Tassano Suicide in 1942
On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, making it possible to evict anyone from so-called military zones. For the next eight months, Italians in California fell victim to a mass hate crime as emotionally scarring to them as a cross burning is to an African American family, or the memory of years behind barbed wire is to Japanese Americans.
How Italian aliens felt the pain is difficult to assess, but one measure is the number of suicides that took place in mid-February 1942 attributed by police to the official actions. Giovanni Tassano, 69, a landscape gardener who had lived in this country for 25 years, hanged himself in the basement of his Stockton home. Sheriff Martin Ansbro said Tassano was despondent about being called an enemy alien. More suicides followed 65-year-old Martin Battistessa, of Richmond, his naturalization incomplete, threw himself in front of a train. Giuseppe Mecheli, 57, ordered from his Vallejo home, slit his throat with a butcher's knife. Stefano Terranova stepped off a three-story building in San Francisco and left a note reading in part, "I believe myself to be good, but I find myself deceived." And Giovanni Sanguenetti, 62, also an alien, also a long-term resident of the Stockton area, hanged himself.
Why were these Italians singled out? Because some people saw them as dangerous even though they were legal immigrants. But how dangerous was 83-year-old widow Mary Riccabuono, living on her West Pittsburg ranch? Riccabuono had lived in Pittsburg for 60 years, raised five children and was one of 1,752 Pittsburg residentsall Italian aliens ordered to quit their homes, leave their jobs, and move away from a designated military zone. How dangerous was Placido Abono, Pittsburg's oldest resident, who, at age 97, was carried from his home into exile on a stretcher? A retired fisherman, patriarch of an extended family numbering 96, Abono had remained an alien because he was never taught to read or write. To pass the citizenship examination, he needed to master English. At 97 he was unable to live alone. Members of his American-born family went with him into exile, suffering unnecessarily.