‘Coming to America’ via Utica, New York
In 1991, a man wanted to honor his deceased parents by writing a 75th wedding anniversary announcement for the local paper.
The announcement detailed how his parents had made their way to this country from Italy.
The editor of that paper returned the announcement because the man’s parents no longer were alive.
That scene took place at the Observer-Dispatch in Utica, N.Y., where the man’s son – Tony Spina – worked as a sales executive. Disappointed that his grandparents’ story wouldn’t be told, Tony developed a way to get that story – and others like it – into print.
He created a special section called “Coming to America.” In it, families from across New York’s Mohawk Valley shared their stories and photos detailing the adversity faced by those immigrating to the United States.
Fast-forward 23 years, and Tony helped spearhead the section you may be holding in your hand – either in newsprint or on your smartphone – here at The Times Leader, where he’s our business development manager.
By his own admission, the Utica section was conceived to be “self-serving, and it shouldn’t have been,” Tony told me. Yet as more families took advantage of the newspaper’s request for stories and photos, the concept took on a life of its own.
“I was so moved by some of the stories of what people endured coming to America,” Tony said. Throughout his career, he said he “always had it in the back of my mind” to give the section another life.
I’ve been similarly moved as I’ve read the stories that populate this section. Families have sent us wedding photos, intimate stories about losing loved ones, and other mementos.
In his note to readers on July 4, 1991, Tony wrote that the paper “was pleasantly overwhelmed by a windfall of stories, photos and documents from readers that tell the story of their journey to America.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. We received many dozens of stories from readers – and we’re printing as many as we can fit into this section.
As Tony did 23 years ago, I offer my sincere thanks to you, our readers, for making this section possible.
George Spohr is executive editor of The Times Leader Media Group. He can be reached at [email protected]