Riddle me this. What is Chicago lacking that San Francisco, San Diego and Boston aren’t? This column is going to digress just a little from the Roseland/Pullman/Kensington theme and go with the topic of our heritage. Diminished neighborhoods whether through racial changes, younger family members moving to the suburbs, or urban sprawl, as in the ever expanding University of Illinois at Chicago Circle Campus, have led to a lack of cohesion in maintaining our Italian ethnic connections to our past. One way to do our part in maintaining those connections is by considering the efforts of our friend, Dominic Candeloro.
Dominic has been putting a major effort into the establishment of an Italian American Studies program at Loyola University. The centerpiece of an Italian American Studies program would be an endowed, tenured professor who would research, preserve and promote Italian American culture. Dominic is fundraising to establish this chair at Loyola and I found a reason to wholeheartedly agree with him.
Recently, I visited my son James and my daughter-in-law Heather in Newport, R.I., where he is attending the master’s program at the Naval Warfare College. One of the walks we took was following Boston’s Freedom Trail, which began at the USS Constitution as a red-brick path in the middle of the sidewalk and ambled through the city, highlighting historic places. One of the places was the Home of Paul Revere, which happens to be across the street from Sacred Heart Italian Church, which was begun by the Scalabrinian Order, just as our St. Anthony’s on Kensington Avenue was.
We walked a few more blocks and found ourselves in Boston’s Little Italy, where we bought a freshly made Italian sub sandwich before moving on a few more blocks to Mike’s Pastries for a few cannolis. Our next stop was a four-block walk out of Little Italy to Boston Common’s Park, where we sat on the grass and had our Italian feast.
That trip recalled the time I visited San Francisco with my son a few years ago. My son did a condo exchange and we stayed in a condo in the Knob Hill neighborhood. We had great views and were down the block from the ‘Four Hotels’ area where Caruso had stayed during the 1908 earthquake.
Of all the sights we saw and things we did, the best was to take part in a walking tour that took us through Little Italy and began with an Italian breakfast of espresso and a pastry and ended with a visit to an Italian pizza bakery down the street from Joe DiMaggio’s Restaurant. In the ensuing days, as we toured the city, we found ourselves drawn to the Little Italy neighborhood for dining.
One of the interesting things about San Francisco’s Little Italy — it’s across the street from the Chinese part of town: as always the Italians and the Chinese, my kid’s two ethnicities.
Being a Navy town, I’ve visited San Diego numerous times. Every time I’ve visited, my son and I have had a meal or two in San Diego’s Little Italy. That area stretches for about a mile and is full of restaurants for every size pocketbook. The residents can be heard on the sidewalk conversing in Italian as they stand outside art galleries and Italian grocery stores, restaurants and delis. One of the best events we attended was a blocks long street market on a Saturday morning where we found plenty of Italian vegetables.
The answer to the riddle: A Little Italy that is more than two delis, four restaurants, and two pizzerias!
Due to Circle Campus being superimposed on what was Chicago’s Little Italy, we now have University Village, which is as nondescript as its name implies. We are losing our Italian heritage and I salute the stalwart families and businesses that in Chicago’s Heart of Italy and Taylor Street are working hard to keep the Italian spirit alive. One way we can ensure that they’re documented before they’re gone forever is to step into the future by helping the cause Dominic has put before us.
I ask that you give some serious thought to offering a donation of any size, to the Loyola University Chair of Italian American Studies. Your donation would help to advance the preservation of our Italian heritage. There will come a time when that heritage will only exist digitally online and this professorship can ensure that the correct steps are taken and that the history is accurate. Our heritage is at a crossroads where our heritage can only be saved if we save it!
Consider writing a check for the price of a good Italian dinner or a day on the golf course. To memorialize your family or to honor your heritage and to ensure that your children’s children and their children will be forever able to delve into their Italian heritage pull out your checkbook. You can make your donation by going to Loyola’s donation pages online or send a check to Abby Leng, Loyola University, 820 N. Michigan Ave., Lewis Towers 1400, Chicago, IL 60611 and write Italian American Studies in the memo area. Thank you for doing your part for our common heritage.