A day to look back at the past. It felt fitting to visit NYC’s ‘Little Italy’ with my Town Ambassador Award, to go back to where it all started for many immigrants coming from all over Italy (and the world). A neighbourhood that has become a symbol of an everlasting connection to far away roots, something that as the same descendants of those immigrants, we all hold on to with love and care.
No matter how deep those roots are we always find our way back.
One award, many stories…
The backdrop for this photo is Mulberry Street in the heart of ‘Little Italy’. Arguably the most famous of the ‘Little Italies’, it became home to nearly 10,000 Italian immigrants by 1910 and is representative of many Italian communities throughout the country during that era.
Immigrants coming from different regions in Italy settled on different streets in lower Manhattan. The Sicilians congregated on Elizabeth Street, the Genovese on Baxter Street, the Northern Italians on Bleecker Street and the Neapolitans on Mulberry Street, known as ‘the Italian Wall Street’ for all the banks which assisted in Italians saving and sending home their earnings.
Less than two miles away downtown was Castle Garden, America’s first immigration station between 1855 and 1890 and Ellis Island, the nation’s busiest immigrant inspection station from 1892 to 1954.
A paper thin suitcase and a heart full of hope
By 1870, there were about 25,000 Italian immigrants in America. Italian Immigration to America increased to over 4 million by 1924 and Italian-Americans now represent the fifth-largest ethnic group in the country.
For the majority of Italian-Americans today, Ellis Island is the first chapter of their family’s story in the United States, including my own family from Puglia, Sicily and Lazio.
By the early 1900s, the Italian immigrant population had already begun to spread out to other cities upon their arrival and to more spacious suburbs of New York City such as Brooklyn and the Bronx. Many of the Sonninese settled in Philadelphia, Syracuse, Pittsfield and Boston, including the suburb of Quincy where my great-grandmother (from Sonnino) and great-grandfather (from Fondi) lived. My great-grandfather arrived at Ellis Island in 1910, travelled first to Pittsfield and soon after to Boston where my great-grandmother arrived the following year.
Why am I telling this story from New York City?
In addition to the significance of family passing through the gates at Ellis Island, I’m telling this story from New York City because it is where both my parents and I are from. I can go on describing the great Italian-American neighbourhoods where we were raised, but that’s for another story.