Friday, August 08, 2003
"Una Storia Segreta" Snares 9th place in National History Competition

[PREFACING NOTE: NIAF, OSIA, UNICO, AIHA and any other prominent Italian American Organizations might like to consider inviting these three young ladies to their Fall Conventions to make a presentation of their 10 minute skit!

If not possible, an award for recognition of their achievement, and their contribution to furthering the understanding of Italian American studies would be in order.]

Three Bakersfield (Calif.) High School Freshman, Marilee Jannetti Rickett, Sarah Franz, and Cristina Pandol, researched and presented a skit on "Una Storia Segreta", for their history day contest. They emerged Kern County Champions, then California Champions, that qualified them for the finals for National History Day in College Park, Md., where they placed NINTH (9th) in the Nation!

At each step, they were met by incredulous historians that were judging the
performances, saying--What? Are you sure? How is it that we've never heard
about this? (hmmm!!!!!).

The details are outlined in both the Kern County School District's Web Site, and
further comments sent to me by the mother of Marilee Jannetti Rickett, Pamela Janetti, who I suspect was the principal initiating force behind this project.

THINK ABOUT IT: ONE person, Larry DiStasi, was the "spark" that initiated this "Una Storia Segreta" campaign, with his traveling Exhibit, then his Web Site,
then his Book.

Tony LaPiana and John Calvelli were inspired by DiStasi's Exhibit, fought valiantly
for "Una Storia Segreta" Legislation, (Italian American Civil Liberties Act HR 2442,      SB 1909), and succeeded.

No organizations led, nor even contributed in any meaningful way.

These were just INDIVIDUALS who with minimal support, enormous persistence, perseverance, and tenacity, who overcame substantial obstacles, great skepticism,
and ennui.

We must now add to the List of Significant Contributors to "Una Storia Segreta", these young ladies, Rickett, Franz, and Pandol, who also were motivated by DiStasi's, in this case his Web Site.

They simultaneously make us proud, and make us question the effectiveness of our own contribution to our heritage.

A SAD ASIDE: Yet, now as we seek to "restore" THIS chapter of Italian American History,  Italian American History in general is being ignored in public schools, with recent generations (and teachers) almost completely oblivious to even it's existence,
and thereby designating Italian American History to oblivion!

What do YOU suggest we do about it???
Kern County (CA) Superintendent of Schools

When Centennial High sophomores Sarah Franz, Cristina Pandol and Marilee Jannetti Rickett finished ninth at National History Day at the University of Maryland in June, it was a satisfying end to nine months of research and performance. Or so they thought.

After their return to California, Rickett received an email from a documentary film director in Berkeley. Judith Ehrlich, from non-profit Interface Productions, was working on a documentary called “Una Storia Segreta: The Secret Story” and wanted the girls in it.

University of California, Berkeley, professor Lawrence DiStasi had told Ehrlich about the girls. His book “Una Storia Segreta” served as the inspiration for their History Day performance by the same name. Over the past five months, they were in constant contact with him. He also plays a key role in the upcoming documentary.

DiStasi’s book and the girls’ performance deals with Italian-Americans who were persecuted, interned, quarantined and evacuated from coastal areas of the United States during World War II. Thousands were affected. Their plight was largely kept secret until The Wartime Violation Of Italian American Civil Liberties Act was passed by Congress and President Clinton signed it into law in November 2000.

“We were surprised to be asked to be a part of the documentary because so many of the people interviewed were survivors or children of the victims,” Franz said. “During the war, most were unaware their rights had been violated. It was something they kept to themselves because of being proud people and because they felt ashamed to talk about it.”

[PHOTO: Professor Lawrence DiStasi author of "Una Storia Segreta" provided research information for Centennial High History Day teammates (left to right)
Marilee Rickett, Sarah Franz and Cristina Pandol.]

On July 6, the girls, props in tow and accompanied by their mothers, traveled to Berkeley.

“During a five hour shoot, we were interviewed about our performance, History Day and how we compiled our research,” Franz said. “Then, they filmed our entire performance (nine minutes and 30 seconds) before going back to shoot us again delivering our lines individually in single scenes from different angles.”

The girls’ performance takes place after the attack on Pearl Harbor and involves an Italian mother, played by Pandol, and an Italian-American mother, played by Franz, who have sons serving in the military. Rickett is the narrator.

“It was really different performing in front of cameras instead of a live audience,” Pandol said. “There’s one scene where I fall down on my knees and cry. Using the energy of the crowd made it easy for me. But with just the cameras and crew I couldn’t bring myself to tears.”

Filming also took place on July 7 at Tommaso's Restaurant in San Francisco where a dozen, elderly Italian-Americans, directly affected by the events of the war, were interviewed by DiStasi and Rickett, as they talked and dined together in the restaurant.

While researching their performance, Pandol said her favorite interview was Rose Scurdo. She reminded Pandol of her grandmother. “I could relate to how boys wouldn’t dance with her and stole her lunch because she was Italian,” Pandol said. “Since she wasn’t yet 12, and her mother wasn’t a U.S. citizen, the government relocated them from their home in Pittsburg, CA, away from the rest of the family.”

Famed documentary cinematographer Vicente Franco filmed the production. His documentary “Daughter from Danang” was nominated for an Academy Award last year. It also took first place at the Sundance Film Festival in 2002.

In addition to placing ninth at National History Day, Franz, Pandol and Rickett were the History Day in California and Kern County History Day champions. The documentary will be two years in the making, and the girls will be invited back to complete the project. For now, all three said their thoughts will turn to the upcoming school year and studies, but Pandol and Rickett said they may tryout for the Centennial spring play.

(The Kern County School District web site says the girls are sophomores, which is what they'll be this fall).

KCSOS : Performance headed for big screen$1070

In response to your request, I am submitting some "background" material on the Bakersfield/ Centennial High "Una Storia Segreta" Project.

The three participants were Marilee Jannetti Rickett, Sarah Franz, and Cristina Pandol.

Marilee Jannetti Rickett is of Italian descent.  Her grandfather, who is my father, is Dr. William Jannetti.  His family moved to New York from Salerno, Italy just before his birth.  He was born on 11-21-17.  He returned to Italy with his family at the age of 2 years.  He attended medical school in Napoli. In 1948 he came to New York at age 31, after the war to work as a physician.

He changed his name from Iannotti to Jannetti.  He at that time felt Iannotti was too difficult to pronounce.  He has resided in the United States ever since.  He continues to work as a physician at the age of 86 in Los Angeles.  He resides with my mother in Palm Desert, California.  We have family still living in Napoli and in the northern city of Fererra.  Our family has traveled to Italy often. My parents travel there every 2 years. Marilee has visited Italy 2 times.

Sara Franz is of English descent. Christina Pandol's family is from Chile.  These 3 young girls are all in the Honors Program at Centennial High School in Bakersfield, California.

Despite them being only Freshman at the time they participated in the Kern County History Day Competition for the High School level, they entered the Senior Group Category.

The competition requires a performance of 10 minutes utilizing props and clothing suiting the historical era.  The topic for this year was "Rights and Responsibilities".  The girls wanted to do something relating to Italy and World War II.  When conducting research they came across Lawrence DiStasi's website "Una Storia Segreta" and his book.

Then the magic began. The girls contacted Mr. DiStasi via email, visited him in Mill Valley and have been in constant contact with him ever since!  He has become a mentor for their project.  They were asked to represent their High School at the Kern County History Day Competition.  They won for Kern County in the fall 2002!

In the spring of 2003 they traveled to Pasadena, California to compete in the California State History Day Competition.  They won for the State of California!  They conducted fundraising and were appreciative of the almost $8,000.00 they received in donations to travel to the National History Day Competition in Campus Park, Maryland in June 2003.

They competed with 2000 students from all over the United States.  Each State sent 2 groups from each category.

In addition to being Freshman competing in a Senior Division, another disadvantage that the girls labored under was the fact that they were but a few of the contestants who had never competed or participated in this event before.  Many of the participants have been competing in History Day since the 6th grade!

Despite those obvious handicaps, Lawrence, from the beginning, has expressed high admiration and confidence in them. From the beginning he has always stated the girls would go to the National competition!  The girls kept in contact with Lawrence while in Maryland.

They placed 9th in the Nation for Senior Group Performance.

Needless to say the girls as well as their parents were elated with the outcome.
The girls toured all of Washington DC during this trip.  They were accompanied on this trip by their parents and their Centennial High School History teacher Ms. Jamie Larma.

As one might imagine, the 10 minute performance is but a small part of this competition.  The girls had to conduct months of research, interviews, trips to meet family members of those interned, read a number of books, and completed a 30+ page bibliography.  They also traveled to the FBI Archives in San Bruno, California.  They were able to retrieve documents of those interned from the San Francisco area.

The Competition itself judges uniqueness, historical data and relevance to the general topic of Rights and Responsibilities.

One of the main objectives of the performance is to portray both sides of the violation of ones rights and responsibilities.  The girls did so in such a manner that they were sought out by other groups.

Marilee Jannetti Rickett played the part of the narrator, Sarah Franz played the part of a wealthy San Francisco American wife whose American son was fighting in the war.  Christina Pandol played the part of the Italian impoverished wife whose husband was interned and taken from the San Francisco area due to his profession of being a fisherman.  Her American born Italian son was also fighting in the war for the Americans.  The gilrs wore clothing from the 40's.  Marilee and Sara actually wore 2 suits that my mother had saved and wore during the 1940's.

The girls wrote the script, and built and put together their props. Everywhere they competed, the props were in tow.  The funding for the shipping of their props to Maryland came from an anonymous donor in Kern County.

The competition judging also included being interviewed after their performance by historians regarding their knowledge of the topic.  For the National Competition the final judges were themselves archivists.

You might like to view the National History Day website which explains in detail this National Competition.  There are also pictures here of the competition and specifically the awards ceremony.  National History Day

Marilee returned home to be greeted by an email from Judith Elhrich Bertoni, a documentary film director in Berkeley, California.  She wanted the girls in her "Una Storia Segreta" documentary!.  We happily found ourselves traveling to Berkeley for a filming of their 10 minute performance at a studio on June 6th.  On June 7th a film shoot was completed at Tommaso's restaurant in San Francisco.

Lawrence was the key component along with 10 elderly Italian Americans who had been directly affected by the internment during World War II.  Marilee participated in the filming at the restaurant, dining with the group and asking questions regarding the internment. She was also filmed with Lawrence discussing the importance of her learning of her heritage through the eyes of the elderly.

The girls will be doing fundraising for the Judith Elhrich Bertoni Documentary,
with the assistance of their teacher, when they return to school.

It has been a remarkable experience.

Thanks for your Interest,
Pamela Jannetti
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