Home / Featured / ‘Bring back our Italians!’ How Alien Enemies Act affected Martinez

‘Bring back our Italians!’ How Alien Enemies Act affected Martinez

Armando Olmeda (center), singing at Willows Restaurant in Orinda. The Italian Olmeda had a successful Martinez business before being banned to inland Orinda as an unnaturalized citizen during WWII. Roy Jeans, Olmeda’s grandson, now owns the popular downtown music venue “Armando’s,” named after his grandfather. (ORINDA HISTORICAL SOCIETY LIBRARY)
Armando Olmeda (center), singing at Willows Restaurant in Orinda. The Italian Olmeda had a successful Martinez business before being banned to inland Orinda as an unnaturalized citizen during WWII. Roy Jeans, Olmeda’s grandson, now owns the popular downtown music venue “Armando’s,” named after his grandfather. (ORINDA HISTORICAL SOCIETY LIBRARY)

By KRISTIN HENDERSON
Special to the Tribune

Greetings Martinez! I am writing about history and architecture for the Tribune. I am going to follow the Italian theme because on Sunday, Oct. 25, I am giving a book talk at the Center for Italian Culture in Carmichael, California, and dragging along a vivacious, generous Sicilian by the name of Mary Carone Nicholson to discuss her own experiences and that of her intricately large family.

No one owns history just as no one owns the rain. Many precede me and many will follow to carry forward what is best about the Italians so we today do not miss out on something that can make us happier folks.

There are other ethnicities that contributed to the development of Martinez and anybody can write a column about them. The robin egg blue, boxy Victorian at the north end of Ferry Street is reportedly built by a black man named William Jones. It was Jones’ second tavern, the first built about the time California became a state. How many towns can boast a pre-Abolition African provenance?

Speaking of civil rights, let’s quickly talk about the 1942 Italian Alien Enemy Act ban. In 1942, the U.S. government decided to remove its WWII enemy ethnics of Japanese, Germans, and Italians from at least the coastlines. Although Italians had it “better” than the Japanese, it still got funky for them. Martinez has at least three living examples of the effect of the Italian Enemy ban.

1) “Armando’s,” the regionally recognized and rarefied music venue on Marina Vista Avenue.
The current proprietor, Roy Jeans, named it after his grandfather, Armando Olmeda, who had a successful Martinez business until he was banned to inland Orinda as an unnaturalized citizen where Armando became the famous singing chef at Willows Restaurant.

2) The Curzi home at 1411 Grandview Drive.

Curzi was an unnaturalized Italian builder of that still grand villa that was given a bad foundation. Curzi sued the contractor. If the presiding judge had not died, it would have been likely that in 1942, Curzi’s testimony would have been thrown out because Curzi was an unnaturalized Enemy Alien.

Although a Curzi no longer lives there, the current owners honor the Curzi struggle by leaving the name sign over the mail box.

3) Cappy Ricks Park. Cappy Ricks was mayor at the time of the Italian Enemy Alien Ban and the loss of 300 thriving and contributing Italians to his community compelled Ricks to plea to the Federals to lift the ban. Moreover, there was a shortage of cannery laborers just when Costanza’s received huge orders for war packings. The salmon fishing run was retarded by the detention of unnaturalized fishermen. Many of the banned had children fighting and dying in World War II. Joe DiMaggio’s parents were not allowed to visit his San Francisco restaurant and at the end of the ban in October 1942, reportedly 250 from Martinez and 600 from Pittsburg returned to their towns – and most importantly, their families.

Mary Carone Nicholson supplied a 1978 SF Examiner article that captures the provenance of this better than any exhumed facts ever could, and that article is located at http://1drv.ms/1NqaUtp.

One comment

  1. Great story, Kristen. You’re at your best! Keep writing. What the nation did to the Italians — including Joe DiMaggio’s parents — is tragic.

About tribune-admin

Check Also

Squeeze concert at The Fox showcases decades of hit making

BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER Taking a victory lap mid-way thru their fifth decade together, the British band …