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FASSINO, JOSEPH (1863-1936) and JOHN (1866-1938)

Born in the village of Canischio, Italy, to Carlo and Angela Fassino, Joseph (Joe) Fassino left school at the age of ten to become a shepherd. He later migrated to Switzerland, where he worked on various construction projects, including the St. Gotthard Tunnel. Returning to Italy in 1883, he was drafted into the military, serving for three years. In 1886 he decided to emigrate to New York City. From there Fassino moved to Braidwood, Illinois, where he worked in the coal mining industry, and he was joined by his younger brother, John, in 1887.

The two brothers attempted farming but decided to use their savings instead to establish a grocery store. They chose to open the enterprise in Indian Territory, in present Pittsburg County, because there were a number of Italians in the area, but there were no Italian-owned stores. During this period in U.S. history mainstream Americans did not welcome "new immigrants" (Southern and Eastern Europeans), and therefore many of them migrated to Indian Territory, a frontier area. In 1892 the Fassino store opened in Krebs, and the brothers provided their fellow countrymen with goods that appealed to their Italian heritage. Joe Fassino often smuggled products from the store to a nearby coal-mining camp, where the Italian workers were only allowed to buy from the company store. The Fassino store also served as a bank for the Italians in the area, holding their savings accounts and wills. Further expansion of the store included issuing passports and exchanging currency.

In 1897 the brothers opened a macaroni factory in nearby McAlester. The factory provided pasta to customers in Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, and parts of the Caribbean. In 1902 the Fassinos expanded once more, stocking and selling wagons and buggies. Prospering in the multi-ethnic town, the brothers became padrone-like figures. Joseph Fassino served as Italian vice-consul in Oklahoma and held a life membership in the Elks Lodge. When he retired in 1928 from the macaroni factory, he was known as the dean of the area's Italian population.

SEE ALSO: IMMIGRATION, ITALIANS, SETTLEMENT PATTERNS.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Kenny L. Brown, The Italians in Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980). Lydio Tomasi, The Italians in America: The Progressive View, 1891-1914 (New York: Center for Migration Studies, 1972). Clyde Woolridge, McAlester: The Capital of Little Dixie (McAlester, Okla.: N. p., 2001).

Amber Cryer

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