Roots in Italy and family immigration

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Partial Transcript: Your name is Mrs. Cetrullo?

Segment Synopsis: Cetrullo describes her roots in Abruzzo, Italy. She also describes how her family came to America and why she was the last one to come over.

Keywords: Abruzzo, Italy; Italy; Parental authority; Socialism; Woman

Subjects: Abruzzo (Italy); Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants

GPS: Abruzzo (Italy)
Map Coordinates: 4.138405, 12.264553
00:04:12 - Staying in Italy without her family and meeting her boyfriend

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Partial Transcript: Well, my uncle was working--was employed by a very very wealthy family.

Segment Synopsis: Cetrullo recalls that she stayed in Italy because her uncle's wealthy employers had grown very attached to her. She stayed with this family when her sister joined the rest of her family in Philadelphia. Cetrullo grew up very comfortably in this environment. When she was 17 she met a boy, a socialist of whom her father did not approve. Eventually, Cetrullo’s father sent for her to come to the United States so that she would not have a relationship with him.

Keywords: Chain migration; Parental authority; Socialism

Subjects: Abruzzo (Italy); Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants

00:05:20 - Immigration woes

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Partial Transcript: So finally my father--well, at the time my older brother had, uh, finished college.

Segment Synopsis: Gilda talks about the immigration quotas in place in the early 1920s that made her trip to America difficult. Even though she was 20 years old, her father came to accompany her on the journey. She describes that it was a struggle to get her immigration papers, requiring them to wait for thirteen months in Italy before they could travel.

Keywords: Immigration papers; Pharmacy; Pharmacy schools; Quotas

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants

00:06:23 - First impressions of Philadelphia

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Partial Transcript: And, uh, July 1923 I finally arrived to Philadelphia.

Segment Synopsis: Cetrullo arrived reluctantly in Philadelphia on a hot, smelly trash day and reunited with her family. She describes the day she arrived and reuniting with her family who she had not seen, and her new siblings she had never met. She also enthusiastically details a fun experience at Willow Grove Amusement Park.

Keywords: Willow Grove Park (amusement park, Willow Grove, Pa.)

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants

00:08:20 - Jobs and education in America

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Partial Transcript: What did your father do?

Segment Synopsis: Cetrullo describes her family's work and her own desire to earn money as a young woman in order to return to Italy. She recalls getting an education, finding a job, and her first employer. Working for a dressmaker, she helped make Miss Philadelphia's dress, who went on to become Miss America in the mid-1920s. Even though the dressmaking shop had no union, she went on strike for better wages. Once the fashions changed, the dressmaking industry was not as lucrative, so she got a job running a sewing machine at a shirt factory near her home at 16th Street and Reed Street in South Philadelphia.

Keywords: 11th Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); 16th Street and Reed Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Chestnut Street (Pa.); Dressmaking; Labor strikes; Labor unions; Languages; Market Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Orthopedics; Pageants; Receptionists; Shirt factory; Shoemakers; Shoes; Wanamaker’s Department Store

Subjects: Education; Employment; Immigrants

GPS: 16th and Reed St, near where Cetrullo lived.
Map Coordinates: 9.933504, -75.170640
00:13:51 - Her boyfriend's arrival in Philadelphia

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Partial Transcript: And then my boyfriend came and we got married.

Segment Synopsis: Cetrullo had kept in touch with her boyfriend in Italy, and he eventually immigrated to Philadelphia in 1927. They got married three months later. He had fled Italy during the Mussolini regime, with stints in France and Cuba before coming to the United States. His immigration status was undocumented, making his employment unstable because he could not become an American citizen. Her husband eventually was able to stay in the United States as a political refugee. He later worked in New York as an automobile mechanic. They had two sons.

Keywords: Arrivals; Automobile mechanics; Automobiles; Benito Mussolini; Citizenship; Cuba; Deportation; France; Italy; Political refugees; Sons; Undocumented immigrants

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Marriage

00:18:20 - Working during the Great Depression

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Partial Transcript: But then we moved back to Philadelphia.

Segment Synopsis: Cetrullo and her husband returned to Philadelphia from New York in 1928 when she was expecting her first child. They moved in with her parents. Later, they moved to Paterson, New Jersey, where her husband worked in an airplane factory. Once the Great Depression hit, they returned to Philadelphia where she was able to get a job and was the primary breadwinner, which made her husband feel terrible. They never struggled too much financially, although there were stints of unemployment.

Keywords: 1928; Airplane factory; Breadwinners; Garments; Great Depression; Home; Husbands; Knitting; Money; New Jersey; Philadelphia (Pa.); Return; Savings; Work; Yarn

Subjects: Depressions--1929; Employment; Families.

00:22:41 - Recollections of South Philadelphia neighborhoods

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Partial Transcript: But then when my husband started to work and I had a job, we rented a house.

Segment Synopsis: Gilda describes her new home in South Philly where she still resides, and her new neighbors. She discusses a lack of tensions between different immigrant groups. She recalls feeling no discrimination from other Philadelphians.

Keywords: 16th Street and Wolf Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Irish Americans--Philadelphia; Mole Street (Philadelphia, Pa.) 15th Street and Reed Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); National Recovery Act (NRA); Social security; South Philadelphia; Unemployment benefits

Subjects: Discrimination.; Immigrants; Neighborhoods.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Race relations

00:26:26 - Life in the city

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Partial Transcript: What, uh, what memories stand out or what part--aspects of the city or life in the city stand out from your first few years here?

Segment Synopsis: Cetrullo talks about her disdain for Philadelphia architecture, dominated by row houses which she thought lacked artistry. She also recalls her love of entertainment, specifically going to the movies and to plays. She notes that learning English was challenging, and how insecure she felt speaking and writing. She recalls that it took her nine months to feel comfortable speaking English.

Keywords: Architecture; Continuation schools; Entertainment; French; Language acquisition; Movie theaters; Movies; Night schools; South Philadelphia High School; Television; Theater

Subjects: Language and languages.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.; Recreation

00:29:03 - Naturalization classes and recollections of politics

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Partial Transcript: I'm interested in, in these, uh--the naturalization classes.

Segment Synopsis: Cetrullo recalls that in her naturalization courses she primarily learned language skills, along with American government and civics. She does not consider herself political as a person, although she voted after she received her citizenship.

Keywords: Americanization; Calvin Coolidge; Citizenship; Civics; Language acquisition; Naturalization; United States civics; William Vare

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants; Politics and government; Voting

00:32:20 - Holidays and religion

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Partial Transcript: What would be a typical Christmas in the 1920s?

Segment Synopsis: Cetrullo goes into detail about how her big Italian family celebrated Christmas, particularly about the meals her family ate, including eating at 11 pm on Christmas Eve due to her brother's job at the pharmacy. She recalls it as very fun; she enjoyed the dinners, baking treats, and giving gifts. She notes that her family was not particularly religious.

Keywords: Christmas traditions; Feast of the Seven Fishes; Italian Americans--Philadelphia; Italians; Pharmacists

Subjects: Families.; Holidays; Religion

00:34:28 - Visiting family in Italy / Labor union activity

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Partial Transcript: Um, did you ever want to go back to Italy?

Segment Synopsis: Cetrullo wanted to return to Italy until her future husband finally came to America. Her parents died in 1971, as well as her sister-in-law. She eventually returned to Italy to see both her own cousins and her husband’s family, visiting family in Rome, Milan, and Abruzzo. She discusses that she worked in closed shops without unions, although she eventually worked in a shop that was unionized, where she “reaped the benefits” of the union in place.

Keywords: Abruzzo (Italy); Abruzzo, Italy; Christmas bonuses; Milan (Italy); Milan, Italy; Rome (Italy); Rome, Italy

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Employment; Families.; Immigrants; Labor unions; Travel

00:37:36 - Reflections on changes to Philadelphia

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Partial Transcript: Final question. How would you say--what ways, um, has the city changed most dramatically?

Segment Synopsis: Cetrullo notes that Philadelphia has changed, including buildings and bridges that have been added or removed. She discusses her children playing at League Island and how her husband worried about the children's safety. She is proud of her work and how she raised her children.

Keywords: Architecture; Benjamin Franklin Bridge; Field managers; League Island (Philadelphia, Pa.); Market Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Oregon Ave (Philadelphia, Pa.); Pharmacists; The Neck (Philadelphia neighborhood); Walt Whitman Bridge

Subjects: Families.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Recreation

00:41:29 - Vacations to Italy

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Partial Transcript: Oh, I forgot to mention I went back to Italy three more times after that.

Segment Synopsis: Cetrullo recounts her multiple vacations to Italy and her meetings with her family. She brought her granddaughter, who could not speak Italian and grew frustrated, ruining Cetrullo’s trip. But she recalls lovely vacations meeting with old friends and family.

Keywords: Abruzzo (Italy); Abruzzo, Italy; Florence (Italy); Florence, Italy; Germany; Italy; Milan (Italy); Milan, Italy; Rome (Italy); Rome, Italy; Switzerland

Subjects: Families.; Travel