Wednesday, June 15, 2011


A.) Getting To Know Mimi (B.) N.Y.C. History (C.) Italian Harlem(D.) Spanish Harlem (E.) Black Harlem (F.) New York State (G.) Tenement Living: Social Issues Of Urban Life (Poverty, Crime&Vice, Homelessness, Group Conflicts, Diseases, Gays&Lesbians: Gender Identity, Domestic Violence, Drug&Alcohol Abuse, Police Brutality )

(H.) Chit-Chat Over Coffee Swirls

(I.) Jewish Knowledge (J.) Self-Improvement (K.) Historical Facts On England & United States

(L) Miscellaneous (M.) Timetables (N.) Ethnic Groups (O.) Legal Talk(P.) Entertainment: Backward Glances (Q.) Immigration

R.) Women__Bio Sketches, Feminine Fancies, Recipes, Kitchen Talk.(S.) Worship

(T.) A Little Taste of History, (U.) U.S. History-Transportation, (V) U.S. History-Panics, Economic Depressions, Business Matters

(W) El Rincón En Español (The Spanish Corner: ) . This section is dedicated to articles of historical facts, poetry, self-improvement, human interest stories etc. written in Spanish.

(X) So Mr. President, What Did You Do During Your Term in Office....? (The Series)

(Y) Brusciano, Italy News/Events

Dr. Antonio Castaldo, Journalist

Y) Brusciano, Italy News/Events

Dr. Antonio Castaldo, Journalist

(Z) The Italian Niche

Pensieri di uno scrittore italiano: dott. Antonio Castaldo

Thoughts of an Italian Writer: Dr. Antonio Castaldo

I) "El Rincón Borinqueña"

II) Arts and Entertainment

III Architecture

IV Education

V Wisdom: Thoughts From the Indian Masters

VI Understanding Music

VII Published Articles Written by Miriam B. Medina

Click on Icon to view articles on Ezine or on Table of Contents

VIII New York City Neighborhoods

IX Memories (Brooklyn, Manhattan and Personal)

John J. Burkard

X Red Hook, Reflections on History

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Celebrating An Italian Heritage In East Harlem, N.Y. Pt: 3 (b)

By Miriam B. Medina

(Continued from previous page)

2) The Feast of Giglio di Sant' Antonio

Originally this feast was commenced in the 1880's in the town of Brusciano, Italy, which is about 20 miles outside of Naples. Francisco Vivolo, a local resident of Brusciano, prayed to Sant'Antonio (Saint Anthony) to help heal his deathly ill son. He promised Saint Anthony that he would have a Gigli constructed in his honor and dance with it in the streets of Brusciano if his prayer should be answered, in the same manner as the town's people of Nola, Italy honored San Paolino di Nola. Vivolo's prayers were answered, and thus the dancing of the Gigli in Brusciano was commenced.

Around the early 1900's many of the families from the town of Brusciano migrated to East Harlem, New York, bringing their cherished traditions with them, including the annual Dance of the Giglio Festival in honor of Sant'Antonio.

"For those unfamiliar with the Giglio (pronounced JEEL-YO)-it is a 75 to 85 foot tall wooden structure weighing approx 8,000 lbs with a paper-mache face adorned with beloved saints and colorful flowers. On the platform just above the base of the Giglio sits a multi-piece band along with several singers. The music is an instrumental part of the dancing of the Giglio as it inspires the Lifters (also known as the '"Paranza" in Italian) to take on the burdening weight of the Giglio and band and dance it in harmony to the music being played." The lifting of the Giglio requires over a 100 men working in unity.

Members of the Vivolo family have been involved with the celebration of the Giglio Feasts in East Harlem for many years.

Francisco Vivolo had three sons and two daughters. Of the sons, Rocco was the oldest, Gioacchino was the second son, and then there was Antonio, the youngest child who was healed. According to Francisco Vivolo's great-grandson, Phil Bruno, a native of East Harlem, Rocco was the first one to come to America. He lived on Mulberry Street. He then moved to an apartment at 348 East 106th street sometime in 1906. Then Phil Bruno's grandfather, Gioacchino, came in December, 1907. Gioacchino sent for his wife and child and settled in an apartment at 2053 1st Avenue. He lived there until 1958 when the tenements were torn down. Phil Bruno also lived in that same tenement. Shortly after, the first Giglio feast was celebrated on 106th street in the year 1909. Gioaccino became the first Capo Paranza (Head of the lifters). That is a position that commands the highest respect in a Giglio celebration. Several years later in 1918, the Bruscianese society was formed with Rocco as the President. The first celebration of the Giglio feast under the Bruscianese Society administration was in 1918.

Sometime during the 20's and 30's many Giglio's were built and carried on 106th street during the feast along with a boat. The Bruscianese Society, who was running the feast on 106th street, was only able to do it until the mid 1930's.

A statue of Saint Anthony was sent to Phil Bruno's grandparents from a relative who was a priest in Brusciano. This statue was used in the feast from 1925 until 1955. It is still in his family today. Phil Bruno's grandparents sat in front of the statue during every feast that was celebrated on 106th street along with his mother, aunts and uncle until 1955, the last Giglio feast on 106th street. Then in 1957 the Giglio Feast moved to 108th street where it continued until 1971. After a 29 year hiatus the feast returned in 2000, and since then continues to be celebrated annually. It is as strong and vibrant as ever. I should know, I was there in 2010.

As he carries on a family tradition, Phil Bruno's passion for the old neighborhood and the celebration of its feasts is palpable. He has been and still is a member of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Holy Name Society. He attends the monthly communion meetings at Mt. Carmel located at 115th street. Phil is also a board member and Capo at the time of the feast, and Lieutenant for the Giglio Society of East Harlem in charge of the Giglio restoration.

Among the many contributors that have made possible the success of both feasts, Bob Maida is by far one of the greatest. His love, tireless energy and passion for the old neighborhood is strong and contagious. Bob Maida is a volunteer photographer who willingly and magnanimously has given of his time and money to capture images of the feasts with actual emotions that are impossible to communicate with words. Year after year, these images have been added to the already swollen coffers containing Italian Harlem memories.

Although many former residents from Italian Harlem have passed on, it is their children and grandchildren that continue to support the memories of the old neighborhood, preserving the culture and bonds of friendship that have been passed down from one generation to another. They have experienced the best of both worlds while proudly retaining aspects of their culture, celebrating the heritage that their ancestors once brought to their newly adopted home.

If you want to learn more about Miriam's writing, her old neighborhood's religious feasts, or if you want to see the dancing of the giglio and feel the jubilation of the moment, please visit: The
History Box
for an unforgettable experience.

To contact: or

Celebrating An Italian Heritage In East Harlem, N.Y. Pt: (3a)

By Miriam B. Medina

In the conclusion to this 3 part article, we will examine the progression of the Italian heritage and community that began and grew from East Harlem as Italian immigrants migrated to New York and assimilated into the community. In part 1 we examined the neighborhood of Italian Harlem and it's people, in part 2 we examined the importance of family, birth of the Italian community and the church to this community, now we examine the all important heritage of religious celebration that so defines this community.

Settlement of Italian Harlem

The first Italian immigrants in East Harlem arrived as early as 1878, establishing their place in the vicinity of 115th street. They hailed from Polla of the province of Salerno. The first Italians in East Harlem were employed as strike-breakers for an Irish American Contractor, J. D. Crimmins. They worked on the First Avenue Trolley Tracks when strikes occurred, infuriating the Irish workers. As a result the striking Irish workers were all fired. Great tension existed between the fired workers and the newly arrived Italians. They coexisted within blocks of each other in East Harlem. There were also numerous instances of gang violence erupting between the Irish and the Italians over turf issues.

During the 1880's, East Harlem was of great interest to New Yorkers. Masses of Italian immigrants escaping the congestion of the legendary Mulberry Bend area, with its filthy overcrowded tenements, moved to East Harlem. Italians from the regions of Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, and Sicily bypassed the lower Manhattan area, establishing communities here during the last quarter of the 19th century. Italians from the same villages and towns would huddle together in niches, limiting their associations mostly to family and fellow villagers, laying down stakes all along the streets of East Harlem. On 112th street was a settlement from Bari; on East 107th Street between First Avenue and the East River were people from Sarno (near Naples); then on East 100th Street, between First and Second Avenues, were the Sicilians from Santiago. A small group of Genovese settled south of 106th street. Neapolitans settled in the space between 106th and 108th streets. Also, there were northerners from Piscento that settled on East 100th Street and Calabrians that settled on 109th Street. They were satisfied. In this new neighborhood they were allowed to use their own language, eat their own ethnic foods, and practice their customs and religion as they did in their homeland, though there were other nationalities that lived in the adjoining streets.

The Celebration Of Religious Feasts in East Harlem

1) The Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

July 16 is the day of Italian Harlem's Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It has been the most attended feast in the entire United States. "Its popularity was ensured when in 1903 Pope Leo XIII awarded the statue a set of golden crowns (one for the Madonna and one for the child Jesus) and declared the church a basilica, a status which in the entire United States is shared only with Our Lady of Perpetual Help in New Orleans."

At the height, of the 1930's, Italian Harlem's population had reached approximately 100,000 or more. Even during the Depression years, this was the largest colony of Italian-Americans who had ever attended the festivities. Therefore, the combination of the local community along with people on pilgrimages from as far away as New Mexico, California, Florida and even Canada provided a total of circa 500,000 participants attending the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. This annual procession is the most prideful external expression of Italian Harlem's cultural identity.

Since the 1960's, there has been a steady decline in Our Lady of Mount Carmel's feast gathering, resulting from Italian people moving out of East Harlem. Nonetheless, the passion is still there, bringing back Italians year after year to worship together as they once did. Friendships are rekindled, long-lost neighbors are reunited, and neighborhood memories are revived in regards to an era that once existed. They not only come to the feast, but they come back to the church to attend the novenas which are prayed in Italian or to celebrate a particular Mass for the dead. Over the years, a new group of participants has given impetus to the "Our Lady of Mount Carmel" feast, which is sponsored and produced by Italian Americans. The Haitians have been coming in pilgrimage to East Harlem from many areas within New York and from other states. These Haitians are familiar with the location of the Church of "Our Lady of Mount Carmel." Many of them visit the Church because of their French Mass, held on the first Saturday of every month. They seek spiritual guidance and the Blessed Mother's intervention on their behalf. "Elizabeth McAlister, a graduate fellow at Yale University who has been studying the festival, says the growing number of Haitians who have been participating since the 1980's see the Madonna through the prism of both Roman Catholicism and Afro-Haitian traditions."

Last year was the 126th annual procession with many more to come.

To be continued: Part 3B

To contact: or

Celebrating An Italian Heritage In East Harlem, N.Y. Pt. 2 (b)

By Miriam B. Medina

(Continue from the previous page)

Italian Immigration To America

Industrialization and the establishment of the factory system throughout America offered promise of employment to the destitute masses in Europe. Most industrialists in America depended on cheap European labor to man the factories. Meanwhile during the 1800's, Harlem was developing all sorts of transportation projects in an effort to promote northward expansion. America was expanding, growing, and integrating itself from one community to the other. In Harlem, these transportation projects attracted many immigrant wage laborers from many different ethnic cultures, mostly during the 1880's and 1890's.

Between the years of 1876-1924, more than 4.5 million Italians arrived in the United States. Many settled in the Mulberry Bend neighborhood of lower Manhattan, others fanned out across the country. The vast majority of Italian Immigrants who remained in Mulberry Bend were extremely poor and lived in appalling conditions.

Worship and Its Conflicts for the Early Italian Immigrant

Worship was extremely valuable to the Italian community. They were overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. Having the right to worship in their neighborhood wasn't easy. Most of the established Catholic churches within East Harlem were already accommodating the spiritual needs of the Irish population that dominated the area at that time. In the United States, the Church has always catered to the Irish as an institution, though it ministered to other European immigrant nationalities as well. Early Italian immigrants were considered a minority and treated as second class. Since they were not Americanized or couldn't speak English as the Irish did, they and their spiritual needs were overlooked because they were seen as foreigners.

As Italians began arriving by the thousands, flooding East Harlem mostly between the early 1880's and 1920's, many would flock to the Catholic churches in the area. "When the Italian families appeared to attend services in the predominantly Irish parishes they were subjected to a barrage of insults and even beatings." These early immigrant families, exceedingly poor, living under appalling conditions in a crowded slum-like district, earning the lowest wages from the least skilled jobs, were denied the opportunity to celebrate mass or partake of Holy sacraments in the sanctuary. Their worship was restricted to church basement services or a first floor apartment, when they were able to get a priest who spoke their language.

Meanwhile in 1882 the natives of Polla, a city in the Province of Salerno in Italy, began gathering to celebrate their hometown patroness, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, in East Harlem. The feast is held on July 16. This religious event was humbly initiated in the front yard of a residence at East 110th Street and First Avenue.

As a result of the feast, which grew each year, a sense of community began to grow. A local emerging political figure by the name of Antonio Petrucci was instrumental in fanning the flame of passion. He organized a club called "Congregazione del Monte Carmelo." He also assisted the Italian Immigrants in finding a place where they could worship. The rental of a first floor apartment on East 111th Street, just west of First Avenue, became the chapel of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. It is said that Petrucci even bought a statue of her, a replica of the one venerated in Polla, which was imported from Italy. The figure was dressed in extremely brocaded robes. The statue's light weight structure made it possible for her to be carried in the procession of the feast.

Reverend Emiliano Kirner, a Pallottine Father, was the first priest that was sent in May of 1884 to specifically cater to the Italian community of East Harlem's spiritual needs. Mass was celebrated at the chapel for the first time in 1884 on Easter Sunday.

Father Emiliano Kirner played a pivotal role in encouraging the Italian Immigrants to provide the Madonna with a decent home, a church. The Italians were fired up by the suggested project. Land was purchased at 115th Street, the foundation was laid in September, and by the beginning of December, the lower church in the basement was finished and ready for service. Nonetheless, the Italian communities were thrilled because it was "their parish." The upper part of the church was finished in 1887. This church was literally built by Italian craftsmen after coming home from their arduous jobs with the help of Father Kirner, who joined the workforce.

In part 3 of this series we will examine the all important progression of the celebration of religious feasts by the Italian community of East Harlem.

To be continued: Part 3a

If you want to learn more about Miriam's writing, her old neighborhood's religious feasts, or if you want to see the dancing of the giglio and feel the jubilation of the moment, please visit: The
History Box
for an unforgettable experience.

To contact: or


Celebrating An Italian Heritage In East Harlem, N.Y. Pt: (2a)

By Miriam B. Medina

Nonna and the Importance of Family

Let's not forget the traditional Sunday family gathering at nonna's house in the old neighborhood. Hmmmm...delizioso. The inviting aromas of freshly made pasta and homemade meatballs and sausages greeted you as you entered her kitchen. While they cooked, nonna would simmer her remarkable home-made sauce in a pan, adding basil and garlic. The nonna (an Italian grandmother) is an extraordinarily unique person in the lives of her family. Boy could she cook. Everything she put on the table was made from scratch, no matter how long it took, she loved every minute of it. She could tell when the spices were just right by sight and taste, how dough looked when it was ready for the raviolis, pastas and lasagna, creating a variety of delicious Italian dishes from the old country, enjoyed with a nice bottle of home-made wine.

"Mangia, Mangia" (eat, eat) she would say, standing by the table with a smile on her face, watching her children devour everything. It was a delightful moment for her. Nothing was ever left on the plate, especially after the crusty bread wiped it clean. The satisfied look on her family's faces was all the reward that she needed for a hard day's work.

The nonna has always devoted her life to her husband and children. Her Italian heritage brought her immense pride. She tried to instill in her children and grandchildren those same family values and traditions that were held sacred in the old world. She could not understand why her children were so different from her when this was not the way she raised them. Their ways of thinking, their lack of respect, their dress, their lifestyle practices, their choices of recreation and entertainment, and above all, failure to preserve the Italian language unsettled her terribly. They had become so Americanized, which sometimes created conflicts between them. In her broken English she would express her displeasure. They would roll their eyes, responding annoyingly: "Ma', you're in America now, not in Italy. Give it a rest." Nonetheless, she passionately loved her family and cared very much about her fellow-man. The nonna was an instrument of Italian tradition and culture.

At the end of the day in the quietness of her room, nonna would sit by her dimly lit lamp, eyes closed, a picture of sweet serenity, praying with her rosary beads in hand. Bringing her rosary beads to her lips to kiss them, she would wipe her tears and bend her head again, moving her lips in silent prayer to the Madonna, asking her blessing for her family's well-being.

Tearing of the Fabric

The advent of the public housing projects after World War II disrupted the peaceful life and relationships of thousands of Italian Harlem residents, demolishing the tenements which housed them. The demolition of block after block began tearing apart the interwoven fabric of Italian Harlem. Not only were the tenements demolished but 1500 retail stores, mostly owned by Italians, were run out of business, leaving 4,500 people without jobs. Only three notable Italian owned businesses from that era, Patsy's Pizzeria, Rao's Restaurant (where famous celebrities still dine) and Claudio's Barbershop are still operating to this day. Thus, a steady migration of Italian Americans began moving away from East Harlem. The split became unbearable for many families and close friends, torn apart to make way for progress. Others, benefiting from the improvement in the American economy, moved from East Harlem to the suburban areas of New York City.

So now I ask you "How did this neighborhood of East Harlem become known as Italian Harlem and why have the Italian religious feasts such as our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Feast of the Dance of the Giglio become so important for this neighborhood? A question we will try to answer as we move forward.

To be continued on next page Part II (2b)