Preserving Our Roots: Italian Enclaves Historical Society
Growing up in a primarily Italian American town just a stone’s throw from one of the largest Italian Enclaves in the United States, I had a keen understanding of what it took for my family to come to America.
Sadly, that large Italian Enclave, the Old First Ward of Newark, is now a shadow of its former self.
“Progress,” as it was referred to then, meant a bulldozer down the middle of a vibrant Italian enclave. St. Lucy’s Church is still there, but not much else. Those with ties to that community who live nearby still attend mass at St. Lucy’s, while others that have moved away, come back every year for the Feast of St. Gerard.
That enclave may be gone, but there are plenty of other Italian enclaves that are still thriving. And the Italian Enclaves Historical Society is making sure those neighborhoods are not forgotten.
Executive Director, Raymond Guarini, began identifying and documenting Italian enclaves and Italian National parishes all over the United States. His strong sense of ancestry compelled him begin what is now an almost decade-long journey into this project. He realized in order to do this right, he would need a team. He assembled a group of very special individuals who shared his passion for Italian American culture and history.
Ray was gracious enough to talk about his project with me.
JGIR: How did the idea for Italian Enclaves Historical Society first start?
IEHS: One day I was having a conversation with a friend about some of the places that recently closed in our neighborhood and I was wondering if Italian neighborhoods elsewhere in America were seeing the same trend of demographic shifts and migrational patterns of second, third and fourth generation Italian Americans. I started on the East coast between New York, New Jersey and New England.
JGIR: How has this project grown?
IEHS: The project has grown immensely. Whereas it was a Facebook page it is now a website with a growing list of each Italian neighborhood and church. The work is all aggregated offline and is being prepared for publication as an academic text in conjunction with the information on our website. We have almost 30,000 followers on Instagram and over 20,000 followers on Facebook. We have members all across the country and it’s only growing.
JGIR: Do you focus on current Italian enclaves or do you also provide information and context of historical Italian enclaves?
IEHS: We really focus on both.
JGIR: How do you feel about the state of the Italian American community? What do you see for the future?
IEHS: I think the state of the Italian American community is good. We could definitely use more positive representations on social media and the media since the imagery is mostly negative and very stereotypical.
JGIR: How can fellow Italian Americans get involved and help? How can Italian Americans contact your organization?
IEHS: We could really use photos of old businesses or churches. Family photos. Whatever. Things that could give us some appreciation of the people and the places that characterize Italian America or being Italian American.
Thank you Ray and team for the important work you are doing. This process of documenting our history is critical to the survival and future of our community.