A class war is about to boil over in Little Italy. Where the old neighborhood meets the new, cultures are clashing over the San Gennaro Feast and it all comes down to a skirmish for the borderlines between the affluent and the working class. For the past few years, the Nolitans have taken aim at the Feast. Today, the Italians of the neighborhood are not taking it lying down. They have begun holding meetings and have formed a Facebook group called "Little Italy and San Gennaro Under ATTACK."
San Gennaro Society, 1940s: John Fratta's flickr
The Facebook group has so far been a place to vent--both grief and rage. Says one group member, "I'd love to go 'window' shopping in all these rats stores, We need a list of the complainants and there local businesses." Says another, "This is a bond that can not be broken and we need to...go forward and never stop against the yuppies. Let's send them packing."
Another asks for calm, saying, "They want us coming in like we are portrayed in movies and T.V. shows. Let them see that people who come from little Italy are a class act we are just as educated as they are if not more."
Others share letters and words of support. The group has 2,000 members so far.
Fratta's Sausage Stand: John Fratta's flickr
San Gennaro Feast boardmember John Fratta has put together a video on youtube. It is a call to arms to Italian-Americans in New York City and all across the country, not only to save the Feast, but to halt anti-Italianism everywhere--he mentions numerous feasts stopped by newcomers in Italian neighborhoods. "We have to come together as a people, once and for all," he says, "and let them know we're gonna fight you from now on. You want to come after us, we're coming right back after you now."
Advises long-time Little Italy activist Carmelo Tramantano at the beginning of the video, "You gotta have the guts to tell those people: 'Get outta here. You don't like? Get outta here.' You gotta be strong that way. Don't be gentle, you gotta be rough. Cause otherwise they're gonna take your bread and water."
click to watch in widescreen
Such fighting words stirred the community Monday night at a meeting of the Northern Little Italy Neighborhood Association, the group formed after the defeat of Shake Shack last year. As reported by Patrick Hedlund at DNAInfo, the sentiments were clear. Said one member of the association, "Nolita does not exist--it's called Little Italy. Nolita is make-believe." Said another, "If they don't like it, they can leave... The people that move in from Montana can go back to the fucking mountains and ride their horses."
"A Nuisance to Pedestrians," anti-Italian newspaper cartoon, 1888
Of course, it's not just Little Italy--the whole city has been in a culture war for the past decade at least. (The people of Little Italy call it "The Yuppie Attack.") In response, there have been blogs and books, protests, graffiti, but we've yet to see righteous anger truly take action, for a group of people to stand up, in unity, and just say "No." Maybe, if anyone can do it, the Italians can.
My hope is that they stay away from right-wing, Tea-Party rhetoric, which will only work against them, and turn back to the fierce Italian Radicalism of the early 1900s--to the spirit of the immigrants who fought for labor rights and formed mutual aid societies. This was the Italian fighting spirit brought to this country by our grandparents and great-grandparents. It was powerful, righteous, and socially responsible. The whole city needs that spirit today.
San Gennaro Feast: John Fratta's flickr
As a post-script, I keep thinking about an interview I did back in 2007 with Annie of DeRobertis Pasticceria in the East Village. She said that the new people in the neighborhood "come in and tell me I don’t know how to make cappuccino. They tell me, 'Starbucks makes it this way.' I tell them, 'I’m here before Starbucks.' ...But they want Starbucks. So I tell them, very nicely I say, So go to Starbucks."
Somehow, that sums it up.
Previous San Gennaro coverage:
Nolita vs. The Feast
First Attack in 2007