During Immigrant Heritage Month, San Jose State University will be telling stories of our students, faculty, staff and alumni who have unique and inspiring immigrant narratives to share. In addition, we will be highlighting our research, scholarship and creative activities that enhance our understanding of immigration and the contributions of immigrant populations to the fabric of SJSU’s campus community and society at large.
J. Anthony LaGrasta, ’92 Advertising, shared the following story:
My paternal grandparents didn’t know one another when they lived in Southern Italy and Sicily. In 1941, my grandparents left for America, my grandfather from Molfetta and my grandmother from Palermo. Upon arriving, they, like millions of others, waited at Ellis Island, and were released after convincing those in charge that they were both healthy and yearning to be American.
My grandparents met, married and had my father, Joseph Anthony LaGrasta, in 1944. My grandfather worked in the steel mills of Youngtown, Ohio, speaking broken English until his passing at age 60. My father was just 14 years old.
When Vietnam recruiting took place, my father was given a pass because he was the sole supporter of his family. He applied to the Lordstown, Ohio, General Motors Automotive plant, which opened in 1966. He married Nancy Charnesky and I was born in 1967.
They would make their home in Youngstown, Ohio raising me and my sister Sheila until their divorce in 1977. My parents allowed my sister and I to explore our interests, and never pushed us to reach versions of their dreams. In 1985, I joined the United States Air Force. After serving as a jet engine mechanic at Travis Air Force Base, California, I decided to give college a shot. I had been a poor student, had no means and no one in my family had ever graduated college. A fellow veteran convinced me I could do it.
With a total of $7,800 in my veteran assistance program (VEAP), to which I had contributed during my active duty, I entered the American River College in Sacramento full time. I shared an apartment with a fellow USAF veteran and started working 32 hours a week at various retail jobs. After successfully completing sophomore year at, I applied to SJSU, known as the school for advertising and marketing. It had a tremendous school of journalism and I wanted to be a part of it. To my thrill and surprise, I was accepted and moved south from Sacramento to San Jose.
Again working 32 hours a week, this time as a furniture salesman, I attended SJSU, completing 12 to 15 units every semester until graduation. I earned my bachelor’s in advertising in 1992.
In 2007, for the first time, my father and I visited Molfetta, the coastal town where my grandfather was raised and was bold enough to leave for American shores.
It’s a repeated story in the U.S.: showing grit, reaching for goals even when we didn’t have the means to achieve them. We move forward, often based solely on faith. It took a few generations, but we achieved. We showed grit on Ellis Island, in Youngstown and Sacramento, at San Jose State. We’ll show it again in the fall of 2019, when my son Aidan LaGrasta begins his Spartan journey.