Give Me A New House For An Old One 2 Celebrating An Italian Heritage In East Harlem, New York: Part 2 Of A 3 Part Series

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Celebrating An Italian Heritage In East Harlem, New York: Part 2 Of A 3 Part Series

Nonna and the Importance of Family

Let’s not forget the traditional Sunday family gathering at nonna’s house in the old quarter. Hmmmm…delicious. The inviting aromas of freshly made pasta and homemade meatballs and sausages greeted you as you entered her kitchen. While they cooked, Nonna simmered her remarkable homemade sauce in a pan, adding basil and garlic. The nonna (Italian grandmother) is an extraordinarily unique person in the life of her family. Boy could she cook. Everything she put on the table was made from scratch, no matter how long it took, she loved every minute of it. She could tell when the spices were right by sight and taste, how the dough looked when it was ready for the ravioli, pasta and lasagna, creating a variety of delicious Italian dishes from the old country, enjoyed with a nice bottle of homemade. wine

“Mangia, Mangia” (eat, eat) she said, standing by the table with a smile on her face, watching her children devour everything. It was a delightful moment for her. Nothing was ever left on the plate, especially after the crusty bread wiped it clean. The satisfied look on her family’s faces was all the reward she needed for a hard day’s work.

The nonna always devoted her life to her husband and children. Her Italian heritage brought her immense pride. She tried to instill in her children and grandchildren the same family values ​​and traditions that were enshrined in the old world. She couldn’t understand why her children were so different from her when she wasn’t how she raised them. Their ways of thinking, their lack of respect, their clothing, their lifestyle practices, their choices of entertainment and entertainment, and above all, failure to maintain the Italian language worried her terribly. They became so Americanized, which sometimes created conflicts between them. In her broken English she would express her displeasure. They would roll their eyes, replying annoyed: “Ma’, you are now in America, not in Italy. Give it a rest.” However, she passionately loved her family and cared deeply for her fellow man. The nonna was an instrument of Italian tradition and culture.

At the end of the day in the stillness of her room, nonna sat by her dimly lit lamp, eyes closed, a picture of sweet serenity, praying with her rosary beads in her hand. Bringing her rosary beads to her lips to kiss them, she wiped away the tears and bowed her head again, moving her lips in silent prayer to the Madonna, asking for her blessing for the well-being of her family.

Tearing of the Cloth

The appearance of the public housing projects after World War II disrupted the peaceful life and relationships of thousands of Italian Harlem residents, demolishing the tenements that housed them. The demolition block by block began to tear apart the interwoven fabric of Italian Harlem. Not only were the tenements demolished but 1,500 retail shops, mostly owned by Italians, were sold out, leaving 4,500 people without jobs. Only three famous Italian-owned businesses from that era, Patsy’s Pizzeria, Rao’s Restaurant (where famous celebrities still eat) and Claudio’s Barbershop are still in business today. Thus, a steady migration of Italian Americans began to move away from East Harlem. The separation became unbearable for many families and close friends, torn apart to make way for progress. Others, benefiting from the improvement in the American economy, moved from East Harlem to the suburban areas of New York.

So now I ask you “How did this neighborhood of East Harlem become known as Italian Harlem and why did the Italian religious feasts like Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Feast of the Dance of the Giglio become so important to this neighborhood? A question we will try answer as we go along.

Italian Immigration To America

Industrialization and the establishment of the factory system throughout America offered a promise of employment to the poor masses in Europe. Most industrialists in America depended on cheap European labor to operate the factories. Meanwhile during the 1800s, Harlem developed all kinds of transportation projects to promote northward expansion. America expanded, grew and integrated itself from one community to another. In Harlem, these transportation projects attracted many immigrant wage workers of many different ethnic cultures, mostly during the 1880s and 1890s.

Between the years of 1876-1924, more than 4.5 million Italians arrived in the United States. Many settled in the Mulberry Bend neighborhood of lower Manhattan, others fanned out across the country. The vast majority of Italian immigrants who remained in Mulberry Bend were extremely poor and lived in terrible conditions.

Worship and Its Conflicts for the Early Italian Immigrant

Worship was extremely valuable for the Italian community. They were overwhelmingly Catholic. Having the right to worship in their neighborhood was not easy. Most of the established Catholic churches within East Harlem already accommodated the spiritual needs of the Irish population that dominated the area at that time. In the United States, the church has always served the Irish as an institution, although it also served other European immigrant nationalities. Early Italian immigrants were considered a minority and treated as second class. Because they were not Americanized or could not speak English like the Irish, they and their spiritual needs were overlooked because they were seen as foreigners.

As Italians began arriving by the thousands, flooding East Harlem mostly between the early 1880s and 1920s, many would flock to the Catholic churches in the area. “When the Italian families appeared to participate in services in the predominantly Irish parishes they were subjected to a barrage of insults and even beatings.” Those early immigrant families, extremely poor, living under terrible conditions in an overcrowded slum-like district, earning the lowest wages from the least skilled jobs, were denied the opportunity to celebrate mass or participate in Holy sacraments in the refuge. Their worship was limited to church basement services or a first floor apartment when they could get a priest who spoke their language.

Meanwhile in 1882 the natives of Polla, a town in the Province of Salerno in Italy, began to gather to celebrate their hometown patroness, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, in East Harlem. The feast is held on July 16. This religious event was humbly initiated in the front yard of a residence at East 110th Street and First Avenue.

As a result of the celebration, which grew every year, a sense of community began to grow. A local emerging political figure by the name of Antonio Petrucci was instrumental in fanning the flame of passion. He organized a club called “Congregazione del Monte Carmelo.” He also helped the Italian immigrants in finding a place where they could worship. The rental of a first-floor apartment on East 111th Street, just west of First Avenue, became the chapel of Our Lady of Mt. It is said that Petrucci even bought a statue of her, a copy of the one venerated in Polla, which was imported from Italy. The figure was dressed in extremely brocaded robes. The light structure of the statue made it possible for her to be carried in the procession of the feast.

Reverend Emiliano Kirner, Palotine Father, was the first priest who was sent in May of 1884 to specifically serve the spiritual needs of the Italian community of East Harlem. Mass was celebrated in the chapel for the first time in 1884 on Easter Sunday.

Father Emiliano Kirner played a pivotal role in encouraging the Italian immigrants to provide the Madonna with a decent home, a church. The Italians were fired from the proposed project. Land was purchased at 115th Street, the foundation was laid in September, and by the beginning of December, the lower church in the basement was finished and ready for service. However, the Italian communities were delighted because it was “their parish.” The upper part of the church was finished in 1887. This church was literally built by Italian craftsmen after returning home from their hard work with the help of Father Kirner, who joined the workforce.

In part 3 of this series we will examine the most important progression of the celebration of religious feasts by the Italian community of East Harlem.

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