'Secret' of WWII: Italian-Americans forced to move
Were branded 'enemy aliens'
September 21, 1997
Web posted at: 7:53 p.m. EDT (2353 GMT)
SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- More than 50 years after World War II,
there is one incident from that era that remains in the
shadows -- the forced relocation of some U.S. residents of
Italian ancestry from their homes.
Now, some Italian-Americans believe the federal government
needs to own up to that history. A bill introduced in
Congress would force the government to disclose all that it
knows about the episode.
"We're not asking for monetary compensation," says Rose
Scudero, who was 12 when she and her mother, who was an
Italian citizen, were forced to leave their home. "We want it
documented. We want the government to acknowledge it
In the hysteria that accompanied the outbreak of World War
II, many Japanese citizens on the West Coast were forced into
internment camps, an episode for which the government has
apologized and paid compensation to survivors.
But the United States was also at war with Mussolini's Italy,
and Italian-Americans also were branded "enemy aliens" and
told to move out of certain areas. Even the fisherman father
of baseball great Joe DiMaggio, who had a 56-game hitting
streak in 1941, was told he could not fish San Francisco Bay
or visit the city.
In Pittsburg, California, 2,000 Italians were told to leave.
Many were fishermen, and their boats were confiscated.
"Some of them lost their homes. They had no way of making a
living, and so a lot of the things they had, they lost," says
Pat Firpo of the Pittsburg Historical Society.
"They didn't fully explain to these people why they did
this," says Scudero. "They felt they had done something
wrong. They felt so guilty."
Because housing was scare in wartime, many of those who were
dislocated had difficulty finding somewhere to live. One
woman even took up residence in a chicken coop.
At the same time, the sons of these so-called "enemy aliens"
went off to fight for the United States.
Bringing attention to what happened during this episode is an
exhibit of photographs and artifacts, called "The Secret
Story." It has been traveling around the country since 1994
and is scheduled to open in Washington, D.C., next week.
Also, two books have been written, compiling oral tales of
the plight of the dislocated Italian-Americans. But five
decades after the fact, there are still no official
historical accounts of the episode.
Most of those forced to leave are no longer alive. Now, their
sons and daughters are trying to make sure that what their
parents endured is not forgotten.
Correspondent Rusty Dornin contributed to this report.