The Scots- Italians, Recollections of an Immigrant (Joe Pieri)
Most migrants to Scotland are from the Barga area in Tuscany (plus areas south of Rome such as Filignano and Piccinisco).
Many left at end of the 19th century because they were exploited by large landowners. Most of the land above Barga was owned by an absentee landlord, Pietro Bertacchi, who let out parcels of his estate to tenant crofters and their families. Rent was not in cash but 50% of everything produced (ie sharecroppers known a mezzadri : mezzo = half). It was impossible to make a living.
Early immigrants were mainly itinerant vendors and labourers. Most had no trade before they cane. Orginally those from Tuscany sold “figurini”- plaster stutue /models, then “arrotini” – knife grinders
Carlo Gatti in London started making ice cream. One of Gatti’s street vendor Giulini (from Barga) moved to Glasgow and set up 3 cafes and ran scores of ice cream carts and brought in workers, mainly from the south of Rome
The ice cream barrows were often stationed at the entrance to public parks and later they opened cafes, fish and chip shops and retaurants. The Queens Cafe in Victoria Road was run by the Iaconnelli family, now Genesi) and the Bluebird was at the Pollokshaws gate (now site of Simla Pinks). The Bungalow in Victoria Road is still run by the Veracchia family (Listen to the extract about the Bungalow in the Listening Trail). By 1905 there wer over 300 ice cream shops in Glasgow.
The first immigrants to settle sent for relations and friends to join them. If they opened a new business they would seek workers from their own region or village. Persons from their own cultural background and language were easier to deal with (and more trusted). Primo Marchi (also from Barga)- franchised out his fish and chip shops and brought in workers from Barga
“The history of the Italians in Scotland is a story of what can be achieved by people of lowly and underpriveleged beginnings, with little or no education, and with nothing to reply on except their own inner strength and determination to survive and prosper, so as to provide for their families a future which they could not hope for in the land of their birth. It is also a story of how immigrants can enrich and bring a new dimension and flavour to the customs and culture of their adopted land”
Life was not easy in the early days for Italians in Glasgow. The first generation families often made their children work in the shops , taking them our of school at 14. They spoke Italian at home, but had to create new words for which they had no equivalent -Il Panbrocco (pawnbroker) and Loffaro (loafer/layabout). All this made integration difficult
Joe Pieri remembers the abuse and fights as a boy on the way to his southside school – “dirty wee tally”.
There was oposition to the cafes. Ice cream shops/cafes opened on a Sunday and this was criticized by the Protestant establishment as “corrupting the young” and there were attempts to shut them down.The underlying theme was that they were owned by “aliens” and had no place in British society. Fortunately most Glaswegians ignored this.
A dark period arrived in 1940 when Italy declared war. There was rioting in Glasgow against Italian shops and cafes- nearly all had their windows broken, and they were looted. The many who had still Italian citizenship were interned in camps, splitting families. Some were sent to camps or to Canada. The Arandora Star was a prison ship and was torpedoed in July 1940. 446 Italians were killed
To the modern generation of Scots the “Tallies” are no longer associated with fish and chips and ice cream – but are accepted as being an integral part of Scottish society and are recognised as having contributed much to our culture and business life.
As an example Nicola Bernadetti was chosen to play at the openinig of Holyrood and at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games Closing Cermony.
Extracts from Mike McDowell -The Guardian July 2010)
What you might not expect is for a Tuscan town of 10,000 people to dedicate two or three weeks of every year to fish and chips. And yet it really does happen – in Barga, northern Tuscany. Beginning around the end of July, the Sagra del Pesce e Patate is billed as a celebration of “traditional Scottish fish’n’chips”.
Each day around 500 people sit down to a deep-fried dinner at trestle tables on the sports field. During the festival they munch their way through about a tonne of chips – and even more fish. There’s a huge vat of tomato salad if you feel the need to cut through the grease, and of course, gallons of chianti with which to wash it all down.
Barga prides itself on being “the most Scottish place in Italyand you really do hear Italians speaking English with a Scottish accent.
Over the years, there has been a great deal of coming and going between Barga and Scotland, with those still in Scotland homesick for the vineyards and olive groves, and those who’ve returned to Tuscany apparently homesick for deep-fried food. And so they hold a fish and chip festival.
The food is served on paper plates with plastic knives and forks and, of course, sachets of tomato ketchup. We enjoyed our fish and chips to the inimitable sound of bagpipes, and I was told that, on certain days, one or two of the fryers may be older gentlemen in kilts. All that was missing was the malt vinegar – we had to make do with a wedge of lemon.