As the New York Times reports that Little Italy is getting littler by the year, as Chinatown and "Nolita" encroach, and the number of Italian-American residents dwindles, take a look back at the way it was with Martin Scorsese's 1974 documentary film Italianamerican--in five parts on Youtube.
all images screenshots from the film
It's not only a wonderful record of an Italian-American couple (Scorsese's parents), it also provides a glimpse of Little Italy in the 1970s.
In shots mostly appearing in part two, Little Italy is a neighborhood where the streets are full of life. Fruit and vegetable peddlers sell their wares on the sidewalks where children play a game of sliding, belly-first, on sheets of cardboard. Barber poles spin and old men sit outside in chairs and on boxes to watch the human parade go by.
Catherine and Charles Scorsese tell stories about growing up in the neighborhood--about tough mothers who scrubbed the floors without complaint and fathers who worked in scaffolding, about stealing fruit from pushcarts and being a Shabbos goy.
In the beginning of part three, Catherine Scorsese talks about what happened when the Italians first came to the neighborhood, when it was still Irish territory, and the cultures clashed. She says, in defense of the Irish, "It's just like everything else, you know, they were here first. Naturally, it's just like kids when they find something, and they find it and they have it, and then somebody comes along and wants it and they say, 'No, I found it first.' Right? ... But then, they sort of, everybody got together and they made one happy family. That's all."
I can't help but think about today's territory clash in Little Italy, between the Italian-Americans and the Nolitans. In all the reporting, I haven't heard one Nolitan express the empathy and understanding that Mrs. Scorsese did in the quote above.