The Survival Of Italian American Businesses

Introduction
When most people want to donate something, they go to the Salvation Army because Salvation Army has spent years branding themselves as the place to go if you want to donate something. There are thousands of charities out there. Some are arguably more charitable than the Salvation Army. So why do we go to the Salvation Army? Because no one sees any advertising from the other charities. It’s that simple.

Since I created Italian Enclaves, I noticed that there are thousands of Italian American-owned businesses in the United States. Some of these businesses have been opened for over one-hundred years. If a business has lasted over one-hundred years in The United States, we should all know about it just by default, yet we do not. When a hot tech company goes public, we all know its name whether we watch the financial news channels or not. There is a cultural disconnect where our media celebrates new fly-by-night companies and yet no one at all knows about third or fourth-generation businesses that have weathered a century of storms in some obscure town. In the context of Italian neighborhoods, I try to bridge that huge gap by shedding light on countless Italian-owned businesses to hopefully keep them going.

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A storefront for rent in the Bronx Little Italy. Notice the name of the former proprietor over the entrance.

Despite the massive number of Italian businesses that exist, I wouldn’t have known about many of them unless I traveled to the neighborhoods in which they are located. I wouldn’t have heard about them on Facebook or Instagram, I wouldn’t have seen them pop up in an e-mail or banner ad on a website, and I certainly wouldn’t have heard about them on social media pages and Italian-themed publications. Why? The answer is at least three-pronged: adaptability, popularity contests, and mentality.

Adaptability
PR, or public relations, is the cornerstone of any company’s advertising. As we know, advertising has been something that has changed dramatically within the last several years with the onset of social media taking over the way businesses engage one another and consumers. Essentially, businesses must stay relevant when it comes to remaining in-touch with consumers. This means that businesses must advertise in a way that is lockstep with technology such as using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Influencer Marketing, etc. Naturally, mom-and-pop businesses must also adapt to capitalize on the major growth opportunity that exists digitally in order to remain relevant to younger consumers. This evolution is simply not happening for most Italian American businesses. The result is that these businesses are closing at a rapid pace.
Technological illiteracy is certainly another chief reason why most Italian American businesses are unknown. Most old Italian businesses are run by the same people who have been running them for decades or their children. These people are set in their ways and unfortunately, being in technologically unsophisticated businesses, there’s a false assumption that technology is irrelevant to their success when the exact opposite is true.

Mentality
Not only are many Italian American business owners mostly averse to technology, they are averse to anyone trying to help them just because many of the people who own multi-decades old businesses are from an era when publicity wasn’t always a good thing and staying under the radar was in everyone’s best interest. Well, we respect privacy and we certainly respect old-fashioned ideals, but what Italian Enclaves tries to do is shed light on these businesses so that although they are unwilling or incapable of using technology and social media, we can still help them by threading them into our newsfeeds.
You would be surprised at how many businesses are unwilling to let me photograph their establishments and promote their business. As a matter of fact, in one particularly interesting instance, I went into a business in Downtown Brooklyn to photograph and promote the business. The owner scowled at me right when I walked in the door. My limited Italian conversation wasn’t enough to disarm this gentleman and he proceeded to serve me dirty looks and held the niceties. I even explained the concept of Italian Enclaves and translated to him that I was there to be a paying customer who would also like to promote his business. Nothing. Not a thank you nor a curiosity as to how I would accomplish this. I might as well have been any other customer and that’s fine because I do not seek special treatment for what I do. It’s a zero-paying job that I conduct for a greater good so it’s all good.
Nevertheless, something funny happened. I never wound up posting about this business, but I did share my concern for the businesses’ lack of warmth on another social media thread. Low and behold, I received an inbox message from a concerned relative who was outraged by my lack of support for this business. I explained everything to this relative as to how the business owner could improve and I even offered to return on another day to try their product again and give them another chance to be positively featured on Italian Enclaves. Nothing ensued. I generously offered more of my time and an opportunity to shed a favorable light on this business because hey, everyone has a bad day now and then! If that family member is reading this, I am still here, and I am more than happy to give them another shot because that is only fair.
Popularity Contests
Without naming the multitude of Italian-themed social media accounts one-by-one, we’ll just refer to them in aggregate as “Italian Social Media (ISM).” ISM has many faces. There are cooking and chef accounts, there are “lifestyle” accounts, comedy accounts, etc. Some Italian-owned businesses have done a wonderful job of remaining relevant by connecting to other ISM accounts through influencer marketing and by offering online shipping. Naturally, as “influencers” see other influencers posting about their favorite bakery, everyone else jumps on the bandwagon. This somewhat viralness positively affects the one or two businesses grabbing the attention such as Villabate in Bensonhurst, for example, and winds up hurting the competition. The argument can of course be made that this is a function of competition and survival of the fittest and for the most part that’s true; however, if the vast majority of social media followers falsely assume (because of what they’re told) that one business is the best and only show in town, then this notion of only shopping at that one business feeds on itself which winds up with that one business accumulating more followers, more likes, more hashtags, and eventually most of the business.
Being in the financial industry for fifteen years means that I have unwillingly watched a lot of CNBC and Fox Business. One would assume by just watching these media outlets that there are only twenty-or-so stocks in the entire equity market and the entire world’s economy revolves around those companies. Anyone who tunes in will agree that the companies we consistently hear about are: Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Tesla, Home Depot, and some other marquee names. Meanwhile, there are over 60,000 publicly traded companies out there. The analogy that I am making is that Social Media, like any media source, can be very deceiving when it comes to the way in which Italian American businesses are represented and presented.
Unlike the two main financial networks, there are many sources for information in the media and on social media regarding Italian American-themed news. Despite this fact, a similar phenomenon that occurs on CNBC and Fox News with regards to stocks is occurring with regards to Italian American businesses; only a few are mentioned.
Herd Mentality
The same way Apple and Facebook are constantly discussed on CNBC and Fox News, the same Italian-owned businesses are discussed on social media and online publications over-and-over. This is a function of a few things including favors but chiefly, the herd mentality is to blame. The herd mentality dictates that if everyone else does something or goes somewhere, then it is expected for us to do that same thing or go to that same place too.
So, in the context of stocks, if everyone is buying or selling Apple, then you should too. Apple may or may not pay CNBC or Fox Business a lot of money to keep their stock in the news. There’s a lot of fine print in layers of disclaimers when it comes to stock news. Nevertheless, even if Apple didn’t incentivize the talking heads to discuss their company, they’re still discussed ad nauseum and this leads to a very predictable outcome which is that more people wind up buying and selling Apple stock more than other stocks. This inherently gives traders of Apple stock and market makers of Apple stock a clear financial boon. You get the picture. The same functions occur in Italian-themed media outlets when it comes to Italian-owned businesses. We only hear about the “biggest” and the “best” and then everyone wonders why the other businesses in their neighborhood wind up closing which cascades into residents leaving and eventually an exodus from the neighborhood occurs except those one or two businesses that remain to absorb the market share in their respective industry.
Here’s an example, and there are many others. Circo’s is a phenomenal Sicilian Bakery in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Circo’s has been around for decades. Bushwick, along Knickerbocker Avenue, was a Sicilian enclave until the 1970’s. A series of convoluted events occurred which pressured the Italians in that community to leave. Granted, as a community dwindles, regardless of the reason, businesses close. What determines which businesses stay or go would generally be left to a simple Darwinian concept: survival of the fittest. Such is the case with Circo’s. Circo’s has a massive social media presence. They’re on Facebook and Instagram. They’re constantly being reviewed on food blogs and there are even tons of YouTube videos that acknowledge Circo’s. To boot, Circo’s adopted an e-commerce model to couple with their brick and mortar location.
Clearly, Circo’s survived the storm that claimed every other business in “Italian Bushwick.” One would be remiss if they didn’t ask about the other Italian businesses that once thrived in this neighborhood, especially the bakeries. Their failure was not directly brought forth by Circo’s success but rather, indirectly. Maybe other factors can be considered, such as whether Circo’s owns its building. This could give them an edge because by owning their property they’ll maintain a hedge against inflationary trends in the area’s rental market. Whatever the case may be, there’s one simple fact, which is that Circo’s has gotten with the times by remaining relevant and therefore, Circo’s continues to exist.

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Circo’s on Hart Street and Knickerbocker Avenue, the heart of the former Italian Enclave in Bushwick

To apply the Circo’s case study to another Italian enclave, we will compare Circo’s to Villabate in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Unquestionably, they are both amazing Sicilian bakeries. Both bakeries, although competitive in the e-commerce shipping market, are mutually exclusive from one another by virtue of being located so far apart and are not necessarily in direct competition because people who live in a certain radius of Circo’s won’t go all the way to Bensonhurst for pastries and vice-versa.
Villabate sits lonely amongst Chinese storefronts on eighteenth avenue. Eighteenth avenue is Bushwick twenty years ago. Italians are leaving. Other ethnicities are moving in. Businesses are consolidating and closing their doors or relocating. Villabate, for each bakery that closes, gains more strength.

 

 

 


A huge part of Villabate’s success is its quality. However, there are tons of other bakeries in Bensonhurst that all have amazing pastry. For example, Cristoforo Colombo bakery, was a block away but could not survive. Why? There are always more than one factor, but in this case, the culprit we mentioned before rears its ugly head again, the herd mentality. That favorite social media influencer goes to XYZ all the time and so should you. Hence, when people discuss where they’re getting their holiday pastry online or in person, it becomes almost a status symbol to keep up with the other Italians who have the herd mentality. This results in long lines at Villabate and shorter lines, and eventually no lines, elsewhere.

 
Conclusion
In order to preserve our Italian neighborhoods, we must preserve the businesses that are the character of those neighborhoods. To accomplish this, we must patronize these businesses and promote them on social media even if they do not have social media accounts. Many do not, unfortunately. However, we can geotag these places and create hashtags for them. Of course, it would not hurt at all to encourage these businesses to go online somehow and create a web presence. In addition, if you would like to help, please use the #SupportItalianAmericanBusinesses hashtag by inserting it along with photos and other posts that depict an Italian-owned business of any type.
Although we can never stop the hands of time and we certainly can not stop survival of the fittest from taking hold, there are ways we can prolong the existence of businesses that are so much a part of our families. Support these businesses. Support them on social media. Recommend them. Tag them. It is the only way we wind up with a level playing field and it is also the way we can preserve our Italian Enclaves in their totality.

By: Raymond Guarini

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The Month of Holy Souls in Bath Beach’s Most Precious Blood And A Homily That Hits Home

 

Followers of Italian Enclaves on Facebook, Instagram, and on this blog are familiar with seeing photos featuring various Italian National parishes. To clarify for all of our readers, a National Parish is a parish that is created to specifically cater to a certain ethnic group. Masses are usually held in that ethnicity’s language and the customs specific to that group are found engrained in the practices within their parishes. For example, Italian National parishes were first created at the end of the 19th century to accommodate the tremendous immigration of Italians into the United States. Across America, Italian parishes began popping-up in the West Coast, the Midwest, the South and in the largest density of all, the East Coast. One of my goals in creating Italian Enclaves was to visit the still-existing Italian National parishes of America to not only photo-document them but to also have a chance to worship in these churches by either attending a mass there or venerating whichever saint statues or relics might be present. This is such a tall task because there are and have been so many that it’s possible to live an entire lifetime near a church and never walk into it.

Last Sunday, November 4th, I whimsically visited a small Italian national parish in Bath Beach, Brooklyn called Most Precious Blood. I was familiar with this church for years but never had a chance to visit. As I arrived two minutes before noon, I was graciously welcomed by the charming sound of the church’s bells calling all her faithful to mass.

The church building is relatively modern. There are many who prefer traditional churches from the 19th century over the mid-20th century modernistic architecture, but in its own right, Most Precious Blood is a formidable Roman Catholic church despite its size. The church is small and is quaintly decorated with beautiful stained-glass mosaics and several niches with gorgeous statues mostly reflecting the Italian devotions. There are Mother Cabrini, Saint Calogero, Saint Rocco, Saint Padre Pio, and so on.

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The altar of the church
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(Left) Saint Anthony (Center) Saint Jude (Right) Waiting for confirmation
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(Left) Infant Jesus (Center) La Madonna (Right) Jesus
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A beautifully stained-glass window with statues of (Left) Saint John The Baptiste (Center)  La Madonna and baby Jesus (Right) Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary Seton Hall
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(Left) Saint Michael (Right) Saint Cologero
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Saint Padre Pio
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(Left) Mother Cabrini (Right) Southern Italian Madonna Devotion La Madonna Della Neve
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Gorgeous Stained Glass windows with La Madonna Del Rosario (Our Lady of The Rosary)
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(Left) Saint Michael (Right) San Calogero
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(Left) Saint Rita of Cascia (Cener) Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Right) Saint Lucy
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(Left) Saint Rocco (Center) Saint Anne (Right) Saint Therese

 

 

A choir and the school’s 2nd grade catechism class were in the front pews which made the church feel even more family-oriented and inviting this particular day. As we all know, the aesthetics of a church and its parishioners can make going to mass special, but what really affects how we engage mass is the way in which it is presided.

Father Dominick decided he didn’t need the microphone and he didn’t deliver his homily from the altar. Instead, he came down amongst the parishioners and spoke to everyone with only his voice, which powerfully projected throughout the church. Father Dominick eloquently related the importance of November being the month of Holy Souls with a great story about his childhood. He importantly reminded us that the millions of souls in Purgatory require prayer in order to get into Heaven. He made the astute analogy that being in Purgatory was like being in a dark waiting area just outside Heaven. Souls in Purgatory can hear Heaven, they can see others going, but there is still a curtain between Heaven and Purgatory. The way into Heaven, or the party in his analogy, is through prayer. Without prayer, we can not go to Heaven nor can the souls in Purgatory.

Father Dominick related this concept to the parish in a way that funnily prescribes to the Italian culture. He told us a story about when he was a little boy. When he was little, after church, his responsibility was to bring the Italian bread home from the bakery for Sunday dinner. When he’d arrive home with the bread, he could smell the sauce on the stove cooking with the glorious infusion of meatballs and other fixings that go along with a traditional Italian Sunday dinner. Father Dominick reminisced about one time when no one was looking, he went into his mother’s pot of sauce and took out a meatball to quickly eat before anyone noticed. Sure enough, the meatball fell on his white dress-shirt and rolled down the shirt onto the floor, leaving behind a huge sauce stain. Father Dominick related this stain to sin. If he tried to clean the sauce stain himself without his mother knowing, it would be futile because as a kid he didn’t know how to clean a sauce stain from a pure white shirt properly. He could try as hard as he wanted but no matter what, without the proper means of removal a small stain remained, however faint. The stain he compared to sin and the fact that we may be good people with pure intentions in life but the shirt just like our souls, unless properly cleaned, would still be stained with sin. Naturally, Father Dominick explained how his Italian mother and grandmother would clean the shirt with bleach and some elbow grease to effectively remove the stain. This method of properly cleaning the shirt he related to prayer. Through prayer our souls are healed and cleansed of sin.

Father Dominick’s cute analogy really resonated. It hit home because it painted such a vivid picture of Sundays in most Italian American homes for at least the last 100 years in America. Sundays are not Sundays to Italian Catholics without Church and sauce and Church is not an effective part of our lives without prayer.

In order for us to be good Catholics we must do certain things. Charity and prayer are two of the most important cornerstones. With that in mind, I would like to ask you to please recite The Prayer to St. Gertrude the Great for The Release of 1,000 Souls From Purgatory:

Eternal Father, I offer You the most precious blood of thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, for those in my own home and in my family. Amen.

The prayer of St. Gertrude is one of the most famous for souls in purgatory. St. Gertrude the Great was a Benedictine nun and mystic who lived in the 13th century. According to tradition, our Lord promised her that 1000 souls would be released from Purgatory each time it is said devoutly.

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Father Dominick greeting parishioners as they exit mass

Before mass was ended, Father Dominick reminded us that if we do not pray for the souls in Purgatory, then they can not get to Heaven. He also reminded us that if we pray for these souls, then they will be there in Heaven helping us and praying for us in times of our own need here on God’s Earth.

I would like to strongly recommend my readers to visit Most Precious Blood church. Hear Father Dominick. It is becoming rarer that we see Italian National Parishes still being led by Italian Priests. There are also some great vestiges of the old Italian neighborhood that once thrived surrounding the church that you can enjoy exploring as well. This church was the heart and soul of that neighborhood in Bath Beach. From Most precious blood there were many feasts and processions. Today, although many of these traditions have faded, you can still visit the church and enjoy a beautiful mass and please try to be generous for their offertory so the church may persist.

In closing, I ask you to please offer your prayer to Saint Gertrude partially for the souls of all of our veterans who have left us and may still be waiting for the opening of the gates to Heaven. In honor of the 100 year anniversary of the end of World War 1 and the month of November being the month of Holy Souls, please offer these brave heroes your prayers so that they can continue onto Heaven and watch over us.

By: Raymond Guarini

Thanks to Anthony Scillia for enlightening me to St. Gertrude’s Prayer for the 1,000 Souls. Anthony has a wonderful blog that you ought to check out “where faith, food and friends meet” at : https://atthetablewithtony.wordpress.com/

 

The Italian American Baseball Foundation: A Phenomenal Growth Story

Amongst the many Italian-themed organizations that were ever created, one stands out as potentially being one of the best and brightest. The Italian American Baseball Foundation was created in 2016 and was founded by Joseph Quagliano, Carmine Gangone, and former baseball player Frank Catalanotto. Amongst the members and affiliates of this organization are some of Baseball’s biggest Italian American names like John Franco, Mike Piazza, and Bobby Valentine just to name a few.

How it Started

The story behind this organization’s inception is smashing. While stationed in Rome, Salerno, and Nettuno during World War 2, Joe DiMaggio and other U.S. servicepeople taught the locals how to play baseball. This sparked a seed of interest in the sport which flourished and lasted generations into today. Baseball has always been “the” American sport but the flourishing interest in Italy has caught the eye of the IABF who not only seeks to sponsor Italian players, but players of all nationalities and backgrounds.

IABF’s Mission

“…Is to promote the game of baseball…by developing youth talent through clinics with professional MLB instructors, individual training, and scholarships.”

The IABF donates baseball equipment to organized youth teams as well as individuals in need of uniforms, bats, gloves, cleats and more.

In addition, the IABF will provide scholarships or financial assistance to student-athletes that qualify academically to play baseball in the United States on the College and/or High-School level.

Upcoming Event

Incredibly moved by the foundation’s mission, former Met Allstar Ace, John Franco, has been an amazingly powerful force in the organization. This December, Mr. Franco will be honored as the IABF guest of honor at the organization’s 3rd annual fundraiser and cocktail reception, which is being held at Carmine and Son’s Restaurant on Graham Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The event will also honor Jon Paul Morosi, who is an in-game reporter for Fox Sports and MLB Network sports analyst.

 


The First Annual Columbus Day Party

Despite a plethora of Columbus themed events on the weekend immediately before Columbus Day, IABF threw its first major event at Russo’s On the Bay, and it was a huge success. The event was top-shelf with an incredible cocktail hour, a terrific DJ, raffles, and the master of ceremonies was 101.1 and Brooklyn’s own, Joe Causi.

 

 


The founders took the opportunity to present the organization’s President, Joe Quagliano, with an award for his hard work and sacrifice to the organization. Humbly receiving his award, Joe briefly and eloquently addressed the huge crowd which met his grace with awesome applause.
Trip To Italy
At the reception at Russo’s On The Bay, the crowd was also given a first glimpse of a video documentary of the IABF’s recent trip to Italy. Last year the IABF brass, including John Franco, traveled to Rome, Sorento and Nettuno for scouting potential baseball players and to also possibly exchange personnel to Italy for staffing their teams. The IABF also donated a ton of equipment to their Italian counterparts. (Scroll to the bottom of this article for a link to the video).
The Future
Baseball is part of America’s fabric and has done a good job of permeating into other cultures all over the globe. As the love for baseball spreads and the pool of potential players increases and diversifies, the IABF is in a unique position to capitalize as a conduit for players and leagues to find out about one another.

The meteoric rise of the IABF is something very uncommon and it is truly based on the sincere love of the sport as evidenced by the attraction and participation of top tier players like John Franco et al.

If you would like to contribute to this organization’s growth, please do so by purchasing a ticket for the upcoming event on December 6th and/or by making a tax free donation (links below).

2018 IABF Italian Youth Clinic Trip

Donate

A Quick Look At The National Italian American Foundation’s (NIAF’S) 43rd Annual Gala Weekend In Washington, D.C.

October was full of festivities and celebrations for those of Italian Heritage. The chief celebration this year was NIAF’s annual gala weekend in Washington, DC. As the National Italian American Foundation kicked off its 43rd Gala Weekend, Italian Americans from all over the country poured into the nation’s capital to take part.

 

October 8th

The weekend began with the cutting of the ribbon ceremony at NIAF’s new museum in Washington DC that pays homage to the Italian immigrant. This was followed by a grand evening of culinary perfection and photo opportunities with guest of honor, Lidia Bastianich.

 

 

 

October 9th
On Saturday, NIAF hosted EXPO Italiana, which featured some of the world’s best distributors of wine, food, coffee, cigars and more. Open panels discussed various issues surrounding Italian Americans. Over two-thousand people visited the Expo to experience the various products and learn more about the vendors at their booths.

 


The Gala

Saturday evening, at the Marriott Wardman Park grand ballroom, a sold-out attendance was dazzled by an array of guests while dining on Pugliese delicacies. Singing both the National Anthems of Italy and the United States was Italian tenor, Marco Fiorante.

 

 

 

 

Amazingly, opera singer Carlos De Antonis brought the crowd to their feet with a standing ovation for his tantalizing performance of Andrea Bocelli’s “Con Te Partiro.”
Taking the cake, Ambassador Peter Secchia, a NIAF board member, was announced to have given a 1.5 million-dollar donation to NIAF. This news ignited the ballroom into thunderous applause.

The air in the ballroom was so electric because it was fused with pride, love, and awe. The conversations in Italian and English, the clamor from cutlery, and the music all gave life to the room in a way that stands up to time. Forty-three years is a great streak for any annual gala.

We highly recommend you get your tickets as soon as possible for next year so that you can see the magic in a room when you are amongst the most successful Italians in the world.

A Photo Essay Of Diminishing Italian Neighborhoods Across America (Part 1)

I have been frantically racing against time for the last 6 years. After the neighborhood in which I live in Brooklyn started seeing a major uptick in the pace of shifting demographics, I set out to determine if a similar dissipation was happening to Italian neighborhoods in other parts of the United States. After traveling across the continent, it became scarily apparent that every Italian neighborhood was undergoing significant change.

The pile of names of Italian businesses that were closing started to quickly mount. I tried to visit as many of them as I could before their closing. In almost every place that I visited there was at least one business that was recently closed. Many of the businesses and churches that I have documented which were opened at the time of my visits over the last six years have closed or been demolished since I was there. The rate at which this is happening is alarming.

The necessity to maintain these businesses and institutions is critical. I have henceforth created a movement that I pray gains momentum which is underpinned by the following hashtag to bring attention to the importance of supporting Italian owned businesses: #SupportItalianAmericanBusinesses.

The following photos are just some of the many that I have accumulated that evidence a massive shift whereby Italian America is losing its identifiable boundaries. I hope you enjoy….

 

 

 

 

A Look At The Our Lady of The Snow Society in Williamsbug and A Hero Who Helps Maintain Its Traditions

Last night, I traveled to Williamsburg, Brooklyn to visit the Our Lady of The Snow Society’s Hall on Graham Avenue. This pocket of East Williamsburg has been Italian since the late 1800’s. The society just celebrated its 130th Feast Day of Our Lady of The Snow this past August 5th. Needless to say, this is one of the last remaining original Italian enclaves on the North American continent.

 

In replying to a Direct Message via our Italian Enclaves’  Instagram social media page, I had arranged to meet a younger member of the Our Lady Of the Snow Society at the Hall at 8:30pm, Wednesday August 29th. Little did either of us know when setting this date and time was that it would be 97 degrees and humid. Nevertheless, I made a commitment to see this place and to learn about the history of the society, and I am so happy that I did because this turned out to be one of my most interesting experiences since I began exploring Italian enclaves almost six years ago.

Upon arriving in front of the Our Lady of The Snow Hall on Graham Avenue in Williamsburg, I was greeted by Allessando, the society’s youngest inducted member who initially contacted me with the suggestion to visit the society. After our formal in-person introduction, he guided me to the society’s club house down a narrow alley between the Hall and the building next door. Inside, a few tables were full of Italian men having coffee and playing Italian card games while watching Italian Television. I was immediately introduced to Vinny Raymond, the society of Our Lady of The Snow’s President.

Vinny quickly made me feel at home in the society’s clubhouse where right away he offered me an espresso as we began to discuss our common history and appreciation for old world traditions. We proceeded to tour the society’s upstairs, the hall which is elevated from its foundation with two staircases and Greek revival columns protectively overlooking its neighborhood’s main artery, Graham Avenue AKA Via Vespucci.

 

The Hall is beautifully decorated with a mural covering the entire back wall. The mural depicts the town and mountain top of Esquiline Hill where the miracle of Our Lady of The Snow occurred in Rome, Italy. On the Same wall there is a niche made for the Madonna Statue, which is an exact replica of the statue in the town  in Italy. Please find the story of Our Lady of The Snow below:

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The story of Our Lady of The Snow edited by Joseph San Pietro
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The mural in the society hall depicting the mountaintop where La Madonna promised snow in Rome.

Almost on queue, as we left the hall and descended its steps, a car driving along Graham Avenue slowly approached and stopped directly in front. Out of the passenger side of the car emerged an elderly gentleman of strong, fluid motion not to be expected of a 97-year-old. As the man walked over wearing his WW2 hat which also indicated that he was in Korea as well, I was told that he is the former President of the society of Our Lady of The Snow. I was then introduced to Joseph San Pietro where I introduced myself and thanked him for his service to our country before we entered into the society club house.

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A screenshot from the Italian Enclaves Instagram account. Left to right: Allesandro, the society’s youngest member, Vinny Raymond-the Society’s current president, Joseph San Pietro-former society president, Raymond Guarini-founder and chairman of Italian Enclaves.

As an avid world war 2 buff and given my significant love of Italian American history, it is needless to say that I was overwhelmed by the opportunity to sit with a Veteran of World War 2 who also happens to be an Italian American of great respect and historical consequence. As our conversation progressed from his landing on Okinawa in the third wave of the assault in one of the bloodiest battles in human history, I also learned to my astonishment that Joe also served in Korea after World War 2. I could stop writing his resume right there and he would be an amazing man, but incredibly, Joe went on to become an New York Police Department detective and wound up on the “racket squad” with the collar of Joe Colombo under his belt. This arrest would become one of the most famous photographs of any mobster in custody with Detective San Pietro pictured behind the mob boss walking him to his legal fate.

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Detective San Pietro walking Joe Colombo, mob boss, to his legal fate.

I was enamored by Mr. San Pietro because he is the epitome of the American hero. He is part of the “Greatest Generation” at 97 years old and we should all emulate his patriotism and moral fortitude. He also vigilantly attends society meetings and is extremely active in the society’s pursuit of honoring the story of Our Lady of The Snow. Please find the below photos which depict certain medals and photos from the society’s club house.

 

Computer Genius Closer To Sainthood

By: Raymond Guarini

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I made a post a while back about a young man in Italy who was in the process of possibly becoming a Saint. We are extremely happy to inform our readers that Carlo Acutis’ cause has moved further along when on July 5th Pope Francis authorized The Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate the decree which advances Acutis’ cause and names him Venerable.

Carlo Acutis was born on May 3rd, 1993. He was raised in Milan and gravitated to computers. He remarkably created a website that catalogued every Marian apparition which led to the birth of the international exhibition: The Eucharistic Miracles of the World.

Acutis passed away on October 12th, 2006 at 15 years old. He was an extremely pious young man and would attend church daily to receive the Eucharist. He frequently said the rosary and dedicated his life to his love of God.
What an amazing example of a young man willfully choosing to lead a moral life in a world rife with temptation. Carlo Acutis should be an example for young men and women throughout the entire world.

http://www.carloacutis.com/en/association/associazione

Please share this so that Carlo’s cause can be seen to the end with his beatification.

The Oldest Italian Feast in New York City’s Manhattan: Saint Rocco Today, Yesterday and Tomorrow

By: Raymond Guarini

Introduction

As the feast season is upon us, one must look at one of the oldest living feasts in New York City and the oldest in Manhattan, the upcoming feast of Saint Rocco. A preservationist’s dream, the feast of Saint Rocco maintains uninterrupted for 129 years due to the vigilance and devotion shown by the Saint Rocco Society of Potenza, which was established in 1899. Each year, Saint Rocco’s Feast Day is celebrated on August 16th. This year, the feast will be celebrated on August 19th.

To understand how indominable the love and devotion is for this great saint here in New York, the journey that the feast and society have taken must be acknowledged. The story of Saint Rocco’s continuance as a celebration in New York begins in an old Italian Enclave in Manhattan’s lower east side.

Fourth Ward
A neighborhood once known as the Five Points, or the old Fourth Ward, the lower east side of Manhattan was once home to Irish and German immigrants until the mid-to-late 1800’s, when Italians started to immigrate to the United States en masse. Upon their arrival, Italian immigrants were not welcomed to worship in Irish and German churches. The arrival of more and more Italian immigrants was referred to by many members of New York’s archdiocese as “the Italian problem.” Relegated to church basements or worse, Italians were forced to petition community and church leaders for an opportunity to create their own places of worship. Saint Joachim was their answer. Created as the first Italian parish in New York City in 1888, Saint Joachim was located at the epicenter of the lower east side Italian immigrant community on Roosevelt Street. There were many other Italian enclaves forming throughout New York city in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s but Saint Joachim was certainly the first church in which these new migrants could practice

Catholicism with their own language and ancient customs. It is at Saint Joachim where the first Saint Rocco Statue was held and venerated by the Southern Italian immigrants of Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

The Statue

The Saint statue is of paramount importance to devotees of any Saint because it allows the devout to venerate their Saint’s memory while having a tangible connection to Heaven. The original statue that was processed each year in the Saint Rocco procession was built in 1889 and imported here from Italy. With its base, it weighs a total of 100 lbs and is crafted out of paper mache.

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Society History

The Saint Rocco Society was created in 1889 in Manhattan’s Lower East Side by immigrants from Potenza in the Basilicata region of Italy. Italian societies in the late 19th century were created not just out of love and devotion for their saints but to also supplement things for immigrants such as health insurance and death benefits. At that time, there was no organization like Catholic Charities and there were no formidable ways for newly arriving immigrants to acquire insurance or death benefits in the absence of public assistance programs like those which exist today. The societies filled this gap for Italians in addition to providing a place for them to congregate and socialize with their own. They were places where people who were often persecuted against by earlier arriving Europeans could gather and reinforce one another in their new home.

Changing Times
As demographics in the United States continued to change and urban renewal sprawled across major metropolises, many neighborhoods were torn down to make way for newer structures that could capitalize on technology to build vertically taller, and more space efficient structures. This process was mirrored in every major city and particularly here in New York. As a result, the lower east side’s Fourth Ward was essentially torn down. The Italians moved out in droves to other neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs and those remaining around Saint Joachim moved into the Knickerbocker Village, a complex of apartment buildings that sits on the old site of the old fourth ward Italian district. Saint Joseph’s church was built to accommodate the early 20th century’s influx of Italian immigrants into the lower east side and to alleviate Saint Joachim from being overtaxed by its 18,000 parishioners. Both churches, Saint Joseph and Saint Joachim, served that community until 1967, when Saint Joachim was torn down. The Saint Rocco statue was then translated to Saint Joseph and the feast was held from Saint Joseph thereafter until Saint Joseph’s was closed in 2015. At that time, due to the persistent and unconditional devotion by the Saint Rocco Society and chiefly, its president Stephen LaRocca, the statue was again translated to Our Most Precious Blood on Baxter Street in what remains of Manhattan’s other, downtown Little Italy enclave.

The Society Today

Although much of what we show on Italian Enclaves social Media pages (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) reflects on former establishments and institutions, there is a major emphasis placed upon supporting the businesses and traditions that remain. For us, the Saint Rocco feast on August 19th is the apex of current traditions in that not only has it survived uninterrupted since 1889 but also because it has underwent and continues to undergo a profound revival in which new devotees propel the devotion and veneration of Saint Rocco forward.

 

The momentum that the Saint Rocco Society of Potenza has gained is due to the undying support of its members and the people who turn out to the procession each year. Most importantly, as always, feasts serve as an opportunity to raise funds for the society to continue its traditions with the proper authenticity. Therefore, we strongly urge you to support this great feast and oldest Italian tradition in New York by purchasing raffle tickets for the drawing on the evening of August 19th. One’s presence is not necessary to participate in the raffle and if a winner is not present, you will still receive your prize notification via e-mail. Please contribute to this incredible event by participating in the raffle to support the Saint Rocco Society of Potenza in their mission to enlighten the world as to the miracles of Saint Rocco. Purchase raffle tickets here: https://go.rallyup.com/129thstrocco

About Saint Rocco
From the Saint Rocco Society of Potenza’s website (link in bibliography) :
St. Rocco was born of noble parentage about 1340 A.D. in Montpellier, France. At birth it was noted that he had a red cross-shaped birthmark on the left side of his chest. As a young child, St. Rocco showed great devotion to God and the Blessed mother. At an early age, his parents died leaving him an orphan under the care of his uncle, the Duke of Montpellier. Soon after, St. Rocco distributed his wealth among the poor and took a vow of poverty.

St. Rocco dressed in the clothes of a pilgrim and departed for Rome. Along the way, he stopped at Aquapendente, which was stricken by the plague, and devoted himself to the plague victims, curing them with prayer and the sign of the cross. He next visited Cesena and other neighboring cities, and then finally, Rome. Legend has it that everywhere he visited, the terrible scourge disappeared before his miraculous power. He visited Mantua, Modena, Parma, and other cities, all with the same results.
During his travels, he too contracted the plague which was evident by an open sore on his leg. Rocco was banished from the city and took refuge in a cave. There he slept on leaves and drank water from a small stream. Miraculously a dog that refused to eat, faithfully brought him bread as a means of sustenance. The dog used to leave a nearby castle and the lord of this castle having a curious nature followed this dog into the woods and discovered Rocco. The nobleman had pity on Rocco and brought him to his castle where Rocco was cured.
St. Rocco traveled through northern Italy for two or three more years before returning to his birthplace in France. So weak and sick from suffering, the townspeople did not recognize him and he was thrown into jail as a spy without any proof. He was kept in prison for five years. On August 16, 1378, a guard entered his cell and found St. Rocco near death. The dungeon was illuminated with a blue light radiating from his body. Upon hearing this, the Governor demanded to know St. Rocco’s identity. St. Rocco faintly replied, I am your nephew Rocco. Only one thing could prove that, so he had him disrobed and the red cross-like mark was visible on the left side of his chest. The Governor and the townspeople present in the cell then believed. A voice from paradise was heard announcing that St. Rocco’s soul had merited immortal glory in Heaven. Even after his death, St. Rocco performed many miracles.
Saint Rocco is venerated in the Roman Catholic Church as the protector against the plague and all contagious diseases. The statue of Saint Rocco is considered unique among theologians because of his pose. It is most unusual because it depicts him with his left hand pointing to an open sore on his left leg. Few images of saints expose any afflictions or handicaps. His body is enclosed in a glass tomb in the church of St. Rocco in Venice, Italy. St. Rocco is remembered on August 16th of each year.
St. Rocco is greatly venerated in Southern Italy and Sicily. In fact, no other country in the world honors St. Rocco as extensively as Italy, most particularly in the South. Numerous cholera epidemics ravaged Southern Italy from shortly after St. Rocco’s death and the Southern Italian people turned to St. Rocco for his protection against this plague, other sickness and for his help in all circumstances of life.
At the turn of the Century, millions of Southern Italian immigrants brought their devotion to the Blessed Mother and the Saints, including St. Rocco to the United States.
Prayer to Saint Rocco
O Great St. Rocco, deliver us, we beseech you, from contagious diseases, and the contagion of sin. Obtain, for us, a purity of heart which will assist us to make good use of health, and to bear sufferings with patience. Teach us to follow your example in the practice of penance and charity, so that we may, one day enjoy the happiness of being with Christ, Our Savior, in Heaven. Amen.

Bibliography:

As always, we thank John Napoli of Il Regno for introducing us to the Saint Rocco Society of Potenza and for his archive of photographs that he has graciously shared relative to this feast and many others. Blog: http://ilregno2s.blogspot.com/

We would like to thank Stephen LaRocca for his endless love and knowledge about the feast and the Saint Rocco Society of Potenza as well as his hard work in coordinating the oldest Italian tradition in New York https://www.stroccosociety.com/

Churches, Communities, and Children: Italian Immigrants in the Archdiocese of New York, 1995 Mary Elizabeth Brown

The Sacred Questua Procession And The Dancing Of The Giglio in 2018; Musica, Uaglio, Aizati I Spalli, Aggiet!

For almost 120 years, the Dance of The Giglio has been a tradition in many Italian American neighborhoods in the United States. Today, as Italians have become more assimilated into American society, the tradition has been narrowed to only four “lifts.” In Brooklyn, for instance, over the last 118 years, 120 men have endured the physical sacrifice of lifting a five-story man-made tower weighing close to four tons in honor of their patron saint, San Paolino, who is the Patron Saint of their ancestors’ town in Nola, Italy. This magnificent tower is called The Giglio, which means Lily in Italian, and it sits upon a platform along with a full band and chaplain. In Nola, there are still many Gigli that are carried through the town in complex routes sometimes lasting an entire day of back-breaking dedication. There are currently four Giglio Dances that still take place in America: Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Harlem in Manhattan, Belmont in the Bronx and Franklin Square in Long Island.

 

 

 

On the day before Giglio Sunday in Williamsburg there is a Questua procession in which Questua committee members, musicians, police and children distribute blessed bread to the people of the neighborhood. The members go as early as 5am to get the bread from local Italian bakeries. Thousands of loaves are gathered as everyone congregates before the procession to see the bread blessed right outside of Our Lady Of Mt. Carmel Church. Once the bread is blessed, the crowd breaks up into “distribution crews.” Each crew consists of a chairman, money managers, children who bag the bread, a band and the police who graciously escort the procession. The procession moves through the streets collecting donations and handing out the bread until all the bread has been distributed. This is usually completed by 4pm. The entire Questua procession takes about six hours.

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A young boy taking a bite of the blessed bread prior to the Questua procession.

On Giglio Sunday before the lift, the pastor blesses the structure and the lifters and says the invocation to Our Lady of mount Carmel and San Paolino. The Paranza reply with “pray for us.” Then, the national anthems of America and Italy are played. The lifters begin shouting “Musica!” to spark the band to play the Giglio Song, O’ Giglio’e Paradiso. The band serenades thousands in crowded streets with tantalizing tunes that grace the ears of Italian Americans and all those fortunate enough to experience the electrifying event.

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The Beloved Pastor of OLMC, Monsignor Jamie, and the Giglio Band atop the Giglio Platform.

The Giglio is a huge platform that stands upon the shoulders of The Paranza, or lifters. The Paranza are broken into four “crews” of 30 men. Each crew has a capo and lieutenants who direct the men and keep things organized during the Dance of the Giglio, which is a complicated feat of lifting the Giglio tower up and down and moving it around narrow streets in full 360 degree turns. Below the Capos are Lieutenants who also work to unify and synchronize The Paranza. The capo shouts four commands in the dialect of the Nolani: “Uaglio! (Boys!), “Aizati i spalli” (lift your shoulders), “Acconge i cosce”(tighten your legs), “Aggiet! (Throw it!). After the last command, the Giglio is dropped to the ground in a thundering crash as the Giglio shakes and jirates and the crowd cheers. The fluidity of these men moving in unison is simply poetic. The Capo Paranza leads the men and conducts the Dance like a maestro conducts an orchestra, hence the name Maestro Di Festa. To see this synchronization at work is a true gift and is one of the oldest Italian traditions still taking place in America that will transport anyone who witnesses “the lift” back in time and across the ocean to another world. As the Giglio Dances, La barca, which is a huge boat that is constructed in the same fashion as the Giglio and is lifted by the same principle, is danced towards the Giglio . Riding in the boat is a band and singer, the Turk, and young boys, dressed in Arabian costumes that shower the audience with confetti symbolizing San Paolino’s glorious return to Nola after a grueling sacrifice .

The Giglio stands upwards like the flower it is named after, stretching towards the Heavens. The Giglio is handmade by master carpenters and sculptors who painstakingly sculpt figurines of Saints and religious scenes for different sections of the Giglio before it is painted. This process takes months, and shortly before the feast begins, the pieces are slowly put together on top of the platform which is essentially a deck on top of metal beams that are carried on the shoulders of The Paranza with a small piece of foam between their shoulders and the hard edges of the beams underneath the dancing megalith.

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The Paranza, lifters, lifting the Giglio. Notice the metal beams.

The Giglio in Williamsburg is a very special event just like its counterparts in Harlem, the Bronx, and Long Island, but is generally more popular because there are still many Italians living in the neighborhood and those who have moved, return in full force. This feast honors San Paolino who stands all the way at the top of the Giglio overlooking his devotees while his figurine is animated in Dance by the Paranza. As legend has it: a poor widow came to San Paolino, who was then the Bishop, for help when her only son had been carried off by the son-in-law of the dreaded Vandal King in a twisted campaign that plagued Italy. Having exhausted his resources in ransoming other captives, Paulino said: “such as I have I give thee,” and went to Africa to exchange places with the widow’s son and other town folk who were enslaved by the Vandal King. There, Paolino was accepted in place of the widow’s son, and employed as a gardener. After some time, the king found out that his son-in-law’s slave was the Great Bishop of Nola. He at once set him free, granting him also the freedom of all the townsfolk of Nola. Upon his return to Nola, Bishop Paolino was welcomed with gifts of Lily’s by all the grateful constituents of Nola. For this great sacrifice put forth by San Paolino, devotees and descendants of Nola continue to endure the excruciatingly difficult lift of the Giglio.

 

 

There is an incredible film about the lifting of the Giglio entitled “Heaven Touches Brooklyn” which was produced and directed by Tony DeNonno. Tony spent years researching the Dancing of the Giglio in America and Nola, Italy with authentic footage that he shot himself while creating one of the most enchanting documentaries ever made about Italian American traditions. His video can be found and purchased at: http://www.denonnoprodinc.com/ItalianGallery.html.

Useful links to Giglio society websites that also served as a bibliography for this piece:

Feast Committee


http://glmike.wixsite.com/san-paolino

Dancing of the Giglio & The Feast of Saint Anthony


https://www.olmcfeast.com/

 

 

 

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