Posts Tagged Italians

Jun 29 2015

Book shows Monterey’s fishing, Italian history go hand in hand

MikeMike Ventimiglia talks about “Italians of the Monterey Peninsula” at the site where a plaque marks the approximate spot of his great uncle Salvatore Ventimiglia’s cannery on Cannery Row. (Vern Fisher — Monterey Herald)


MONTEREY >> The story of Italians in Monterey is the story of the local fishing industry.

Sicilians came here in waves in the early 1900s when a shift to sardine fishing required their special know-how. They kept Fisherman’s Wharf stocked and the canneries humming for nearly 50 years, turning Monterey into a boom town and establishing a cultural legacy that stands today.

Author Mike Ventimiglia chronicles their history in the recently published book “Italians of the Monterey Peninsula,” part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series. He will give a slide-illustrated talk and book signing at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Monterey Public Library.

Italian fishermen built on a foundation laid by Chinese immigrants, who commercialized fishing in Monterey Bay in the mid-1800s. Over half a century, squid and abalone gave way to salmon and sardines. When a Sicilian fisherman named Pietro Ferrante introduced lampara nets here, allowing for a bigger catch of sardines, the industry took off, sparking what came to be known as the Silver Harvest. Italian fishing families who had set up in Pittsburg, Martinez and other points north started flocking to the Monterey Peninsula.

Ventimiglia’s family was among them, moving here from Martinez in 1917. His father and uncles were fishermen, and his great uncle would eventually own a cannery here, near the present-day Monterey Bay Inn.

Two things were important to Italian fishermen, Ventimiglia said: their boats and their families.

“A fishing boat was probably the mainstay of most Italians,” he said. “The boats came before the house.”

The industry was on its way out by the time Ventimiglia was born in 1944, so his earliest memories of his father are not of him fishing on the Vagabond, but dealing cards on lower Alvarado Street.

Still, the feeling of a close-knit community ran deep.

“(My dad) was Sicilian, but he never spoke it in the house or around his children,” Ventimiglia said. “Then I would go down to the wharf with him and all of a sudden he’d start sputtering this weird language.”

Ventimiglia notes that Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf are still a major part of Monterey’s economy, with the emphasis now on tourism instead of fishing. He gives Italians credit for turning from fishermen into business owners.

“They were smart enough to switch gears,” he said.

Ventimiglia spent a year researching and writing the book. The hardest part, he said, was collating the hundreds of photos that are hallmarks of Arcadia books.

“I can get all the pictures of Italians in the world, but who are they?” he said “… I wanted to identify as many Italians as I could in the book, and that was the hard thing to get.”

The book covers Italians’ move to Monterey, the canneries, fishing boats and nets, and Santa Rosalia and other traditions. It has sparked another project to collect and publish a series of mini biographies of local Italians.

“To me what’s important is getting a piece of history out there,” Ventimiglia said.

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