A close encounter with my grandfather in 1930

There was a family story about how my grandfather (Carlo) left Italy and went to the USA. Only to be deported back to Italy. Presumably the reason was that he hadn’t paid the boat ticket. Not many details were offered, but the story was that he and a couple friends sneaked into a ship and in the middle of the ocean showed up to the crew and said “surprise!”

It was one of many anecdotes of our family.

Then, in 2016, my wife, sons and I went to New York. We all like architecture, and NYC is full of great buildings. We took a boat to the Statue of Liberty and then to Ellis Island.

It is a beautiful building. We walked it all around. We took pictures of the graffiti left by many immigrants. The halls, the infirmary, the docks, etc.

Then I causally searched for “Carlo Pace” in the archives….and I found this:


There he was… 3rd row. PACE CARLO, Laborer, from San Vito lo Capo, Sicily. And a “Stowaway”. Notice how the agent scratched “Passengers” and replaced with “Stowaway” on the header. The ship left Italy from Genova, but apparently it stoped in Napoli. Likely the city he sneaked into it.

The 2nd page offered a few more details:


Looks like his intended destination was someplace near Chicago. Which makes sense, considering that his sister was living there. And lived there all her life, only returning to Sicily to die in her country.

Google maps shows a gas station in that address, but it is surrounded by a few older homes. Who knows, maybe I’m looking at the houses I would have visited if his life had continued there. An alternate future that never came to be.

Sometime after February 18th, 1930 he went back to Italy, only to take a new ship (the Belvedere) to Argentina. He arrived in Buenos Aires on January 25th, 1931. Almost a year after his New York adventure. And exactly 10 years later, my father was born.

His adventure perhaps is not that remarkable compared to what others from his generation lived and went through. But I still find it an example of tenacity, struggle and desire for improvement. Values I share and live up to every day.

When I was 15 years old, I casually asked him to read something for me while we were walking in his incredibly productive garden. That’s when I learnt he didn’t know how to read (or write). I can still clearly remember the shock, and the embarrassment I felt. Followed by an immediate surge of respect and admiration: how far he had gone, with so many disadvantages, so many obstacles stacked against him. I loved him more that day, and over time. And I continued to love him a little bit more every day through the years after he passed away. And I like to think he’d be proud of me, as I’ve tried to live up to his high standards over the years.

Obstacles are not there to prevent you from moving forward, but to test how much you want what’s behind them.







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