Browsing through the Little Italies all over the US: meet Ray Guarini and the Italian Enclaves Historical Society

In giro per le Little Italies di tutti gli Stati Uniti: Ray Guarini e la Italian Enclaves Historical Society

Jan 17, 2023 514 ITA ENG

There are projects in the Italian American world that are not connected to one local community, but rather contain them all, telling a particularly important theme that has characterized throughout the United States the stories of our compatriots.

The protagonist of this interview is Raymond Guarini, a fantastic and very proud Italian American who is in the process of documenting all over the US the Little Italies and the areas that have represented for Italians who emigrated to America the places where they could find themselves, survive and slowly and laboriously grow in the new world. Our thanks to Ray for his work is as enormous as his love for Italy.

Hi Ray, welcome to We the Italians. First of all, tell me about you and your Italian heritage

I am from Brooklyn, NY. I am currently a managing director of a private equity firm in NYC. I have been intrigued by the diaspora of Italians in America since I was a youngster. I am third generation. My family comes from Campania, mostly from Grottaminarda, which is a town right outside of Avellino. A little over ten years ago, I started documenting Italian neighborhoods by showcasing the business’ storefronts, churches, and any other physical characteristics that could reference the heritage of the people who lived in these places. I started a Facebook page about six years ago to showcase my photos. The page quickly grew so I was inspired to create an Instagram account as well. Both social media accounts began to grow. People started sharing their photos with me. Many like-minded people started to gravitate towards Italian Enclaves. One day, in discussing the need to fund further growth to be able to establish an online catalogue of each Italian neighborhood and church, with the help of a friend and current board member, I arrived at the conclusion that we would form a nonprofit to help effectuate the financing needed to continue educating the public about Italian enclaves, churches and customs.

And this is when you founded the Italian Enclaves Historical Society

With the help of several other passionate and talented folks, we formed a board of directors and established our mission as creating a website which would document each Italian enclave and church since the mid 1800’s. I was naïve. This was a far greater task than I ever could imagine. Since I began documenting these places, I continued to learn of places that were not formerly known to me. Over time, we have accumulated through intense research, a tabulation of roughly 440 enclaves and almost as many churches. The list has kept growing, much less so in the last year or so because we think we are close to having identified each and every Italian settlement, or enclave.  

Who are your companions on this journey?

If you check our website you can see our amazing board of directors. We are extremely fortunate to have a stellar board and advisory board for Italian Enclaves. Passion is contagious, evidently. This is all volunteer. We are so grateful to also have Umberto Mucci on our advisory board as well. Umberto, you deserve acknowledgement for your incredible work in maintaining union between Italy and the US.

How many neighborhoods and churches are on your site so far?

We have 392 enclaves on the site with quite a few more listed offsite being compiled into our database for upload this year. The site also lists 293 Italian National parishes in the US but there are definitely more offline as well pending our final work this year.

Please tell us about your activities

My activities include traveling to neighborhoods and churches to photograph them. I manage the organization and conduct board meetings. It’s a lot of delegating and coordinating with the other members to aggregate our information and keep it updated offline to eventually upload and publish on our site when we feel that we have the nearest thing to a complete body of work.

Thanks to this wonderful association, I am sure you have had the opportunity to discover places and stories you did not know. Is there one, or maybe more than one, that caught your attention in particular way, and that you would like to share with our readers?

Out of all the places that I have discovered, there are a few that are very special to me, but two in particular really stand out. Kansas City’s “Little Italy” also known as Columbus Park, was a really great experience. The neighborhood does not have a lot remaining but as luck should have it, I was greeted by someone who was as eager about what I was doing as I was. I was given an impromptu tour of the church, Holy Rosary, and the entire neighborhood and the businesses within it. This made my trip there so much greater. I flew to Missouri to see “The Hill” in St. Louis, and then rented a car and drove across the entire state to Kansas City. It was definitely a soul-searching experience that paid tremendous rewards by the people I met and the knowledge I was able to obtain.

The other standout Italian enclave in the United States that I really enjoy is San Francisco’s Little Italy called “North Beach.” This is a pretty large geographic area which can also encompass Fisherman’s Warf, which was more of a commercial section of North Beach. This area had a lot of businesses remaining and a beautiful church. The heart of the neighborhood sits on the top of a large hill that overlooks San Francisco with a 360 degree panoramic view where an extremely large statue of Christopher Columbus stands proudly. The people in North Beach have been tremendously supportive of Italian enclaves, particularly the San Francisco Athletic Club and the owner of Caffe Trieste.

How can We the Italians readers help you? Is there a way to subscribe and/or donate to the Italian Enclaves Historical Society?

Our growth is rapidly increasing at this moment in time and we expect the momentum to continue indefinitely. We launched a membership platform last year and immediately saw a very large support of new members. We offer an individual membership, business membership, and student membership. If joining as a recurring member is not a good fit, we also offer a donate button on our main page for someone who wishes to make a one-time tax-deductible donation to our 501c3 organization.

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