Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Switzerland to West Marin (Part 5 of 10)

Canton of Ticino neighbors help each other in Tomales

By David Rolland

Sometimes not much changes when families move thousands of miles from home.

For more than a century, the Cerinis and the Sartoris have been neighbors in the Swiss town of Giumaglio. Today, a Cerini is the town mayor, and a Sartori Quarry sits just north of town.

As it happens, the Cerinis and Sartoris are also neighbors in Tomales.

They are an example of how the first immigrants from a certain town established themselves and then helped townspeople who arrived later not understanding a word of English.

One such helpful immigrant was Tomales rancher Maurice Sartori, who in 1910 gave 16-year-old newcomer Giocondo Cerini his first job as a ranchhand.

Two weeks before he died on Feb. 14 at age 100, Cerini told The Light that upon arriving, he saw so many familiar faces that Tomales "was just like home."

Stone cutter back home

Sartori had been a stone cutter in Giumaglio before emigrating to Tomales in the 1890s. He became a landowner in 1903 when he purchased the Burbank Ranch from his brother Victor, who had immigrated before him.

Sartori's ranch is still in the family. Romeo Sartori -- Maurice's grandson -- his wife Kathleen, and their adult son Russ own the 645-acre dairy on the Tomales-Petaluma Road now.

And Sartori's generosity paid off for the Cerinis. Giocondo saved enough money to later buy the John Keys ranch in Tomales along with two of his brothers, Arcangelo and Romeo.

That ranch, which is located across Highway 1 from the Tomales gas station, has since passed on to Romeo's son Butch.

Butch's cousins Roy, son of Isadore Cerini, and Leroy, son of Giocondo Cerini, also own land in Tomales.

Last living immigrant

Before he died, centenarian Giocondo Cerini was believed to be the last living immigrant who had made the journey from Switzerland to West Marin.

Ironically, his sister Maria Genazzi, who had stayed in Giumaglio with two of their brothers, died in Switzerland only a month earlier at the age of 104.

Her daughter Laura Bono -- talking to The Light between loads of laundry at her home in Maggia, Switzerland -- noted that Maria Genazzi was too attached to Ticino to emigrate to West Marin with the six of her brothers and sisters who did.

So while her brothers began the long road to greater freedom and prosperity by finding work at Tomales dairy ranches, Maria Cerini moved from Giumaglio to Maggia. There she married Giacinto Genazzi and struggled to raise five children.

"Life was very hard, especially for the Genazzi family," Bono said. "With five children, it was a difficult life because my father passed away very young. "It was difficult to get some money in the early times here. The brothers and sisters in California...they saved some money. But she -- here in Maggia -- she was very, very poor."

Murdered over livestock

Nor could she turn to her own parents for help. Her father Giovanni also died as a young man, having been murdered in a dispute over a goat.

Although her brothers in West Marin did far better, two sisters who had also immigrated weren't so fortunate. Adela and America Cerini died of consumption (tuberculosis) shortly after they arrived.

For his part, Giocondo Cerini had a tough time making it from Ticino to West Marin. After boarding the SS Britannia in France, he and a friend, Alex Piezzi, traveled in different classes of the ship en route to America. The two got separated when the ship docked at the federal immigration station on Ellis Island, New York, and they searched for each other for days.

As it turned out, American officials had wrongly registered young Cerini as an Italian, and Piezzi eventually found his friend at the Italian consulate.

Cerini told The Light that all he could afford to eat on the week-long train ride from New York to California was salami and cheese washed down with jug wine.

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