South San Francisco, CA October 21, 2016 Submitted by Barbara Baxter
This is the final article in the series of four on “A Centennial Is Being Celebrated”. The first article (CLICK HERE) dealt with the forming of the South San Francisco Italian American Citizens Club on December 7th, 1916 and the festivities that would be celebrated this year. The second article (CLICK HERE) focused on the hardships and the prejudices suffered by Italians, not only throughout the country, but also here in our immediate Bay Area cities. The third article (CLICK HERE) shared how the Italian Americans continued helping each other to become active citizens in their new country; finding jobs, becoming involved in the political arena, and contributing to their communities, and their military service for the U.S.A.
The public is invited to the Rededication of the Washington bust which sits on the steps of the South San Francisco City, Hall this Sunday October 24 at 2pm. This bust was first presented to our City July 4, 1937.
On the 7th of December 1941, the United States entered into World War II. With initial losses in Europe and in the Pacific, Americans were joining the services in great numbers. In the community of South San Francisco, approximately 1019 young men and women had entered the military. Of these, 336 were Italian Americans, sons and daughters of IACC families that continuously had sought recognition to become accepted as Americans. Eleven of these volunteers eventually paid the maximum price, never to return home. In May, of 1942, in the decisive battle of the Coral Sea, an Italian American naval aviator, Roy Ghilardi, born and raised in South San Francisco, became the first national hero to return home. His major involvement in the sinking of an enemy aircraft carrier, helped turn the tide of the war in our favor. During this period, at a meeting of the Italian American Citizens Club, its’ officers and members, because of the war, decided to stop being an active organization.
It wasn’t until 1946, that a letter was sent by the prior President and Secretary; requesting that all the Italian American Citizens living in South San Francisco rejoin the organization. It went on to mention that the IACC would continue to be a political force in protecting the rights of Italians, but also become more involved in promoting social and cultural events, which had been so successful, prior to the war.
During the next fifteen years, a new and different wave of Italians arrived in South San Francisco. Surviving the hardships of the war in Italy, they immediately found available jobs with benefits, and did not encounter the prejudices of the past immigrants. Their two main priorities were the social activities (after a hard day’s work) and sending their children to school and/or finding a job. The cultural and political world was not of importance, even though they voted for Italian Americans in the local elections. During this period, the IACC maintained an active membership of about 150 men.
Searching for ideas to increase its membership, the first major change in the early 1980’s was the acceptance of members’ wives as members. This led to the inclusion of all ethnic groups to become members. The second major event occurred in 1986, when the club organized a sporting event known as the “Italian American Games”. Three sports were offered; Bocce, Bike Racing and Tennis, with participation only for Italians or Americans of Italian descent. This proved to be so successful, that two years later, participation was opened to all ethnic groups. At the height of its success, 11 different sports were offered. As a result of financial support from the city of South San Francisco, and the monies the IACC derived from the Games (over $90,000), six Bocce courts (two of them covered) were built at the local Orange Avenue Memorial Park. For the Italian American Games Dinner Dances, Hollywood celebrities, such as actor Joseph Campanella, actor, comedian, and singer Sonny King and others were showcased at the event. By 1995, the “Games” became so popular, that the IACC could no longer continue to manage them. It was then voted by the membership, to offer only the game of Bocce as an invitational sport. To this day, in 2016, the IACC continues to offer competitive night and day Bocce leagues to its members. More importantly, because of the “Games”, the IACC membership grew to over 475 members.
Also during this period the IACC continued with its social events, such as dinners and picnics, including cruises to the Caribbean, Alaska, and extremely popular group trips to Italy. Also, on the cultural side, theatrical and musical groups from Lucca Italy had been invited to perform, scholarships are awarded to graduating High School seniors that study Italian, and a “Person of the Year” award is presented at the annual Christmas Dinner.
This year, as we celebrate the Centennial of the South San Francisco Italian American Citizens Club (1916 to 2016), we acknowledge the sacrifice of an organization whose ethnic group sought to be accepted as Americans and with the help of other ethnic Americans managed to become one of the most popular organizations, prior and after World War II. The IACC was and continues to be, an organization that helped to build the history of the city of South San Francisco. It is our hope that its future will be as positive and successful as its past and that the IACC’s history continues to be acknowledged and documented for the betterment of our members and our community.
-IACC Centennial Committee
To read more on our Italian American Citizen’s Club on ESC CLICK HERE