Giovanni and Vergie DiStefano on their wedding day in New Orleans. Retired tailor Nunzio Giovanni “John” DiStefano is one of many Italian immigrants who moved to the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries in pursuit of the American Dream. But DiStefano’s story is no ordinary immigrant’s tale. Unlike most New Orleans area residents … Continue reading From Prisoner to Patriarch: A New Orleans Love Story
By Linda DiMarzio Massicot and Elisa Speranza "I fell in love with his ears,” said Dorothy Messina DiMarzio as she recalled the first time she saw her future husband, Ermanno. She was the daughter of Sicilian immigrants and he was an Italian prisoner-of-war. After the Allies defeated the Axis powers in North Africa in 1943, … Continue reading Finding Love Against the Odds: A New Orleans Wartime Romance
“It all started with me,” said Marguerite Graffagnini Maranto. A spry 92-years-young, she spoke in the kitchen of her Hammond, LA home. Her eyes twinkled as she told the story of how she met her husband Mario back in 1944, when she was 17.
In May of 1943, Allied forces defeated the Italian army in North Africa. 51,000 Italian prisoners-of-war (and about 380,000 Germans) were brought to the US and held on military bases across the country. About 900 of them were brought to Jackson Barracks, just outside New Orleans.
The inspiration for Saint Joseph’s Day is the little-known love story of the Italian POWs held at Jackson Barracks near New Orleans during World War II, and the local girls they met and married. I was lucky enough to join with Curator Sal Serio from the Italian-American Archive for a special event April 20, 2019 at the Jefferson Parish Library.