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Author Interviews
Isabel Comis Degenaars Casada, A History of an Italian Village and Its People What motivated you to write your book? I grew up hearing stories of Casada, my family’s ancient homeland, shared by my father. His parents and uncles immigrated to America in the 1920’s in search of work and the chance to start a new life. As he grew older, he shared stories I had never heard and be only recently remembered. Those memories tugged at his heart as it did mine. A 2010 visit to my grandparent’s ancestral home inspired me to translate my cousin Anna’ book into English. She was born in Casada and only lived a few miles from her family’s home. Recognizing the importance of documenting the history of this village led her to research and write about Casada since its earliest time. She was enchanted as was I with the magic of this ancient village nestled beneath the Dolomite Mountains, sometimes part of Austria but then reunited with Italy in the 19th century. I added an introduction that shared the immigrant experience of my family as they came to America and migrated to the coal mines of Western Pennsylvania. It includes research of early mining life in the coal patch of Francis Mine and the very human and, at times, tragic experience of the immigrants who worked them. Anna and I were separated by distance and culture but came together to share this rich history of shared lineage set in a land that continues to inspire and haunt those drawn to its verdant hills and valleys. What is the most important attribute of your book? The translation of this book into English was very challenging as the text included Italian, ancient, and local dialect but yet was so beautifully written. Another important attribute was my personal journey to research and write about early 20th century life in the coal mines of western Pennsylvania. Life was hard and often tragic but the immigrants who made mining their way of life did so to build a better life for their children. I came to better understand the man my father was after learning much about his early life in the mines. It was written from an Italian perspective. The translation offers an inside and personal glimpse into the sentiment and devotion Italians feel for the place they call home. Another important attribute was my personal journey to research and write about early 20th century life in the coal mines of western Pennsylvania. Life was hard and often tragic but the immigrants who made mining their way of life did so to build a better life for their children. I came to better understand the man my father was after learning much about his early life in the mines. How far back do you trace your family and can you explain the family name? With regard to family history, believe it or not but we have only traced the family tree back four generations, not very much. I’ve asked my cousin Bruno to go further back and the best I understand is it is both of the following – church records are not complete and why bother? I’m surprised because he is head of the Regola and is very proud of the heritage of Casada and maintaining its autonomous government. It was Anna’s desire to research and document the history and story of Casada from as early as documented and, in doing so, did an amazing job. She was able to weave “distant” memories and stories into this account along with her parents’ love for their birth “native” village. According to my cousin, approximately 60 to 70 percent of the residents had the name Comis. As you can see in the Family Name Chapter, many Comis names attached another name to differentiate families. With regard to individuals mentioned on pages 20 and 21, some are Anna’s relatives and some are either distant or not relatives at all. Many of the photos are from relatives but then some are from residents of the town whose name is also Comis. Why should someone read your book? For those who want to reconnect with their roots or to learn about Italian history and the Italian experience from its earliest time, readers will love to read this book. Casada is like so many villages in Italy, still preserved in time. Readers will enjoy this beautiful translation which maintained the beauty and subtlety of the Italian text. For many, reading about the early 20th century Italian American experience in the coal mines will be both interesting and heartfelt and will remind them about the stories they have heard and the hard years their relatives experienced when they first arrived in America.
Future Interviews Lee Casazza: Big Mamma’s Italian-American Cookbook [Cooking/Food] JoAnn Locktov: Dream of Venice;  Dream of Venice Architecture [Travel] Mark Tedesco: I Am John I Am Paul: A Story of Two Soldiers in Ancient Rome [Historical Fiction] Andrea Parisi: Italian Through Food [Language, Food] Diana Pishner Walker: Spaghetti & Meatballs: Growing Up Italian [Children/Teen] Frank P. Riga: Beppo - A Calabrian Tale [Fiction]