In 1942, his mother was declared an "enemy alien," along with 600,000 other Italians and half a million Germans and Japanese who weren't U.S. citizens. More than once, men in suits searched the Maiorana house for guns, flashlights, cameras, shortwave radios — anything that could be used to signal the enemy.While the treatment of Japanese residents and Japanese-Americans was arguably far worse — all people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast, regardless of citizenship, were forced to move inland, mostly to internment camps where they were treated like prisoners — the number of Italian and German immigrants who suffered mistreatment like that of the Maioranas may have been greater in number.
Like 10,000 others up and down the California coast, the family was suddenly forced to uproot. At their new place in Salinas, they had to be home by 8 p.m. or face arrest. And when the government seized fishing boats for the war effort, Maiorana's dad, a naturalized U.S. citizen, saw his livelihood go down the drain.
"He was on the skids for the rest of his life," said Maiorana, 75, who owns a boatyard and marina on the harbor where his father's boat — as well as those of his uncles and several dozen other Italian fishermen — were confiscated.
Families like the Maioranas last week received a formal acknowledgement from California. A measure that swiftly made its way through the Legislature expresses the state's "deepest regrets" over the mistreatment of Italians and Italian Americans during World War II. Not nearly as severe or long-lasting as the internment of Japanese Americans, the wartime restrictions are still little-known throughout California, where they were the most heavily enforced.
|The Maioranas' boat, in the foreground at left, was one of many |
Italian-owned boats seized by the government.
In the late 1980s, the US Congress voted to offer an apology and compensation ($20,000 each through the Civil Liberties Act of 1988) for the sixty thousand surviving Japanese residents and Japanese-Americans who had been interned during the war under harsh conditions. That was a long time coming, but other groups, including ethnic Japanese from Latin America whom the US arm-twisted its allies into deporting into US custody and ethnic Italians and ethnic Germans who suffered losses were largely ignored.
The war ended sixty-five years ago this month, but the pain is still there.