Connecticut Most Italian State
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Connecticut, the purported birthplace of pizza in America, has overtaken neighboring Rhode Island as the state with the highest percentage of Italian-Americans, census figures show.
Some 16.4 percent of Connecticut residents listed Italian as their primary ancestry, edging Rhode Island at 15.9 percent and New Jersey with 15.4 percent. The results are from the Census Bureau's supplemental survey, distributed last spring to 700,000 homes nationwide.
Rhode Islanders seemed reluctant to accept the runner-up spot.
``I don't believe it,'' said Carol Gaeta, second-generation owner of Scialo Bros. Bakery in the Federal Hill neighborhood of Providence, where gondolas ply city canals. ``It can't be true.''
Added Mayor Vincent ``Buddy'' Cianci Jr.: ``They may live in Connecticut, but they come to Federal Hill to eat.''
In Connecticut, New Haven's Wooster Street is the epicenter of the state's Italian population. Thousands of immigrants from the southern town of Amalfi settled between 1890 and 1930 in New Haven, which claims to be the birthplace of pizza in America.
But even Laura Consiglio Fantarella, the third-generation owner of Consiglio's Restaurant on Wooster Street, is surprised Connecticut is the most Italian state.
``I would've thought it was New Jersey or New York,'' she said. ``I don't think many people, when they think of Connecticut, think about Italians.''
The Italian community in both states has been stable since a huge wave of immigration during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
``It's not like we're losing a ton of Italians,'' Cianci said. ``We're gaining so many people from other parts of the world, and Italians now make up a smaller percentage of the population.''
Rhode Island gave the country its first Italian-American senator - John Pastore, also the first U.S. governor of Italian ancestry.
Most of the state's new immigrants are Hispanics, who have replaced Italians in many neighborhoods. In the kitchen at Scialo Bros. Bakery, the dominant language is now Spanish.
``My sister and I are the only Italians left,'' said Gaeta, arranging trays of cookies for a wedding. ``But this is still an Italian bakery, and it always will be.''
THE MOST ITALIAN STATE IN THE NATION? GUESS.
December 30, 2001 - - Connecticut hardly conjures up images of ravioli or cannoli. But according to the 2000 Census, Connecticut has more residents claiming to be of Italian origin per capita than any other state in the nation.
Walk across Vernon Street from the Trinity College campus in Hartford to a three-story brownstone, a former fraternity house, and you are technically on Italian soil.
Except for the red, green and white Italian flag out front, you would never know this is the Vice Console Onorario d'Italia, one of only 10 Italian consulates in the nation.
The building was given rent-free for an indefinite period for use by the Italian consulate.
''Why are we here in Hartford and Connecticut?,'' said Riccardo F. Ambrogio, the honorary vice consul. ''Because we have an enormous number of Italian nationals in the area. We are the official diplomatic liaison for these resident aliens.
''Dr. Ambrogio, an Italian - American oral surgeon who practices in the Hartford area, where he was reared from childhood, said he was not surprised that one in five Connecticut residents who completed census forms claim some Italian heritage.
Dr. Ambrogio said a group of Italian - American residents, led by the developer Tony Aurtorino, is raising money to help build a 10,000-square-foot Italian Cultural Center on the Trinity College campus.''I'm spear-heading the fund-raising,'' Mr. Aurtorino said. ''Hopefully I won't be the only one involved. But I think we're on track.''
Mr. Aurtorino said the proposed center would cost $5 million, and he said he was aiming to raise half by the end of next year. He said that when the building is completed, in four or five years, the vice consulate will also occupy the space in the building.
Dr. Ambrogio said the proposed center would also include a library and media center, offices for Italian history professors and Italian language classes for kindergarten through the eighth grade.''This will be really great,'' Dr. Ambrogio said, ''considering that the first Italians at Trinity were the stonemasons who built it in the 1800's. It took a while before they were finally admitted as students.
''The influence of Italian-Americans runs deep in the state.''The University of Connecticut was the first school in the United States to offer a doctoral in Italian - American history. Ella Grasso was not only of Italian origin, but the first woman to be elected governor in the country,'' Dr. Ambrogio said. ''Ann Uccello was the first woman mayor of Hartford.'' Ms. Uccello served as mayor from 1968-70.Gennaro Capobianco, the owner of a Hartford funeral business, has been collecting historic materials on Italian-Americans in Connecticut for more than 40 years.
''I always thought a third of the state was Italian of one degree or another,'' he said. ''As a funeral home, I've done 150 different ethnic groups, so I should know.''Mr. Capobianco has a list of Italian-Americans who stand out in Connecticut history that rivals those in the state archives.
''There's Sylvester Poli, an immigrant who came here with nothing, and ended up owning a theater chain that stretched from Boston to Philadelphia,'' Mr. Capobianco said. ''He started out in New Haven. And Dom Delucco, the first Italian mayor in Hartford. He was a very colorful character, wore a Homburg hat and always had a flower in his lapel. Drove an Edsel, of all things.
''Included in his list are the hugely successful Italian - American construction contractors in the Northeast, the Roncari and Manafort families, and Tony Zazarro, the late parking lot magnate and influential Hartford political boss.There are also such present luminaries as the former Hartford Mayor Mike Peters, now a radio talk-show host, and Geno Auriemma, coach of the national championship women's basketball team at the University of Connecticut.
''There's nothing Italian-Americans have not contributed to in Connecticut, from food to religion to politics, sports and business,'' said Mr. Capobianco, who himself is a fifth generation Italian-American.
Italians started immigrating to the United States in large numbers at the end of the 19th century, arriving first at Ellis Island and then heading to Connecticut, where they found work as field hands, stone masons and factory workers. Within a few generations, Italian culture flourished.
There are areas in Hartford, New Haven and Stamford that call themselves Little Italy, but they are waning as more and more Italian-Americans marry those of other ethnic groups, move out of urban areas and leave their distinct Mediterranean culture and language behind.Father Nicholas Cesaro, pastor of a once Italian-dominated St. Augustine Church in the Hartford's South End, said he stopped Masses said in Italian a year ago because ''there was not enough real interest.'' He said most of the Italian parishioners moved out of Hartford to the suburbs years ago. ''We get so few Italians now, and they come mostly out of nostalgia.''Achille D'Aprile, the second generation owner of the D & D Market on Franklin Avenue, a popular Hartford area Italian food store, said that 20 years ago 90 percent of his Italian-American customers lived in the area. Today, he said most live in the surrounding towns of Wethersfield, Newington, Rocky Hill and beyond.''Hey, nothing will ever be the same, but I'll tell you one thing, the offspring, they're getting into cooking like their parents,'' Mr. D'Aprile said.
''That's one thing you won't ever lose. The Italian food.''And there's the music. An Italian music show out of WICC in Bridgeport called ''Italian House Party With Johnny LaBaro'' is on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.But except for a few social clubs and the Columbus Day parade, there are fewer and fewer signs of Hartford's once cohesive Italian neighborhoods. Aside from the red, green and white painted median stripe on Franklin Avenue and a few markets, social clubs and restaurants, there is little evidence that this was once a bustling Italian neighborhood. Today one is more likely to hear people speaking Spanish than Italian.''Sure we're losing it, but how can it not happen in the land of the melting pot,'' Dr. Ambrogio said. ''Yes, Italians are marrying into other ethnic groups, Irish, Polish, whatever. And why not?
That's the beauty of this country, to be able to live amongst each other, harmoniously. You know, Italians are actually pretty liberal. They don't want to just hang out with Italians.''Don Mancini, the owner of Kenney's Restaurant in Hartford, and a third generation Italian - American , said he regrets that his own children do not speak Italian and probably would not enjoy many things about Italian life that he experienced in Hartford's Little Italy.''It's not just the language,'' said Mr. Mancini, who married a non-Italian and like many others of his young generation moved to the suburbs.''It's the family thing, everybody, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins getting together on Sundays, the wine making, putting together sausage, the backyard gardens,'' Mr. Mancini continued. ''I love that stuff, but more and more we're being Americanized. I used to love going to the D & D with my grandfather. Just to smell it.''But it's changed. The neighborhood, the people. It's still Italian, but it's not the same.''