Jenna Capra (Editor of Andiamo! - Colorado's Italian Community Newspaper)

Andiamo! nella comunità italoamericana in Colorado con Jenna Capra

Jun 08, 2021 2137 ITA ENG

Our tour of the United States takes us this time west to the Centennial State: Colorado. Here, too, there is a vibrant community that celebrates Italy, gathered around a successful magazine that for exactly 10 years has been led by a young Italian American, Jenna Capra. 

We thank her three times: because with the magazine she directs, Andiamo! she tells about Italy with pride and pleasure; because she accepted to be the Ambassador of We the Italians; and because she is the guest of our interview. Thank you Jenna, welcome aboard! 

Jenna, you are the Owner, Editor, & Publisher of Andiamo! - Colorado's Italian Community Newspaper. The magazine was founded in 2003, and you took over in 2011. So first of all, Happy Anniversary! Please tell us more about Andiamo!

Mille Grazie! It’s been a wonderful ten years and I’m so proud of our publication!

In short, Andiamo! is the Italian Community Newspaper for the state of Colorado and serves as a celebration of all things Italian. Our mission is to represent our culture and community in a positive way, while also sharing and preserving our histories. Published monthly (in English), each issue serves as a unifying source of news, information, and entertainment for all to enjoy.

Our articles cover everything from personal interviews with great Italian individuals, families, businesses, and organizations; to more general, informative articles regarding larger Italian and Italian American traditions, histories, and culture. The stories range from local to international, past to present, and touch on every topic imaginable—we’ve done everything from Amaretto to Zambelli and are always discovering more to feature in future issues (fortunately Italians have a lot of history and pride to pull from!)

In addition, we have a great arrangement with History Colorado (located in Denver) and the Colorado Italian American Preservation Association (CIAPA) that allows us to print photos from their historical archives for our “Page in Time” feature; along with a more in-depth, “Community Story” from Colorado history as well. And if that wasn’t enough, we also have rotating features that invite readers to get involved - recipes, book reviews, fun trivia lessons… and sometimes even our very own “cruciverba” (crossword puzzle) to solve!

Ultimately, Andiamo!” means “Let’s Go!” in Italian, and we use that positive, unifying idea to inspire and move us forward with each and every issue we put into print.

What’s the story of your family and its immigration to the US?

My family’s immigration story is actually fairly recent as my father, Salvatore Capra, immigrated to the United States in 1966 when he was 9 years old, with his parents, Guerino and Adelia, and older sister, Dora. They came from San Polo Matese - a small mountain town in the region of Molise -  in search of a better life. Like so many before them, they saw America as the “land of milk and honey,” and made the difficult choice to leave everything and everyone they knew behind for the great promise of American opportunity.

Originally, it was my Nonna, Adelia’s idea. Her father, Nicola, had immigrated to Colorado in 1952, and she’d watched her mother, Filomena, and five siblings gradually follow him over. My Nonno, Guerino, however was understandably reluctant to leave Italy as the small farm they owned in San Polo was just becoming prosperous after years of hard work, and his side of the family still lived in Molise. But the possibility of a better life for his children in America ultimately swayed him.

In 1962, they entered the lottery system which dictated immigration quotas to the U.S. at the time, but had to wait four long years until the system was reformed under President Lyndon B. Johnson to finally pack their bags. With all their belongings stuffed into two large trunks, they boarded an ocean liner which took them across the Atlantic in April 1966; then finished the journey by train and bus to Denver, Colorado where relatives were waiting.

There, they shared a crowded three story house with family in north Denver’s “Little Italy” area, but had a hard time adapting to life in America as they didn’t know English and the language barrier was extremely difficult. Work also proved to be incredibly scarce and for a long time it didn’t seem like they would be able to stay - my Nonno actually wouldn’t let the family unpack their trunks for nearly three years until he had secured steady employment as a metalworker and felt confident enough that the Capras could finally consider Colorado their permanent home.

Even though their journey occurred well beyond the early days of Ellis Island, the sacrifices they made and the hardships they encountered were just as difficult, and their successes are a true testament to the Italian experience in the United States. As part of the first generation of my Italian American family born here, their story has always been a source of inspiration and pride for me, which is what originally led me to my work with Andiamo! and continues to drive me today...

What is the easiest and the hardest part in being editor of an Italian magazine in the US?

I think just being in the editorial industry at all is incredibly challenging these days. The nature of the business means there’s always an ominous deadline looming, but always a lot of uncertainty and pieces moving around until the last minute. Its stressful work and it can be easy to feel stretched too thin as there’s so much to keep track of and do!

However, the easiest part would definitely be researching and exploring the content we cover: Italy has given so much to the world and it’s always fascinating to dive into each topic and learn a little more than before... Often we start with one idea, which leads to another and another and another! It’s a lot of fun following the story threads we find, and the people we meet along the way are always wonderful as well. It’s a pleasure to be able interview them and share their stories in our pages.

Let’s talk about Italians in Colorado. Who were the first ones to arrive? What part of Italy were they from, and what did they do in Colorado?

Italians began to come to Colorado in the late 1850s, largely drawn by the mills, mines, and railroads of the time. Many toiled away in these incredibly hard and dangerous jobs until they had enough money to bring their families over and purchase their own land for farming or start small businesses. They mostly settled down in Denver, Trinidad, and Pueblo - all cities which still enjoy a strong Italian presence today, though there are pockets of Italian communities found all over the state. As was common in history, the majority of Italians that immigrated here initially came from the Mezzogiorno regions where conditions were poorest (families from Basilicata, Abruzzo, Molise, Calabria, and Sicily are very common here) but we do have some northern Italian representation as well (particularly from Trento).

One of the most interesting things I’ve heard across the many stories we’ve covered in Andiamo! is how the Rocky Mountains held special appeal to the immigrants who came here from similarly mountainous regions of Italy… Colorado’s beautiful landscapes reminded them a little bit of the homes they had left behind.

You see this in other places around the country as well, where immigrants from Italy’s coastal areas tended to stick closer to cities on American shores where they could put their skills and knowledge of the sea to good use fishing and sailing and the like. So it makes sense that many of the Italians who came here had extensive knowledge of mountain terrain, plains, and farming on some level.

Is there a place that is important to the Italian community in Colorado, or has been in the past? A Little Italy, a church, a park, a monument?

There are many, many important spots around the state, but the “Little Italy” area of Denver that my family once belonged to was historically located in Denver’s “North Side” neighborhoods. Around the 19th century, when Italians had earned enough to move out of the mining and railroad colonies and into better areas, they gravitated to the northwest side of Denver where they lived, struggled, and eventually thrived together; up through the 1960s and 70s when they began spreading out into the suburbs and beyond... During its prime though, Denver’s “Little Italy” was filled with popular Italian-owned restaurants, grocers, service shops, and other small businesses.

At the center of it all was Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church, built and paid for by the Italians at the time who scraped together the resources to provide a much-needed place for the community to worship in their own language and ways. Now, over 125 years later, the church remains an important cornerstone of the community and Colorado Italians continue to celebrate their baptisms, weddings, and other religious functions there.

The church also still serves as an important unifier for the community with beloved, annual, cultural traditions like the St. Joseph’s Table in March, and the Mt. Carmel Procession & Bazaar in July, which bring Italians back from every corner of the state to celebrate in full force each year. On the first Sunday of every month, there is also a dedicated “Prima Domenica” mass spoken in Italian, followed by a cultural reception and breakfast hosted by the community to gather and enjoy together.

Is there a name that in the past or today is worth remembering, because of what it has done for the Italian community in Colorado?

Several Italian names often get repeated (for good reason!) for their contributions to Colorado history. There’s Mother Francis Cabrini for the work she did in Colorado to help Italian immigrants and orphan children before she became the first American to be canonized as a Saint. There’s Angelo Noce, for his efforts to raise Italian profiles in society with the first Italian newspaper in Colorado (La Stella) and his work to establish Columbus Day as a holiday. There’s Father Mariano Lepore who helped lead the Italian community in the historic creation of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Denver. There’s Genevieve D’Amato Fiore who organized an UNESCO chapter for world peace in Colorado and championed women and human rights all her life...

But one of the things I have always tried to emphasize with Andiamo! is the importance of “small stories” as well. That mission is part of what drew me to work in this field in the first place—the ability to shine the spotlight on the people and businesses that might not otherwise get to see it. There are so many names and stories that go unrecognized and untold in society, but have made such an incredible impact on their families and communities for the better: farmers, grocers, laborers, barbers, teachers, nurses, humanitarians, artists, mothers, fathers, and everything in between... People that may not have had the wealth or education or influence or opportunities to make the history books, yet still influenced our lives in powerful and positive ways.

We don’t always realize how significant the “everyday” person’s contributions can be or how strongly they’ve shaped our communities until we sit down and research them. It’s truly amazing how much we discover sometimes and I regularly encourage Andiamo! readers to reach out and interview their loved ones whenever they can. It’s so important that we remember to document our own personal histories so we can continue to celebrate and honor their names as well!

How is the Italian community in Colorado today? Are there many Italians? Is there an official consulate? Is there Made in Italy?

People are often surprised to discover Colorado’s Italian population is as prevalent as it is, but we’re definitely here! According to numbers provided by History Colorado, there are over 200,000 Italian Americans in Colorado (about 5% of the state’s population.) As the generations have grown and expanded away from the historical “Little Italy” areas, we’ve become a bit scattered, but the Italian community of Colorado is still very much “out there” and thriving in their own ways while still remaining connected through our shared passions and traditions.

The community turns out most visibly for the annual feasts and festivals around the state. We also have a variety of fantastic Italian organizations that serve all kinds of interests year-round, everything from the traditional fraternal organizations and mutual aid societies; to groups focused on providing community service and scholarships; groups for business networking; groups devoted to Italian education and language; groups for assisting with Italian genealogy research; groups formed simply for socializing together; recreational bocce leagues; and even a Morra league!

As for a consulate, Colorado Italians fall under the jurisdiction of the consulate in Chicago. We do have an honorary consulate however, who can still help our community members with limited hours and services, but it would be wonderful if we could get an official consulate in Denver to better serve the entire area.

Colorado was the very first state to approve a Columbus Day, in 1907, 37 years before President Franklin Roosevelt made it a federal holiday, but last year renamed it Cabrini Day, in honor of St. Frances Cabrini. The city of Denver, where in 1873 opened a bar called Christopher Columbus Hall, where every 12th of October there was a big party, also renamed Columbus Day as Indigenous People's Day. In Pueblo, there is a dispute that has been going on for months, some would like to remove the Columbus statue, others would like to keep it. What’s your idea about this?  

This is a difficult and delicate subject; especially in Colorado where, as you noted, there is so much additional history surrounding the holiday. People feel very strongly no matter where they fall on the issue and the controversies that have grown around it are complex and emotionally charged.

I believe it’s important to recognize history, and it’s also important to be critical: but the narratives have become irreparably twisted and I honestly don’t know what the solution is. From where I stand, the holiday was always symbolic for our communities: Columbus was chosen because he was one of the few Italian names Americans actually knew and respected at the time, but ultimately it was about establishing a day to honor the incredible bravery, hardships, and sacrifices of our ancestors, and the great contributions Italian Americans have made to this country ever since.

I think it’s a shame to see Italians getting shortchanged in that regard now: they still deserve to celebrate their holiday by whatever name, and the dispute over what name (despite how important that discussion may be) seems to have lost sight of that fact in the noise. I’m always hesitant to speak on the subject because of how complex it clearly is, but I’m hopeful Italians will still be able to happily honor their heritage alongside the larger community and think it’s notable October has become Italian Heritage Month in America as a whole, something that probably deserves a lot more promotion and celebration from our communities as well!

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