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Joseph Grande

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This is the story of an Italian immigrant in the early 1900s starting a family and pursuing the American Dream. It involves hard work, family, Catholicism, and organized crime.

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0:04:35

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Please contact Immigration History Research Center staff for permissions not covered by this Creative Commons license.

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This is the family history of Joseph Anthony Grande who was my great-great-grandfather. Joseph Anthony Grande was born on July 8th, 1898 in Italy. His mother, Rosa Dinunzi, was only 12 at the time, and his father, Frank Grande, was 29. Joseph was the oldest of eight siblings. He had six brothers and one sister. Out of all of his siblings, Joseph was the only one born in Italy.

Joseph was brought to New Jersey by his parents at a very young age during the early 1900s at a time when there was a wave of Italian immigration into the United States. During a forty year span, over four million Italian immigrants came to the United States. Like other Italian immigrants, the Grande family left Italy to escape poverty and poor living conditions. Joseph’s parents wanted all of their children to have a better and more comfortable life. They had high hopes in their American dream both for themselves and for their children.

The mass amount of immigrants that came to the United States in the 20th century eventually led to the Americanization Movement. It was created for the purpose of turning foreigners into educated and assimilated citizens regarding American customs and policies. Joseph grew up during this movement and it would have a great effect on his life. The Americanization Movement shaped Joseph’s career, lifestyle and family.

Joseph met his wife, Theresa Cometot, during the 1920s with whom he had five sons and one daughter. Theresa was born in Pennsylvania but both of her parents were from Calabria, Italy. Her family had also been part of the mass Italian immigration to the US. She worked at the Ford Motor Company and Joseph worked at the Aluminum Company of America which is today known as Alcoa, one of the largest aluminum companies in the world.

By 1935, Joseph and Theresa seemed to have fulfilled their parent's idea of the American Dream. They were very well off with a nice house in New Jersey and a luxury car. Joseph drove around a Blue Packard and became part of an elite crew in the Aluminum Corp of America. In fact, he was one of the many men at the time trying to create a patent for the aluminum can. Unfortunately, the patent fell through and my great-great-grandfather lost a lot of the wealth he had acquired within the banks.

Around 1945, Theresa was making around $925 a year at the Ford Motor Company and all five of Joseph’s sons, who are my great uncles, had served in World War II. After the war, Joseph’s sons starting running a scrap metal business that was somewhat tied with the Italian Mafia. My great uncles Robert and Paul Grande were the most involved and started the business because of the aluminum patent that had not worked out for the family.

They would rob ships full of aluminum from the Aluminum Company of America that came into New Jersey and resell the metal to other companies. Eventually, this evolved into a full out trade war with the government frequently going onto Grande land due to the suspicion that they were illegally selling aluminum. However, my great uncles had people that would warn the family when the government was coming so that they could hide all of the aluminum. My dad can still remember his Uncle Paul and Uncle Robert depositing large sums of money into banks and flattening aluminum sheets in their backyard. The aluminum business ended with my great uncles.

Besides that, the Grande family were also very devout Catholics. My great Uncle Paul used to frequently visit the Vatican in Rome where he would sing for the pope. When he came back to New Jersey he would sing the same songs for my grandma and dad such as “Ave Maria”. Today, his songs are a reminder of the Grande history and their rocky road in America that started with Joseph Grande’s parents bringing him and his siblings to New Jersey. Today in America, people of Italian ancestry make up the fifth largest ethnic group in the nation.

Joseph Anthony Grande died in 1962 in New Jersey at the age of 64. He left behind him an unconventional story of how my family adjusted to America but a great legacy of being a great father, businessman, and Catholic leader.