New York's Little Italy Is Disappearing

March 23, 2011

People have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, it feels like the end of an era and a sort of Asian takeover, but on the other, it's an indication that Italians have made it in America and moved beyond the "old neighborhood".

In 1950, nearly half of the more than 10,000 New Yorkers living in the heart of Little Italy identified as Italian-American. The narrow streets teemed with children and resonated with melodic exchanges in Italian among the one in five residents born in Italy and their second- and third-generation neighbors.

By 2000, the census found that the Italian-American population had dwindled to 6 percent. Only 44 were Italian-born, compared with 2,149 a half-century earlier.

A census survey released in December determined that the proportion of Italian-Americans among the 8,600 residents in the same two-dozen-square-block area of Lower Manhattan had shrunk to about 5 percent.

And, incredibly, the census could not find a single resident who had been born in Italy.

Little Italy is becoming Littler Italy. The encroachment that began decades ago as Chinatown bulged north, SoHo expanded from the west, and other tracts were rebranded more fashionably as NoLIta (for north of Little Italy) and NoHo seems almost complete.

The Little Italy that was once the heart of Italian-American life in the city exists mostly as a nostalgic memory or in the minds of tourists who still make it a must-see on their New York itinerary.


Last year, the National Park Service designated a Chinatown and Little Italy Historic District with no geographic distinction between the neighborhoods. The two neighborhoods have begun organizing a Marco Polo Day and an East Meets West Christmas Parade.

City Hall will soon further erase the boundaries.

Following the lead of three local community boards, the City Planning Commission is expected in March to approve the creation of a Chinatown Business Improvement District, which would engulf all but about two square blocks of a haven that once spanned almost 50 square blocks and had the largest concentration of Italian immigrants in the United States.

"It's really all Chinatown now," said John A. Zaccaro Sr., owner of the Little Italy real estate company, founded by his father in 1935.

Even the Feast of San Gennaro, which still draws giant crowds to Mulberry Street, may be abbreviated in size this year at the behest of inconvenienced NoLIta merchants.

The number of residents of Italian descent in the neighborhood has been declining since the 1960s, as immigration from Italy ebbed and Italian-Americans prospered and moved to other parts of the city and to the suburbs.

"When the Italians made money they moved to Queens and New Jersey, they sold to the Chinese, who are now selling to the Vietnamese and Malaysians," said Ernest Lepore, 46, who, with his brother and mother, owns Ferrara, an espresso and pastry shop his family opened 119 years ago.


Of the 8,600 residents counted by the census's American Community Survey in the heart of Little Italy in 2009, nearly 4,400 were foreign-born. Of those, 89 percent were born in Asia. In 2009, a Korean immigrant won a tenor competition sponsored by the Little Italy Merchants Association. That same year, a Chinese immigrant, Margaret S. Chin, was elected to represent the district in the City Council.

Sam Roberts. "New York's Little Italy, Littler by the Year". The New York Times, February 21, 2011.

Sacco and Vanzetti Revisited

March 16, 2011

This infamous criminal case is one of the most cited examples of "anti-Italianism" in America. In 1927, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were executed for the murders of a paymaster and a security guard during an armed robbery in Braintree, Massachusetts. There's still debate about whether they were guilty or innocent, and it's possible that one was guilty and the other wasn't, but I haven't studied the case closely, so I don't really have an opinion either way. However, few people deny that they received an unfair trial compromised by tainted evidence, and there were worldwide protests over their convictions and executions, including by prominent figures of the day like Albert Einstein, George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Upton Sinclair, John Dos Passos, Dorothy Parker, and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

While it's possible that their status as immigrants from Southern Europe could have been a factor, since it was a time in American history when foreigners and non-Northern Europeans were looked at suspiciously and unfavorably, I've seen no credible evidence of that, let alone that specifically anti-Italian prejudice played any part. What's certain is that they were anarchists and followers of Luigi Galleani, a notorious revolutionary who advocated violence, assassination and bombing. Militant anarchists were a big problem back then, kind of like militant Islamists today. President William McKinley had been assassinated by Polish-American anarchist Leon Czolgosz in 1901, and the Department of Justice had arrested and deported 500 anarchists and other alien radicals in the 1919 Palmer Raids, including Galleani and eight of his followers. So any prejudice against Sacco and Vanzetti would have been based on their political affiliations and activities more than anything else. Indeed, the judge at the trial, Webster Thayer, was an outspoken opponent of anarchism and bolshevism who made several inappropriate off-the-bench comments to that effect, for which he was criticized by the press and his peers.

But that attitude was common at the time, and the Sacco and Vanzetti case in fact has a historical precedent that's almost identical in every detail, except that everyone involved was of Northern European descent. In 1886, there was a bombing during a demonstration at Haymarket Square in Chicago, and eight anarchists (five German immigrants, a German-American, an Englishman, and a Southerner) were tried and convicted as conspirators in the death of a police officer, despite a lack of evidence against them. Four of the men were hanged, and a fifth committed suicide in prison on the eve of his scheduled execution. Their unfair treatment also generated worldwide protests, and it's thought by most that they were likely innocent. To this day, no one knows for sure who the bomber was, but speculation revolves around a number of other people, including many who weren't involved in the anarchist movement.

When you look at these parallels and the historical context, it's difficult to imagine that there was anything anti-Italian at play with Sacco and Vanzetti, but some people see only what they want to see.

More Criticism of Richard Lynn

March 5, 2011

Italian researchers have really stepped up to publish refutations of Lynn's bogus IQ study. This one follows two papers last year as well as my own critique.

In his article "In Italy, North-South differences in IQ predict differences in income, education, infant mortality, stature, and literacy," Richard Lynn claims to have found the reason causing the divergence between the Northern and the Southern regions of Italy. This article identifies the four main hypotheses formulated in his paper and presents significant evidence against each one of them. We claim that the evidence presented by the author is not sufficient to say that the IQ of Southern Italians is lower than the one of Northern Italians; that his analysis does not prove that there is any causal link between what he defines as IQ and any of the variables mentioned; that there is no evidence that the alleged differences in IQ are persistent in time and, therefore, attributable to genetic factors.

Felice and Giugliano. "Myth and reality: A response to Lynn on the determinants of Italy's North-South imbalances". Intelligence, 2011.

Ötzi the Iceman Reconstruction

March 1, 2011

This is the latest, and supposedly most accurate, reconstruction of Ötzi, a natural mummy from the Stone Age discovered 20 years ago frozen in the Italian Alps near the Austrian border. Based on new research and the latest technology, it shows that he looked much older than his age and that his eyes were brown.

Brown-eyed, bearded, furrow faced, and tired: this is how Ötzi the Iceman might have looked, according to the latest reconstruction based on 20 years of research and investigations.

Realized by two Dutch experts, Alfons and Adrie Kennis, the model was produced with the latest in forensic mapping technology that uses three-dimensional images of the mummy's skull as well as infrared and tomographic images.

The new reconstruction shows a prematurely old man, with deep-set eyes, sunken cheeks, a furrowed face and ungroomed beard and hair.

Although he looks tired, Ötzi has vivid brown eyes. Indeed, recent research on the 5,300-year-old mummy has shown that the Stone Age man did not have blue eyes as previously thought.

Believed to have died around the age of 45, Ötzi was about 1.60 meters (5 foot, 3 inches) tall and weighed 50 kilograms (110 pounds).

The model will go on display beginning March 1 to Jan. 15, 2012, at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy.

Called "Ötzi 20," the exhibition celebrates the 20th anniversary of the mummy's discovery. The Iceman's frozen body was found in a melting glacier in the Ötzal Alps — hence the Ötzi name — on Sept. 19, 1991.

Rossella Lorenzi. "The Iceman Mummy: Finally Face to Face". Discovery News, February 25, 2011.

Related: Affinity of Ancient and Modern Italians