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Alberto Gentile, a determined young man who had crossed paths with la miseria many a time in his life, left his mother’s home in Cattolica Eraclea in 1911 for New York City. Like most “birds of passage” Alberto travelled back and forth every so many years, until finally in 1931, he returned home and settled permanently with his family. The word “America,” synonymous for the “land of plenty” continued however to be discussed, debated, and dreamed over at the tables of the Gentile, and later, the Cammisano homes.
Once World War II was over and Canada opened its doors to Southern Europeans, Giuseppe Cammisano—in response to his sister’s sponsorship—immigrated to Montreal where he embarked on jobs in the construction industry. Six months later—after much correspondence between Montreal and Cattolica Eraclea—his wife and two young daughters joined him.
Starting out in Montreal
Similar to many Italian families arriving in Canada in the Postwar period, the Cammisano family co-habited with a number of other families in a small apartment in Montreal’s Little Italy. Yes, there were abundant work and opportunities for economic mobility, Vincent concedes, but these did not come without significant sacrifice: long working hours, incessant household chores, family responsibilities, and the constant care of one’s children. For her to supplement the family income, Giuseppina Gentile—like many immigrant mothers—turned to a friendly neighbour to help mind her children in her absence.
Vincent learned quickly the ethic of hard work and perseverance. As a teenager, he had already started to work hard and earn an income. Le Baron Restaurant in St. Leonard was his starting point, and from there, he moved to work at a restaurant downtown, leading him to eventually return to post-secondary education in architectural design at the Montreal Technical College and later, the University of Montreal. Upon graduating and gaining knowledge and experience in architectural design and the construction industry, he married the woman of his dreams Giuseppina Montanaro. Not long after their children Joseph and Maria were born, he started his real estate firm, Campiz with his business partner Liborio Pizzucco.
“We were very close.”
At Christmas and other holidays, the family gathered at his grandparents’ home where over seventy people were squeezed into a tiny bungalow. There, Vincent recalls, the men sat on one end of the table, the women gathered in the kitchen to talk and cook, and the children happily sat on the steps of the home, chatting, joking and playing with nothing. This family setting was the backdrop in which migration propelled a new course for Vincent and his family, one that not only embraced hard work, determination and success, but also, perhaps more importantly unity and affection.