Welsh-Italian Heritage

Monday, May 4, 2020

I have very fond memories of family outings to Antionazzi’s Penguin café in Bangor in the seventies, when we visited the town for our weekly shop. Back then, the steamed-up bustling café was located by the entrance to Wellfield Centre. I was in awe of the shiny coffee machines and their constant hissing, although I doubt if my parents ever ordered a coffee but the cups of tea were filled to the brim with a warm welcome.

Family business is a familiar theme among the items shared by the Welsh-Italian Heritage account – fish and chips shops, cafés and ice cream parlours alike are derived from the Italian spirit of enterprise and a strong desire to succeed in their adopted country. Drawn to the UK initially by seasonal work, Anita Arcari explains in the first part of her story how Italian families in the Swansea area made the heroic journey to Wales from the small, mountainous villages of the Picinisco 'comune' in the province of Frosinone, part of the Comino Valley in central Italy. But the desire to create a better life for themselves, their tenacity and their vision was something that her grandparents held on to until they reached the end of the journey. For the most part, Swansea would be the second, or sometimes third destination for Italians after they migrated to the UK, a journey which some families ventured on as long ago as the 1880s.

Anita Arcari is a former lecturer whose interest in her Welsh-Italian heritage spans over several years.

"I've always said that I've got BOB - the Best of Both worlds. I value and treasure my Welsh and Italian heritage alike, along with all their similarities and differences. My fond memories include the strange but oddly workable combination of Welsh and Italian foods and also the shared love of music by both nationalities. My mother and two of her siblings were good operatic style singers, and my father would often play the piano or the accordion as accompaniment. I also loved listening to my father's stories about my grandparents’ life in Italy, and how his family came to Wales from their remote farm with nothing in their pockets, but a heart full of hope.



"My favourite photograph from the collection (dating from about 1922) has to be the one of my grandparents outside the Arcari Palace Café. The reason for this is because I think it demonstrates and epitomises the incredible entrepreneurial spirit of the Italian people who came here with nothing, and yet were determined to create a better life for themselves in their new, adopted country.

"It is very important that my family's story, and the story of all those brave people who made the same journey is publicized as possible. There is the truth in their story, amongst all the false and misguided information that is out there. Indeed, their story has inspired me to write a novel that has had some success (The Hokey Pokey Man, Y Lolfa). Their story has parallels with the stories of immigration today.

"Their incredible ability to venture into a new country, immigrating, and integrating and learning a new language was in itself laudable. But the fact that they were then accepted as valued members of their local communities was even more special. Their story needs to be told and celebrated – it is very much a story of hope, courage and inspiration. The People's Collection Wales website is making the story available to the wider public, and preserves the history for current and future generations."

Paulette Pelosi, a friend Anita Arcari, was also inspired to tell her story. They have a shared Swansea family cafés background, and they also share a family tree back to Picinisco, central Italy, with much evidence of Pelosi-Arcari intermarrying.

"My favourite memory growing up, relating to my Italian heritage, has, with time, gathered momentum and has now a sort of comical charm to it. Both my parents worked very hard in our café business. The living accommodation was basic, we lived above and behind the shop, and rooms were often used as store-rooms … and there were always long wooden boxes of Teodoro Di Nola Neapolitan spaghetti delivered. I have recently found my late father’s Catologo Generale, a general catalogue of all the varieties of pasta they sold. It is now somewhat battered but I can clearly see the stocklist address details: Cozzolino’s in Liverpool. My father had to order from them in the late fifties and early sixties as there wasn’t any such demand for pasta as there clearly is today.

"So inside the long wooden boxes were long packets of spaghetti, beautifully packaged in distinctive, durable cobalt blue wrapping paper. As I said, my parents worked hard – with no holidays – to provide for my education at Swansea’s St Winefride’s Convent School. My school textbooks had to be purchased from the Uplands Bookshop – they were very expensive at the time, and thus I knew I had to take good care of them – which I always did, as I loved my books!

"My Papa covered each book in the blue paper from the spaghetti packages! I must have stood out, thinking about it now … especially for anyone who had encountered such Italian pasta! This small but important part of my Italian heritage contributed to my choice of title for my short story in the Honno press collection, Even the Rain is Different, (2005): ‘Schoolbooks in Spaghetti Paper’!



"My favourite photograph in the Welsh-Italian Heritage collection is that of me, as a young girl dressed for Sunday Mass at St David’s Church, Swansea with my mother, inside my parents’ Dillwyn Café. This photograph which was taken circa 1960 (I was born in 1954) absolutely represents photographically what it meant to be a young girl growing up in a cafe, and specifically, a child of Italian background and Catholic religion – being photographed in 'Sunday best' clothes, including white gloves! The photo was taken before attending Mass on Sunday; my father was a keen photographer and personally I can identify my outfit as very smart, and possibly deserving of a better photographic background. It just seemed logical for my father to grab the shot, as we all left for Mass.

"All the symbols of café life are in shot – the all-important Avery weighing-scale, for example, for weighing quarters of sweets; the many assorted jars of sweets were on the background shelves, sadly hidden by the sheets of newspaper my father used to protect them from strong sunlight. Then there is the sturdy pre-decimalisation cash-register to my mother’s left. A charity collection box is alongside the register. My mother and I were both smartly dressed, and I know the shop environment would have been spick and span – we all kept high standards."

Nearly sixty years after the photograph of her in the family shop was taken, her Italian heritage is as important as ever to Paulette Pelosi.



"My Italian heritage is of GREAT importance to me… in my genes… in my ancestry, researched back to the 1600s, every generation born, raised, and more often than not, died in the one beautiful area of Picinisco, province of Frosinone, central Italy. The local cuisine, over those generations is described as cucina povera or poor kitchen – generations of my ancestors fighting poverty, surviving on a nutritional diet which naturally included fresh local fruit and vegetables, local pulses such as cannellini beans and, of course, Pasta! All these ingredients are part of my regular cuisine in my home in Wales. I feel I have inherited strengths inherent in my Italian ancestors: being strong, putting on a brave front, La bella figura... dressing well to look and feel good... and MUCH more!"

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