A close-knit Italian-American community has been a strong presence in Albuquerque, New Mexico since the transcontinental railroad first arrived there in 1880. These families established a foundation for the growth and development of a thriving Italian community in New Mexico’s largest city. Alessandro and Pompilio Matteucci, Antonio and Cherubino Domenici, Ettore Franchini and Orseste Bachechi (who is known as the “Father of the Albuquerque Italian Community”) were prominent residents. Colombo Hall, the city’s first Italian-American organization, and the Italmer Club, founded in the late 1930s, are located in the city.
When Mexico ceded New Mexico to the United States in 1846, the Santa Fe Trail linked the United States with its new territory. When the railroad came to Albuquerque, El Camino and the Santa Fe Trail became obsolete.
The railroad brought goods in quantity that freighters had previously hauled by wagons and mule trains. It also brought newcomers. Before the railroad, Albuquerque’s population was largely Hispanic with a sprinkling of Anglos. By 1885, the town counted more than 20 ethnic groups, including African-Americans, Chinese and Italians who were building the line.
With accessible transportation, the town’s economy changed dramatically. Albuquerque became a shipping point for livestock and wool and the lumber industry boomed. In the early 1900s, American Lumber Co. was second only to the railroad as Albuquerque’s largest employer. Its 110-acre complex was built between 1903 and 1905 near Twelfth Street. At its peak it employed 850 men and produced milled lumber, doors and shingles.
Cattle ranching and commerce on the Santa Fe Trail established the Raton area as a trade center. When the railroad roared over the Raton Pass in 1879, the city of Raton was born and its progress became unstoppable. The first coal mines opened that same year, providing additional economic opportunities for Raton.
“Raton” was the choice of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad’s chief engineer, A.A. Robinson. He fought hard for the shorter route over the steep mountains, avoiding the Cimarron Cutoff. A plentiful water supply and the promise of coal cinched the matter.
A typical Western frontier town, Raton had shootouts in the streets and theater in the opera house. Those who came to live and work in Raton were cattlemen from Missouri and Texas and immigrants from Greece, Italy, the Slavic countries and Asia. Nearby towns followed suit and grew with the railroad.
In 1895 coal was discovered in the area that is now known as Dawson. Then in 1901 the property was sold to the Dawson Fuel Company for $400,000. The Dawson coal mine subsequently opened, a railroad was constructed from Dawson to Tucumcari and the town of Dawson was born. The company worked the mine for several years, before selling the mine and town to the Phelps Dodge Corporation in 1906. Upon purchase, the Phelps Dodge Corporation was determined to transform the town and developed amenities to attract miners. It featured schools, a theater, bowling alley, modern hospital, golf course and even an opera house. Through extensive advertising in areas such as St. Louis, Missouri and similar cities, miners from the U.S. and immigrants from Greece, Italy, China, Ireland and Mexico flooded into the town. (During its height, coal mined in Dawson fueled an area equal to one-sixth of the United States.)
During its operation, Dawson experienced two mine large tragedies, one in 1913 and another in 1923. The first occurred on October 22, 1913, when an incorrectly set dynamite charge resulted in an enormous explosion in Stag Canon Mine No. 2 that sent a tongue of fire one hundred feet out of the tunnel mouth. Rescue efforts were well organized and exhaustive; Phelps Dodge sent a trainload of doctors, nurses and medical supplies from El Paso; and striking miners in Colorado ceased picketing and offered to form rescue teams. But there was little need for anything except caskets. Only a few miners escaped. A total of 263 died in what was declared one of the worst mining disasters in U.S. history.
Almost ten years later, on February 8, 1923, a mine train jumped its track, hit the supporting timbers of the tunnel mouth and ignited coal dust in the mine. Approximately 123 men perished, many of them children of the men who had died in 1913. These miners had been mostly immigrants, who had traveled here from Europe to work. A large percentage had been Italian.
The original church of San Felipe de Neri was started in 1706 under the direction of Fray Manuel Moreno, a Franciscan priest who came to Alburquerque [the spelling was later changed to Albuquerque] with 30 families from Bernalillo in 1704 or 1705. The church was initially named San Francisco Xavier by Don Francisco Cuervo y Valdez, who founded the city of Alburquerque and named it after the Viceroy of New Spain. Jesuit priests from Naples, Italy, came in 1867 at the invitation of Bishop Lamy. The Jesuits oversaw a major facelift to the church and adjacent buildings. In 1878 they built a school for boys on the northwest side of the church. At the same time, the land to the east was enclosed for a playground, stable and corral. Today, the former school building is leased for use as retail shops. (Source: Coal Town – The Life and Times of Dawson, New Mexico”, ©Toby Smith.)
The first Spanish explorers and settlers, beginning in the early 1500’s, brought their European wines grapes with them as they made the sunny, fertile Rio Grande valley their new home. These original grape stocks remain the source of many of New Mexico’s vinters to this day. In the 1580s, Missionary priests were busily producing sacramental wines. By the 19th century, vineyards and wineries dotted the Rio Grande valley from Bernallilo south to the Mexican border. Census data in 1880 identified 3,150 New Mexico acres dedicated to producing 905,000 barrels of wines per year.
European farmers from Italy and France settled in the Corrales valley in the 1860s. Among the Italian families who settled there were the Palladinis, Targhettas and Salces and by the 1880s they were successfully growing several varieties of grapes (up until that time the only type of grape grown in Corrales was the Mission grape). By 1900 Corrales was known for its vineyards and the making of wine, much of it by French and Italian families.
A Few of New Mexico’s Italian Americans
PIETRO VICHI DOMENICI
Pietro Vichi “Pete” Domenici (born May 7, 1932) is an American Republican politician, who served six terms as a United States Senator from New Mexico, from 1973 to 2009, the longest tenure in the state’s history. Domenici was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Italian-American parents. Alda (née Vichi), an illegal immigrant, and Cherubino Domenici, who were both born in Modena, Italy. Growing up, Domenici worked in his father’s grocery business after school. He graduated in 1950 from St. Mary’s High School in Albuquerque. After earning a degree in education at the University of New Mexico in 1954, where he was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, he pitched for one season for the Albuquerque Dukes, a farm club for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He taught mathematics at Garfield Junior High in Albuquerque. He earned his law degree at the University of Denver’s law school in 1958 and returned to practice law in Albuquerque. In 1966, Domenici successfully ran for a position on the Albuquerque City Commission and in 1968 was elected Commission Chairman. This position was equivalent to that of mayor under the structure of the city government at the time. In 1972, Domenici successfully ran for a position in the U.S. Senate
LOUIS ANDREA SAVIO
Louis Andrea Savio who was born June 22, 1879 in Valperga, Italy. He emigrated to the US from Le Havre, France on December 20, 1901. He married his first wife, Regina, in 1905. In 1910, he operated a saloon in Rockvale, a mining town in Colorado. His passport application shows, he resided only in Rockvale, Colorado and Dawson, New Mexico during his lifetime. He obtained citizenship April 16, 1909 in Canon City, Colorado. His second marriage was on July 6, 1918 to Ernesta. In September, 1918 he was listed as a musician employed by the Phelps Dodge Corporation but his occupation was listed as baker, when he and his wife planned to travel to Italy to visit his mother in 1925. His father, Antonio, was deceased. Mr. Savio was active in supporting the Dawson community. He was the Dawson High School Band Director. He donated a piano and art work to support the high school activities. He always led the 4th of July Parade with his band. He was Treasurer for the Loyal Order of Moose. He also belonged to the Dawson Club and participated in men’s basketball and baseball games. The 1920 census shows him to be Manager of the Bakery Shop. In 1938 he was elected to the Board of Governors of the New Mexico Bakers Association. He was residing in Raton, NM at that time. He died on March 8, 1960.
Shortly after the end of Prohibition in the 1930’s, Romeo Di Lallo, Sr. and his wife, Molly, both Italian immigrants, opened one of the first old-time nightclubs in New Mexico, the “Monterrey Gardens.” Less than two years later all was lost in a fire, so Romeo and Molly had to start all over. In 1938 after Romeo became ill with miner’s lung disease (having worked in New Mexico coal mines for a number of years), Molly opened ROMEO’S BAR on Bridge Street in the South Valley of Albuquerque and that same year their son, Romeo, Jr. was born. Romeo, Sr. passed away in 1946 and in 1947 Molly married a builder named Tony Simballa. One year later Tony built a new and larger facility for ROMEO’S BAR, on Isleta Boulevard in the South Valley. In 1948 their son, Albert Simballa, Jr. was born. In 1952 Molly, Tony, Romeo, Jr. and Al moved to Tijeras in the mountains just east of Albuquerque where they opened MOLLY’S BAR. At TRAILRIDER PIZZA, next door to MOLLY’S, you can enjoy Pizza, Sandwiches and Italian Appetizers. The sign over MOLLY’S front door states, “The Greatest People On Earth Walk Through This Doorway.” Source: The italian Experience: Library of Congress and Center for Southwest Research (UNM)
New Mexico’s Italian Food
Squid Ink Spaghetti with Calamari
Squid-ink noodles are now readily available from many shops. If you cannot find them, you can make your own pasta.
Serves – 4
- 4 medium-sized calamari
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 2 tablespoons or more of extra virgin olive oil
- 1½ oz white wine
- 2 cups peeled tomatoes
- 1 small chili (fresh or dried)
- salt and pepper
- finely chopped parsley
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- 1 lb squid ink pasta
Clean the calamari and cut the tubes into rings. Cut the tentacles into smaller pieces.
Fry the onion and garlic in the 2 tablespoons of olive oil until translucent. Add the calamari and wine and allow the wine to evaporate. Add the tomatoes, chilli, salt and pepper and cook until the calamari is tender, 30-40 minutes.
Finish with parsley, more oil if needed and the lemon zest.
Cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain and combine with the sauce.
- 10 flour tortillas, quartered
- 1 lb ground beef or turkey
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 cup jarred salsa
- 15 ounces tomato sauce
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 16 ounces ricotta cheese
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Layer half of the tortillas on the bottom of a lightly greased 13×9 baking dish.
Heat oil in a skillet and brown the beef. Drain on paper towels.
In a large bowl, combine ground beef, salsa, tomato sauce, oregano and chili. powder
Layer half of this mixture on the tortillas.
In another bowl, combine ricotta cheese, beaten eggs and garlic powder.
Layer over the meat mixture.
Spread remaining meat mixture on top.
Layer remaining tortilla quarters over the meat mixture.
Sprinkle with mozzarella and bake at 375 degrees F. for 30 minutes.
Enchilada Chicken Parmesan
- 4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves, (about 1/2-inch thick)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour or all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 2 large eggs
- 2 cups panko breadcrumbs
- 1 1/2 cups red enchilada sauce, divided
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup freshly grated cheddar cheese
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Chopped fresh cilantro, optional
- Chipotle hot sauce
Preheat oven to 450°F.
Pat chicken breast halves dry and season to taste – on both sides – with salt and pepper.
On a large plate, combine the flour, cumin, coriander and cayenne; whisk to combine.
In another bowl, whisk the eggs.
On a third large plate, pour out the breadcrumbs in an even layer.
Spread 1/2 cup enchilada sauce into the bottom of a baking dish large enough to comfortably fit all four chicken breasts.
Lightly dredge one chicken breast half in the flour mixture; tap off excess.
Dip the chicken breast half in the eggs, letting any excess drip off.
Finally, coat the chicken breast half on both sides with the panko bread crumbs, pressing to adhere. Set aside on a clean plate.
Repeat with the remaining chicken breast halves.
Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat. Place chicken breast halves into the hot skillet and cook, turning once, until golden brown on both sides, about 6 minutes total.
Place chicken in the baking dish with the sauce.
Spoon the remaining 1 cup enchilada sauce evenly over the chicken breast halves. Top with both cheeses and bake for 15 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and the chicken is cooked through.
Serve topped with cilantro and/or chipotle hot sauce.
Lemon Pudding Cake with Raspberry Sauce
Popular restaurant dessert.
- 4 eggs, separated
- 1 3/4 cups sugar
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/4 cups milk
- 4 cups raspberries
- Powdered sugar
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Beat the egg yolks and 1 cup of the sugar until light. Add the flour and mix well. Whisk in the lemon juice, salt and milk until completely combined.
In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add 1/2 cup of the sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the lemon mixture.
Pour the batter into a greased 9 by 13-inch pan and bake for 30 minutes, or until lightly browned.
Remove the cake from the oven and let cool slightly, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
To make the raspberry sauce:
Reserve 16 raspberries for the garnish. Puree the remaining berries with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar for 2 minutes or until smooth. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve.
Place a piece of plastic wrap over the pudding cake and flip it onto a flat surface. Cut eight 3-inch circles with a ring cutter. Serve with sauce and garnish with raspberries. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired.
- Milwaukee’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- The Italians In Texas (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2013/06/14/little-italy-new-orleans-style/Birmingham, Alabama’s “Little Italy” (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- West Virginia’s Little Italy Communities (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Baltimore’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Western Pennsylvania’s “Little Italies” (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Philadelphia’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Chicago’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Cleveland’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- New England’s “Little Italies” (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Italian American Neighborhoods – Boston (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Ybor City – Florida’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Little Italy – Manhattan (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- The “Little Italies” of Michigan (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- The Hill” St. Louis’ Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)