My grandfather Louis was born in Italy. The southern part. Somewhere in the province of Caserta. Just outside of the city of Naples.
He was a bastred. Never knew either parent.
He grew up on the streets of Naples. He made do to survive.
He found work when he was 6 or 7 as a sheepherder in the fields outside of Naples. Eventually and by the age of 8 he became a head sheepherder. That meant he was the boss of a group of other small boys so working.
Louis decided to come to the United States when he was about 12. By whatever means, he got on a boat and ended up at Ellis Island.
Ellis Island was and still is located outside of New York City. It was the entry point for immigrants in those days.
All persons who were to enter the United States had “papers.” The papers contained their personal data and was hung around their necks in a packet.
The term wop is one all Italian Americans hate! I heard it used too many times in my early days. Insulting and disparaging! I find it revolting even now though it is rarely spoken.
In any event, by the time the Italians reached Ellis Island, most of them had lost their papers. And thus was the word wop born: with out papers!
My grandfather was with out papers!
My grandfather only spoke Italian. The immigration officer at Ellis Island apparently only spoke English or at the most very little Italian.
My grandfather was asked his name. Remember he had no papers by which to be identified. He did not understand. He thought they were asking him what he did for a living. So he told him he was a patron. Patron is Italian for boss. My grandfather was telling the officer he was a boss of sheepherders!
The officer wrote down Petrone and thus was born our family name!
I share this story with pride.