Baltimore has a very lively Little Italy, and a promotion center that does a lot of interesting and important things to represent and promote what's Italian in "The city that reads", as once somebody nicknamed it.
The President of this Promotion center is a young successful Italian very proud of his roots. We're thankful to Gianni Andracchio for being our guest in this new interview regarding another interesting story of another Italy in another part of the US
Hi Gianni, first of all, please let us know something about the story of the Italian emigration to Baltimore
Italian emigration in Baltimore started in the late 1800’s. Over time, more and more of them came. As they came over, many of them came in larger groups who then migrated together. Some entered the US via the Port of Baltimore, and others came from New York by train. They settled in different parts of the city, but there were two neighborhoods in the city where they were prevalent – Highlandtown and Little Italy.
I grew up in Highlandtown where I was able to experience the influence and the culture that Italian-Americans brought with them. The neighborhood was full of Italian immigrants and their families. The Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Pompei was established, funded, and built by Italian-Americans. The Our Lady of Pompei school shortly followed. There were stores and shops all around the neighborhood owned and operated by Italian Americans.
In my teenage years, I started working in Little Italy where I was able to experience an even larger concentration of Italians and Italian influence over a neighborhood. The center of the community is St Leo’s Church. The St. Leo’s school was also established. Of course Little Italy is full of restaurants still owned and operated by the same families that established them when they first immigrated to Baltimore.
How would you describe Baltimore's Little Italy to those who have never been there?
Baltimore’s Little Italy is a cozy, friendly, and welcoming neighborhood. All the neighbors are like a close knit family. We really are. We all know each other. Sometimes walking to my car in the morning before work is an adventure because of all the people I run into along the way. These are the people that I have come to know and love during the past 4 years that I have lived in Little Italy and the previous 10 years working here. They welcomed me in as part of the neighborhood.
But not only are we welcoming to residents; we love visitors! We want people to come visit Little Italy. Little Italy is very well known for its popular restaurants serving authentic Italian cuisine. And while we are very proud to have so many restaurants that were established long ago with great reputations, there is so much more in Little Italy than restaurants. We have bocce leagues, several festivals throughout the year, a film festival in the summer, an Italian language school, several shops and salons, St Leo’s church, other landmarks, and so much more.
You are the President of the Advisory Board of the Promotion Center for Little Italy. Please, tell us more about this organization
The Promotion Center for Little Italy was established 8 years ago as a non-profit organization that wanted to promote the neighborhood of Little Italy to people outside of Little Italy to attract them down to the neighborhood to support all of our businesses, organizations, our church, and our neighborhood as a whole.
Our goal is also to preserve the Italian-American culture in the neighborhood. As the city grows, there is also increased real estate development in and around Little Italy. While we embrace the development, we want to make sure we preserve our Italian American foundation that was brought here over a century ago.
The Promotion center organizes several events during the year …
Yes, that is true. Our most prominent events are our two annual social events in the spring and fall. We try to use a different themes for each of our social events. This past fall was a Wine Tasting which was very popular.
However, rather than organizing several events ourselves, we were established to help promote all the other events that occur in Little Italy organized by the Church, the businesses, and the organizations. The biggest events of the year held in Little Italy are our two Italian Festivals and our two Ravioli Dinners. St Anthony Festival is held in June. St Gabriel Festival is held in August. The Ravioli dinners are usually held in October and April. These are 4 events that help to raise significant money for the church. Other significant events are the summer film festival every Friday in July and August and the Columbus Day parade in October.
I understand that St. Leo's church is very important for the community, am I right?
St. Leo’s Church really is the center of the community. The weekend masses are very well attended, which is the first sign of a great relationship between church and community. While many churches have good attendance numbers, our residents go beyond mass attendance. We have so many volunteers who help the church with all functions sponsored by the church.
As I stated before, the biggest events are our festivals and dinners. We have hundreds of volunteers who donate their time to help with these events in one way or another. But there are also so many other occasions where the church does what it can to help the community, and volunteers step up to help. My wife likes to get together with other members of the community to help make pizzelle for the bake sales. She also cooks casseroles and dishes that she donates to the church who then brings them to food shelters in the city. The church holds dinners throughout the year, especially during Thanksgiving and Christmas.
There are so many ways the church integrates itself into the community, and the community really feels a sense of pride belonging to this parish. My relationship with God has grown over the past few years mainly due to the relationship I have developed with St. Leo’s church and parish.
Baltimore's Little Italy also has a Columbus Piazza, and every October there is a Columbus Day Parade. How do you feel about the attacks against Columbus that seem to grow year by year in the US?
Yes, Little Italy does have a Columbus Piazza. It was established and dedicated in 1984. And we hold an annual Columbus Day Parade. We believe it is the longest running Columbus Day Parade in the country at over 125 years.
Italians are a very proud people. When we first immigrated to the United States, we earned the reputation for being hard workers. At times, we were discriminated against, and life was very hard. However, we persevered. Now, I can’t speak for all Italian-Americans, so my opinion on the Columbus attacks may be different than others. I try to be open-minded, and I want to hear other opinions. However, in my opinion, Columbus Day has become less of a day to celebrate the discovery of the new world, and more of a day to celebrate Italian American culture. I am very much in favor of preserving and recognizing the many accomplishments and contributions of Italian-Americans to our culture and society. Christopher Columbus has become a symbol of perseverance and accomplishment. Columbus Day is a day that we Italian Americans celebrate all the contributions that Italian Americans have made to our society. I can run down a long list of names of people who have contributed in science, politics, music, arts, sports, history, and so many more. Columbus Day celebrates those important people in our culture who must never be forgotten.
After a very important meeting, in December the Baltimore City Council voted to keep Columbus Day, rejecting the proposal to cancel it in favor of an Indigenous Day. Do you have any suggestion for other Italian American communities all over the US that eventually will have to face the same situation?
My biggest piece of advice to all the Italian American communities around the country is to have a unified voice. We did not have a unified voice. We have several Italian American organizations in and around the city of Baltimore. Representatives of several of these organizations had conversations with several councilmen. However, each of these representatives had different perspectives. We tried our best to get unified very quickly. Luckily, we were able to organize just enough that we prevented the vote from passing.
As a result, we will soon be organizing a council of unity on Italian American affairs. This council will invite all organizations who have Italian American interests to participate. In addition, my advice is to not make this council too formal. It doesn't need to be too bureaucratic. It just needs to be a group of people that can represent all Italian Americans in your city who can come together quickly whenever something needs to be discussed.
Is there a new flow of Italians who come to live in Baltimore these days?
There does not seem to be a large new flow of Italians who have come to live in Baltimore. However, there does seem to be a new flow of people who are passionate about Italy and Italian culture. There is a growing number of people who want to experience more about the Italian way of life. Italian food is and has always been popular. However more people want to speak Italian, listen and dance to Italian music, learn about Italian history, and even live in Little Italy.
There are many new residents in Little Italy from the new generation. Some are descendants of the original settlers. Others are brand new to the area. But all love the close-knit neighborhood and all it has to offer.
How is Made in Italy in Baltimore? Do Italian products arrive to the Little Italy, and can Italy do more to make this happen?
Made in Italy products are very highly perceived in Baltimore. These products are of high class and high quality and great workmanship. However, not many Italian products arrive to Little Italy. I’m not sure if demand is too low or pricing is too high, or if businesses don’t see opportunities in Little Italy. Personally, I would love to see more Made in Italy products brought and sold in Little Italy. It would become an even bigger draw to the neighborhood. It would definitely increase appeal to the neighborhood, help preserve the Italian culture in America, and to add a modern Italian flare to the neighborhood.
Italy can probably do more to make this happen. I am sure there are ways for the Italian government to provide financial incentives to companies who promote and sell Made in Italy products. Also, the Italian government can provide marketing support for those products. I would be overjoyed to see this happen to bring more Made in Italy products to Baltimore.
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