Some realistic ‘Little Italy’ memories

I was born and raised on Eagle Street, the borderline of Fredonia’s “Little Italy”. “Little Italy” ran from Eagle Street to Prospect Street, and from Main to the end of Eagle and the connecting streets in between, not just Eagle Street! Some people would also include large swaths of Liberty and Water Streets, but the creek was a divider, so most do not, even though large populations of hardworking Italians lived there.

Yes, hardworking; factory workers, farmers, business owners. Most of our Mothers were homemakers, but not all, and our Fathers were generally pretty strict, especially with their daughters. It was a very Middle Class neighborhood, not poor, not populated by “people with a lack of ability or ambition” or suffering from “Alcoholism”. Why do I feel the need to say that? I say that to counteract the ridiculous comments made by Pete Howard referring to “Little Italy” exactly like that in his column of April 13. We were an inclusive neighborhood, with families of Blacks and Puerto Ricans sprinkled among us, accepted and treated like everyone else. That was my “Little Italy”.

I grew up with quite a bit of prejudice, with lots of negative stereotypes directed at Italians, and insulting names the equivalent to the word directed at Blacks. Fredonia didn’t even allow Italians to join the Fire Department until the mid ’60s, if I recall. We did have a deserved reputation for having a lot of tough guys in the neighborhood, and we did.

Prejudice can create that, but so does pride of heritage and hard work. We weren’t weak, not most of us, and we did not tolerate disrespect like that exhibited in the insulting and false diatribe of April 13, and yes, it was insulting! My “Little Italy,” my neighborhood, was filled with flowered and manicured front lawns, small patches of grass in the back for barbecues and other family time, but mostly gardens, productive and amazing gardens, including sometimes rows of grapes for making wine, and lots of fruit trees.

Our families conversed on front porches, many times late into the night, drinking coffee, sometimes a glass of homemade wine. Everyone pretty much knew everyone. Many younger people got married and moved into apartments right around the corner from their parents, at least at first. Our grandparents often lived with us as well, enriching our lives beyond measure. It certainly was not the home of poor people with no money, as implied. I might add, the writer never lived there, nor spent much time there, and his article paints such a false picture of Eagle Street and Little Italy it has to be considered a work of fiction.

I thought that the prejudice had stopped until I read the false and misleading article. There were no waterfalls in that creek anywhere near our neighborhood boundaries, and certainly no migrants bathing in it! Our playground was as well or even better equipped than any playground in the village, not filled with the rusty and broken down equipment listed. That’s just NOT true. His description of the residents in that neighborhood, especially the girls, is also as wrong as could be, and in my opinion, lifted from the opening 5 minutes of the movie, “A Bronx Tale”, and filled with stereotypes. No red lipstick, and CERTAINLY no Brylcreem!!! He was clearly describing the ’50’s, not the 60’s. And those two thinly disguised boys, at least to anyone who lived in “Little Italy”, were NOT Italian, were not even native to Fredonia, and rented a small apartment for a FEW years, that’s it, certainly they or their mother not representative of anyone native to that neighborhood.

Were there poor people in Fredonia, struggling to survive? Yes, I’m sure there were. Were there families in Fredonia damaged or destroyed by alcoholism? I’m just as sure of that as well. That being said, for Pete Howard to single out Italians, “Little Italy” and support that with the prejudice and falsehoods so prevalent in his article, was insulting, and deserves a serious and sincere apology, with no provisos, not a one.

Limits on length prevent me from contradicting more of his fictional writing exercise, though it could be done quite easily by anyone who was actually lucky enough to be raised in my neighborhood, “Little Italy”.

Paul Christopher is a former proud resident of “Little Italy.”


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