Monday, April 4, 2016

Little Known Stories of Mohawk Valley Immigration

Introduction by Professor Sherri Cash

This year, I asked my senior history research students to reflect on "One Cool Source" that inspired each of their projects, which they will present at the Utica College History Department's / Center for Historical Research's annual History Project Symposium. Each student is researching a project that connects with the theme “Superheroes” in the Mohawk Valleywhich entails the reconstruction of events in the region's past that involved triumph over adversity, or struggles in power.  Some of the papers focus on aspects of the Mohawk Valley's rich immigration history. Here's a little about them.

Mike Belmont

The Italian Immigrant Experience in Frankfort

Have you ever thought about how you ended up where you lived? Or why your family ended up where they lived? Or how one group of people settled where they settled?   One of the cool things about my research is getting to explore how people got to Frankfort, a small town in Herkimer County.  One of my primary sources is an interview I had with an Italian immigrant who has lived most of her adult life in Frankfort. She grew up in Italy, under the rule of Benito Mussolini during the World War II, and moved to America after the war to join her father. In her teens and twenties, she lived in New York City, where she met her husband who is of Italian heritage and from Frankfort. Eventually, the two married and settled there.  What makes her interview historically “cool” and interesting to me is that it is giving me the opportunity to tell the authentic story of an Italian immigrant who was living in fear and poverty in her home country, who then moved across the world to start an “American” life. The life of this Italian immigrant woman and a town in the Mohawk Valley reveal so much about the immigrant experience and the development of Central New York, the state, and the nation. People like her came not just for themselves but for their future families. [1]

Alexis Holmer

Wanted: The History of Bosnian Women in Utica

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Men are what their mothers made them.” History has been more inclined to trace the history seen through men’s eyes, but what about our mothers? Immigrant women have no place to call home in history. Their history is fragmented in multiple disciplines of history, sociology, and anthropology. Locally, this is an issue. Institutions like Utica College, Hamilton College, and Colgate University all produced scholarly work on immigrant families and men. What about women? How about Bosnian women? Since the 1980s, over 4,000 Bosnian families immigrated to Utica. Possibly half of those people were women and mothers. What can Uticans say about our Bosnian majke (mothers)? Someone needs to prevent this historical goldmine from fading away. What did these women do to escape the war, how did they help their families through resettlement, did they work double jobs, how did they come out of a war and restart their families? We do not know because no one asked that question. By conducting interviews with these unknown but courageous women, a gap in history can be filled. Their stories are in our backyard, and we are letting them rust into nothing.

Patrick Garrett

Building the Coliseum

The Coliseum Soccer Club was founded in 1978 by John Fornino and other Italian immigrants. Their families left Italy after World War II in hopes of finding better opportunities for themselves and their children in America.  Even though they left their homeland, Mr. Fornino’s family and friends brought their passion for the game of soccer with them to America. Fornino said that being Italian meant that they had “soccer running through [their] blood.” The Coliseum Soccer Club was created to give Italian immigrants in the Mohawk Valley an identity while keeping a connection with their home country. The Roman Coliseum is the biggest landmark in Italy, which illustrates where their cultural roots are. In Fornino’s opinion, the Coliseum Soccer Club helps break down barriers by giving young athletes who are interested in the game a chance to play. “It does not matter what race, background, or religion that you practice as long as you treat everyone fairly and play the game the way it is meant to be played,” he says. Over the last forty years, Fornino has transformed the Coliseum Soccer Club from a men’s team into a soccer club that focuses on the younger generation of soccer players. His goal was to turn the club’s focus to producing homegrown players. The club places special emphasis on youngsters to help develop better game play and local talent.  John said that his “goal has been completed, and it [is] a dream come true to see where the Coliseum Soccer Club is today.” Not only has Fornino turned his attention to the young athletes, but he also extended the club to immigrant communities in Utica. With all of the immigrants who have moved to the area as refugees, Fornino wants to expand Coliseum and its influence to these communities to help bring cultures together through their shared passion for soccer. [2]


[1] Theresa Belmont, interviewed by Michael Belmont, January 2016.
[2] John Fornino (Coliseum Soccer Club Founder), interviewed by Patrick Garrett, February 29, 2016.
Image Credit: / Coliseum SC Logo courtesy of the Utica Coliseum Soccer League.

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