Tony Danza is brought to tears learning about his ancestors: 'Crazy grateful'

·3 min read

Tony Danza was brought to tears while learning about the struggles his maternal grandfather endured on his journey to become a U.S. citizen during an appearance on Season Eight of the PBS show “Finding Your Roots.”

While chatting with the show’s host, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Danza explained how he always thought his grandfather, Antonino Camisa, came to America in 1917. However, the actor's timeline was off. Camisa actually left Sicily, Italy with his brother in 1909 and arrived in Boston that same year.

Since many details about Camisa's challenging journey weren't passed down, Danza was particularly saddened to hear that he had a rough time after moving from Boston to Pennsylvania. To make a living, Camisa worked as a tinner, a "dreadful" job, as Gates explained, that involved long hours in hot, noisy mills with noxious chemical fumes. On top of that, the pay was pretty awful.

Danza was moved to hear about the sacrifices his grandfather endured to create a better life for his future lineage.

“You feel like somebody sacrificed for you,” he said.

When asked how he thinks his grandfather endured the hardships, Danza got choked up.

“It’s a lot to go through. You know what's funny is, I never even considered a long heritage. It never really entered my mind, so it has an effect on you (and makes you feel) some kind of crazy gratefulness," he explained, wiping away tears.

Within a few years, Camisa got married and lost two children to disease. He and his wife returned to Sicily around 1920 but experienced a bout of poverty. The couple then returned to America by 1929, this time with several children, including Danza's mother.

“It just takes an enormous amount of gumption,” the actor said while reflecting on his grandparents' bravery and perseverance.

Danza then learns that his grandparents weren't his first ancestors to leave Italy. As it turns out, his great-grandparents (his grandmother's parents) came to America first.

“Nothing I know is true!” he exclaimed with an amused expression upon hearing the news amused.

The star's great-grandparents eventually returned home.

"Nobody ever talks about this in our school books, but 70 percent of the Italians in that period did that. They went back and forth," Gates explained. They were like migrant workers."

"What people will do to survive," Danza said.

When asked if he feels a connection to his ancestors, the actor proudly said, “I’m grateful ... but I’m also sort of in awe of them.”

Towards the end of their session, Gates asked Danza what he thinks his ancestors would've thought of his successful career.

“I’d like to think that they would be proud of me. I know they'd be proud of my kids and I know they'd be happy that I'm continuing the line, I think," he said. "But I am nothing compared to what these people went through and accomplished.”

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