There are thousands of Italians who have become famous or have left their mark who make us proud to be from our country, but I would like to talk about one in particular: Pietro Amedeo Giannini. This is his story in brief, taken from a book by Andrew Rolle, Gli Emigrati Vittoriosi:
In the early 1900s, the Genoese Giannini founded the Bank of Italy in the North Beach neighbourhood of San Francisco, saying that he would loan workers up to 25 dollars with no other security than the callouses on the borrowers’ hands. The San Francisco earthquake and fire then presented Giannini with a grand occasion. The city had fallen into panic and all of the banks were paralyzed, but Giannini, in the midst of the swirling ash, was carrying out financial transactions on the Washington Street wharf. His bank consisted of a plank resting on two barrels. When the fire broke out, Pietro Amedeo Giannini had piled up all of the contents and registers of his bank in two covered wagons, hiding it all under a load of oranges. While the great banks of San Francisco, with their vaults destroyed by the fire, could not reopen their doors to answer their customers’ urgent requests for cash, Giannini was issuing loans and advances to his customers, who he knew personally, individually. His example revived the souls of the desperate immigrant Italians who, little inclined to entrust themselves to the banks, gave him the gold they had stuffed into their socks and milk cans, which would then contribute to the reconstruction of the city. Giannini did not want his visitors to come to him to talk only about money; he listened with equal attention to talk of an engagement, a death, a marriage, an illnesses or a loan. Over time, that little bank became the biggest in California and then the biggest in the United States and finally, the biggest in the world: the Bank of America.
Immigration is a phenomenon that has always characterized humanity in all of the periods of our existence. Italy in particular experienced, from the late nineteenth century to the post war period, the mass transfer of our fellow citizens to the Americas, Germany, Switzerland, France, Belgium and Australia.
In this post I would like to focus attention on how important Italian immigration was over the last 150 years for today’s wine export market. Italians brought with them a culinary culture so strong that it made us famous all over the world; the opening of Italian restaurants has, over time, built a bridgehead for the export of wine and traditional Italian products, envied by all. The immigrants have spread knowledge of our ways, conquering the faith of host countries with hits of pasta, pizza and charm.
Travelling in the USA, I am aware of the extraordinary and perhaps unknowing work that they did, fleeing our country for a better life. The math is simple: the more Italian dining establishments are opened in the world, the more our wines will be sold. The more talented Italian chefs and sommeliers are trained, the more indirect opportunities for our market.
I would therefore like to recall that our status as wine producers is in part determined by those who sweated and struggled to give our populace dignity. We can’t forget that at the beginning of the last century, in the American hierarchy of subjugation, Italians, in terms of both mental and physical aptitude, were considered to be quite close to the bottom of the range.
With this post I would like to underline our fortune to be Italians. Frequently while traveling the world, I meet the children and grandchildren of immigrants who, seeing that I am Italian, stop me with a smile in their eyes, happy to share the same national origin. This makes me proud. I feel that my trade, in a small way, helps to render justice to the struggles and the humiliations that our fellow citizens suffered in the past.
And so I am raising a glass and making a toast to you, the Italian immigrants!