Part 2 of 2
Last month we published part one of Little Italy: Italian immigrants influence America, which listed some of the Little Italy neighborhoods throughout America. Below is Part II. While the list is not inclusive, it provides a brief look into the history of Italian immigration to America with an overview of where many immigrants settled and how they made their living. With a desire to maintain Italian culture, these neighborhoods prosper today through a strong work ethic that keeps Italian Americans tied to their Italian heritage.
New York City, NY
Most of the Italian immigrants who made their home in America first landed in New York City. Many then traveled to other parts of the country; but by the early 1900s, hundreds of thousands had settled in lower Manhattan, living in row houses and tenements in an area of about one square mile. For the unskilled it was a hard life of cleaning city streets and ash barrels; for the skilled, it was a hard life of working their trade in constructing buildings and roads. Others became fruit peddlers, bread bakers, shoemakers and tailors. Some opened grocery stores and restaurants and worked in factories; all giving their children the option to stay with the family trade or became professionals in numerous fields.
Today, just several thousand Italian Americans live in New York City's Little Italy, and the area itself covers about six by three blocks. Still, it's the location of the largest Italian festival in the United States -- The Feast of San Gennaro -- an 11-day event that attracts over one million people. Held since 1927, the Festival has live music, games and rides, more than 300 vendors selling food and merchandise, indoor and outdoor restaurant and café dining, live radio broadcasts, and a street procession of the San Gennaro statue. Other events include Summer in Little Italy and Christmas in Little Italy, both held over several consecutive weekends. A recent addition located in the heart of Little Italy, The Italian American Museum opened in the renovated Banca Stabile building. For more: www.littleitalynyc.com.
Pittsburgh, PA (Bloomfield)
In the early 1900s, Italian immigrants settled in Bloomfield, drawn to the area by jobs in the steel mills and on the railroads. As the Italian population increased, businesses providing Italian products and services began to line the streets. A church, along with restaurants, bakeries, market, and other shops added to the culture of the neighborhood creating its Italian atmosphere. The area is more culturally diversified today, but it still has a large Italian American population.
Various Italian and Italian American associations help keep the culture alive, and the Heinz History Center includes an extensive collection of Italian American artifacts representing Western Pennsylvania's Italian Americans. Little Italy Days, held each September, adds to the neighborhood's character, enticing a crowd of more than 20,000 with Italian food, merchandise, music, entertainment, games and a Madonna della Civita procession. In October, the Columbus Day Parade is one of the country's largest. More at www.bloomfieldnow.com.
Providence, RI (Federal Hill)
The jewelry and silverware industry in Providence attracted Italian immigrants to Rhode Island at the turn of the twentieth century. They settled close to downtown Providence in Federal Hill, about a mile from Narragansett Bay and the harbor. The fast-industrializing city became home to a large Italian population -- 50,000 by 1930 -- and businesses providing the food, merchandise and services they required filled the area.
The Italian population isn't as prominent today, but the Italian presence is felt with the numerous Italian restaurants and business that line the main thoroughfare, Atwells Avenue, and other streets close by. Garibaldi Square with a bust of the "Hero of Two Worlds," DePasquale Plaza with outdoor dining, and two bocce courts all contribute to the Italian atmosphere. The most recognized landmark of Federal Hill is a gateway arch built over Atwells Avennue -- La Pigna, a cluster of pignoli, is the Italian symbol of abundance. Information: www.providencefederalhill.com.
San Diego, CA
The Italian immigrants who settled near downtown San Diego in the 1920s were mostly fishermen from Genoa and Sicily. They worked on or owned fishing boats, or started seafood markets or processing plants. By the early 40s, thousands of Italian families lived in San Diego and the fishing community was the center of the Pacific Coast tuna industry, but Italy's involvement in World War II -- and the restrictions the US government imposed on Italians in America -- limited the fishermen's livelihood. After the war, competition from Japanese fishing fleets and new industry regulations further impaired the fishermen; and in the late 50s, the landscape of the neighborhood was drastically changed with the construction of Interstate 5.
In the past 20 years, San Diego's Little Italy has experienced a resurgence. The Little Italy Association was formed in 1996 and has implemented street improvements, renovations, and new buildings to create a thriving waterfront community filled with retail and professional businesses, restaurants and specialty stores, and artwork depicting the Italian and Italian American experience. Every Saturday the Mercato, Little Italy's Farmers' Market, offers food, flowers and merchandise with an Italian atmosphere. Carnevale, a Sicilian Festival in May, Taste of Little Italy restaurant tours with special menus and live music, Art Walks through studios and galleries and a Christmas tree lighting ceremony are some of the annual events. In October, Our Lady of the Rosary Procession has been an annual event for more than 50 years and Little Italy Festa is one of the largest Italian festivals in America.
More information at www.littleitalysd.com
St. Louis, MI (The Hill)
The expansion of clay pits and plant production brought Italian immigrants to St. Louis in the late nineteenth century. They settled north of the city on the Hill, named for being close to the highest point in the area. Able to work within walking distance, the immigrants filled the neighborhood with an eclectic mix of homes, and then started businesses -- grocery stores, bakeries, restaurants, barbers, and tailors, among others. The neighborhood is still predominantly Italian, about 75 percent of the population, and St. Ambrose Catholic Church has been the center of community since the early 1900s. A statue of "The Italian Immigrants" in front of the church recognized the bond between the immigrants and their religion.
The Hill is well known as the hometown of two baseball greats, Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola, and is also known nationwide for its Italian restaurants. Local holiday festivals are scheduled but the best way to visit is with a walking tour of the neighborhood which includes an Italian grocery in business for more than 50 years, a gift shop with a variety of Italian products, a ravioli store and an Italian meat market founded in 1902. More information at Stlouis.missouri.org/thehill
During the second wave of Italian immigration that started in the late nineteenth century, many southern Italians found their way to Wilmington to work on the railroad, and in the iron and leather industries. As more Italian immigrants settled in the area, they began to provide the products and services needed. Over the years, a ten by four block area of West Wilmington became an enclave for Italians who lived and worked there. Among the row houses were produce stands, bakeries, butchers and other Italian food stores, tailors, shoemakers, barbers, and restaurants; and although the neighborhood had a mix of other ethnic groups, its Italian identity was strong.
In recent years, the area has been revitalized with ongoing beautification projects through the Little Italy Merchant Association. The neighborhood is still a cultural mix with a prominent Italian atmosphere and each June a weeklong celebration -- St. Anthony's Italian Festival -- brings over 100,000 visitors to the area. It's one of the largest Italian festivals in the country, with attractions that include a bocce tournament, live music from several stages, strolling musicians from Italy, a midway, Italian food and merchandise, a Bellini Bar, a Panini Café, tours of St. Anthony's Church and a procession of the Saints. For more visit www.discoverlittleitaly.com.