IF YOU SMELL GARLIC, YOU KNOW YOU’RE IN LITTLE ITALY
If you hear “Ciao Bella, come stai?” (or bello, if you are a man) and smell garlic in the street, but you are not in the Stivale, or the boot, as we call our country, there is a good chance you have ended up in one of the many Little Italy around the United States. You can read many articles about the decline of these Italian neighborhoods, and, in some senses, they have been declining. Many are smaller than before, others are less crowded, but what remains is that around these areas you can still witness some authentic aspects of Italian culture.
LITTLE ITALY, A LONG HISTORY OF IMMIGRATION
In the period surrounding1900, almost four million Italians came to the United States. Those were difficult years for our country, especially in Southern Italy where poverty and natural disasters pushed many to seek a better life in the New World. The flood of Italian immigrants was also significant after the end of World War II. The influx was so large that it became easy for Italians to build enclaves in American cities. Make no mistake, nobody left Italy with “a cuor leggero:” their choice was rarely a willed rejection of their native country. And they certainly didn’t find an easy life in America. They had to work hard to be accepted and survive in their new urban realities. So, it’s easy to understand how important it became for them to bring some aspects of their Italian life to the United States. Unable to speak English, Italian immigrants chose to live near each other to recreate an Italian way of life.
RESTAURANTS AND TRADITIONS MADE IN ITALY
Even if Little Italys may be shrinking, iconic Italian-American streets remain. You can find restaurants with different pasta dishes, cafes, Italian churches, and people sitting outside and playing cards, smoking and talking in their native dialect, just as it used to be in southern Italy. In every corner you can hear Italian music from the fifties and sixties.
IT’S NOT JUST NEW YORK
The oldest and most iconic Little Italy in the United States is of course in New York. But there are many other cities that bear important Italian tradition. In Boston or San Diego, for example, our community is very big. And let’s not forget the Little Italy in Cleveland, Ohio, where Angelo Vitantonio, an Italian immigrant, created the first pasta machine at the turn of the 20th century.