Topic: Joe Di Maio - My journey from Italy to Hamilton
Joe Di Maio - Councillor, Hamilton City Council, an Italian immigrant.
Councillor Joe Di Maio has lived in Hamilton for over 30 years, raising five children and running a successful business Gelato Arlecchino, Hamilton's first Italian pizzeria and café in Garden Place.
Joe was a victim of World War II. He was a child in Italy when the war started, and his schooling was severely disrupted. When the US troops landed in Salerno in 1941, he was 10/11, and there was no school from then.
His family lived in a very small apartment, and he was a very lively child, so it was difficult for his mother. He father was a builder, and his mother asked him to take Joe with him to the job he was working on, building a wall between a cabinetmakers factory and another building. It was raining all the time and his father asked if Joe could go into the factory for shelter. After three weeks there they offered him an apprenticeship. Three years later he was able to return to school for Standard Four & Five.
After the war life was very hard in Italy, with no work and very little food. He didn't immigrate by choice, his sister initiated his immigration to New Zealand where his mother's brothers were.
He didn't know where New Zealand was, to Italians anywhere overseas was 'America.' His mother packed his bags, and included cheeses and salamis, which were of course taken from him by Customs when he passed through Sydney, Australia.
Joe arrived as a very young man in Wellington in 1950, knowing very little English. He was met from the amphibian plane from Sydney by his Uncle, who took him to Nelson, and he worked with him growing tomatoes for 3 years.
He then went back to his original profession as a cabinetmaker, working for a time on a dam being built in the Cobb Valley. While in the Nelson area he learnt ballroom dancing and became a professional ballroom dancer.
In 1953 he saw a carpenter's job in Murupara advertised in the newspaper, applied,
and was successful, so he moved to Murupara where he stayed for 25 years.
He met his wife there in 1965/66. Whilst there he decided to change his profession, and as Murupara had no hairdresser, he went to Wellington to train, and then opened a men's & women's hairdressing business in Murupara.
He also had other businesses at times in Murupara: an Auction House, and a Fashion shop, a coffe bar and even a taxi. He worked almost till midnight to manage his various business.
He was very much involved in the community in Murupara, in the St John ambulance, the Fire Brigade, and then in local body politics. He and his wife had five children, born in Murupara, and one in Rotorua.
Joe had never seen a Maori until he moved to Murupara. There was one other Italian person there, a woman who had come to NZ as a war bride.
In 1977 he took his family to Europe, to visit family members and his mother in Italy. He and his wife found Europe very crowded, they had become used to the open spaces in New Zealand, and decided that it was a better place to raise their children. When they came back to New Zealand, they wanted to buy a 10 acre block near Rotorua, but prices there were too expensive, so they bought a block in Tamahere, where they have lived ever since.
In 1981, he opened his Garden Place Pizzeria, which became very successful. When he closed down this business he joined the Hamilton City Council as a Councillor. One of his very successful project was putting up the 25 metre tall New Zealand's largest Christmas trees in Garden Place in 2008.
Joe found it very difficult when he first came to New Zealand, being a 'foreigner' and not knowing English very well. He felt that some New Zealanders held him personally responsible for starting World War II.
He sees the same attitude towards present day immigrants from Asia and the Middle East, and can sympathise with them.
Two of his children now live in Auckland, two in Wellington, and one in Cambridge. Joe has five grandchildren, 3 girls and 2 boys.