|Chapter 1:||The Family|
My grandfather, Alfio Cassara, was born in San Fratello, Sicily, on January 5, 1883, the son of Cirino Cassara and his wife Rosalia Mondello. Alfio did not participate in the life of One Hundred and Seventh Street, our block in East Harlem between First and Second avenues. Alfio was told to come to East Harlem by a shoemaker from San Fratello who had a shoe repair shop on One Hundred and Seventh Street and needed another shoemaker. Alfio worked for him until he had enough money set aside to open his own shoe repair and hat cleaning shop with his nephew Charles on Columbus Avenue. From that time on Alfio saw East Harlem only in the mornings when he left for work and in the evenings when he returned home.
Alfio was Rosalia’s uncle as well as her husband. He was seven years her senior. She was illiterate and proud of his ability to read and write in Italian, a language Alfio rarely spoke at home. Alfio had attended school in San Fratello, had learned the shoemaker trade, and had served as a finanziere, a customs officer, before marrying Rosalia, the daughter of Marianna, one of his two sisters. My grandmother was sixteen when she married my grandfather. My grandmother never knew who her father was. All she knew was that her last name was Coppa. Alfio was the youngest of five children.
To save his family from poverty, Alfio decided to emigrate to New York City in 1906. An immigration inspector at Ellis Island placed a chalk mark on Alfio’s jacket believing he had an eye infection. Alfio brushed the chalk mark away and landed in New York. There is no official record at Ellis Island of his coming to