For many generations of families in San Pedro, the promises of success began on the waterfront. Also for many, that is still true today. In the days of growing up in San Pedro, commercial fishing was the big industry that many of our families worked. Whether out at sea or in the canneries, the industry was thriving. We knew when our families were back from fishing and unloading at the canneries because all across town you could smell the fish. As the old saying goes, “That’s the smell of money.”
My family’s history in the fishing industry had its beginnings with my mother’s father, Domenic Costa, and continues today with my cousins who operate the Ferrigno Boy. My grandfather Domenic came to San Pedro from Ischia, Italy, in 1920 at the young age of 18. Ischia is the biggest island off the coast of Naples and is where many in the San Pedro Italian community are from. My grandpa left Ischia at the tail end of WWI, leaving family and friends behind in order to pursue a better life in America. He would make his way to San Pedro and begin his pursuit of the American dream through the local fishing industry. He would save enough money to purchase a fishing boat and became owner of the City of Naples I and eventually, the City of Naples II, and became a property owner in town, as well.
For my father, fishing also began in Ischia when he was a kid. Back then, fishermen used a skiff, a small boat with oars, to make their living. He reminds me of the times he used to fish with his father and how difficult and memorable those times were. For example, at five-years-old his first vivid memories were of the Americans bombing Naples to liberate Italy during World War II. Living in this time was difficult, and fishing was the best means of survival whether by selling fish to make money or providing fish to the family to eat. During those days, the uncertainty of fishermen returning home safe during wartime activity left many on edge until they actually returned home to their families.
After the war, my father would learn how to fish with my grandfather Ciro, or better known as “gir’u sic” (aka “skinny Ciro”) and his friends. My father still tells me stories about these times, like when he would stay out late in the evening with his friends only to get a small amount of sleep before the 4 a.m. call to set the nets. If he was falling asleep while rowing the skiff, my grandfather would wake him up by hitting his hand with the oar, or the times when after setting the nets my grandfather would tie a rope around his leg just in case he fell overboard.
Fast forward to 1956, when after five years of going through the process to get legal papers to come to America, my grandparents, my father, and his sister Angie (Ferrigno) left Ischia and came to San Pedro for a better life after witnessing the effects of WWII. They would leave the rest of their family behind, only to have them arrive in San Pedro some three to five years later. My father would fish on the Restituta, San Aniello, and Lucy Ann for two years, before deciding to work for the Pacific Curtain Wall framing company while he went to trade school for electronics at night. He would eventually open up Tony’s TV and serve San Pedro for 42 years. My grandfather Ciro worked in the canneries cooking and packing fish at the Franco Italian Cannery, and then retired from the French Sardine Cannery.
The life of a fisherman and impact on its family and community is one of sacrifice, commitment, success, and failure. It has left a great mark on San Pedro and it is a story that must continue to be told. Together, we must never lose sight of what this industry gave our families today through the sacrifices of yesterday. We can honor this great history through hard work of pressing forward for a better future for our family and community today.
Anthony Pirozzi is a Los Angeles Harbor Commissioner. He can be contacted at email@example.com.