Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Gennaro Class War

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


Bowery Boogie said...

Shame. People just want the happy meal, devoid of any culture.

Erika said...

The conservatism of Italian and Irish-Americans are traditional, but in some ways detrimental to the fight against gentrification, I think. Other immigrant groups, while also culturally conservative, tend to side with pro-immigrant rights and leftist organizations. If we immigrants and descendants of immigrants could all band together instead of split apart and fight against each other, it would be fantastic.

diehipster said...

Tell me. What's the friggin point of moving to New York and NOT appreciating, maintaining and respecting what's been here forever? The hipsters and yupsters are such homogenized boring nasally robots. Every "nabe" (who the hell says nabe?) that they take over ends up filled with restaurants, bars, and boutiques that only cater to other snarky, smug, fly-over state pseudo creative crowd. They believe they are full of culture yet are the most cultureless people ever. I pray this disease ends but I wouldn't hold my breath. I'd love to smack these yups that can't let a 2 week feast exist while they have 50 other weeks to play in their new playground. F these people already.

BrooksNYC said...

Glad the community is taking this to the mat, and sad that it should have to. Sad 'n' angry — my default settings nowadays.

Thanks, J, for following this.

Matt said...

Oh whatever. San Gennaro is a bottomless pit of suck and noise/rodent smorgasboard that has practically nothing to do with the neighborhood, old or new. It's the same sad flotilla of Italian sausage-Mozzarepa-tube sock vendors that work the summer "street fairs" all over the city. And the poor working-class Italian holdouts of Little Italy? Did well for themselves and moved out to Long Island a generation ago. There's a dwindling few old-timers left in rent-controlled apartments. For them, have a festival, yes, but limit it to neighborhood vendors, a few days, a few blocks.

Anonymous said...

It's not just NOLITA (whatever that is) that is against the San Gennaro festival. It's the residents of Little Italy as well.

Most of the restaurant leasers, employees, and property owners down here who are making the most vocal opposition to changes to their festival do not live in the neighborhood. Most live in Jersey or Long Island. The people who work the fairs are also not from the neighborhood. They are part of a company that is hired out to all the street fairs of the city making fried oreos and other garbage. The people who make money from this festival like to claim the neighborhood as their own but have no stake in the community short of their own profits.

The restaurants, bars, and shops on those 2-3 blocks of Little Italy are dedicated to ripping off tourists and contributing nothing to the unfortunate people who live in the buildings. They offered us a 10% discount at the restaurants when their summer street festivals happen every summer weekend.

Fried oreos and undercooked sausage isn't much of a culture. I can appreciate the actions of the church and their traditions but that is a minuscule part of the festival. It's the equivalent to Jersey shore being described as Italian culture. Don't get confused.

Native Born New Yorker, Italian, Resident of Little Italy

Laura Goggin Photography said...


Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous Italian-American born in New York: you are wasting your breath. Everything you say makes sense, but don't bother. Yes, San Gennaro sucks, and it sucked in the 90s, and in the 80s, and in the 70s (that's as far back as my memory goes.) But for Jeremiah, once the shiny boutiques for rich people get involved, he sees red, and is unable to think straight. That he is reduced to defending this absurd, eternal B&T shitshow as "culture" would be funny, if it weren't sad too, because he makes good points elsewhere.

Crazy Eddie said...

I have very mixed emotions on the San Gennaro festival. As I had posted earlier, the really cool feast was the Feast of Saint Anthony on Sullivan Street, back in the day. If the opposition was only coming from such residents as you, Native Born New Yorker, Italian Residents of Little Italy, it would be a slam dunk. However, I have an instinctive vile reaction to any PR that comes from the Yunnie Scum, Euro Trash crowd. Anyone, that’s the opinion of this Irish/Sicilian, born and raised and still living in Stuy Town.

And is Snooki really a paisan? Or is she an orphaned black bear cub that was separated from its hunted mother?

Feast goes to houston said...

Anonymous get some balls and state your name is it lillian or is it micheal

Jeremiah Moss said...

yes, many of the residents, some of them longtime residents, don't want the feast, and they have joined forces with the Nolita businesses. but this wasn't a war until about 2007, after the Nolita businesses moved in and started shaking things up. they have the socioeconomic clout to make it happen.

Crazy Eddie said...

FYI. Sort of related issues to this tread, possible new treads?


Davide-NYC said...


I'm sorry, but some residents of the area (I don't know what to call it anymore) have been fighting "la bestia" since before 2001, when I was living on Elizabeth Street.


Anonymous said...

I lived in Little Italy for a long time, back when it was a much larger, and authentic, neighborhood. Pale shadow of its past though it may be, I'm all foiling the yuppie onslaught in any way possible...

Anonymous said...

Most vendors grift the unknowing patrons, and that's why the Little Italians are now in NJ and SI and bought their McMansions.