Ray Guarini, founder of the Italian Enclaves, says the organization has confirmed about 340 Italian Enclaves in the United States so far but thinks the number is probably closer to 500. The story of Italian-Americans and immigration into the United States is rich and multifaceted. Ray shared some of the Italian-American stories and the Italian Enclaves backstory with me today.
Why was the Italian Enclaves Historical Society founded?
Ray says one day he was chatting with a friend about a Bay Ridge Brooklyn Italian American business closure and they started wondering if this was happening within other Italian Enclaves nationwide. This lead to research and the eventual creation of the Italian Enclaves.
What is an Italian enclave?
Ray Guarini defines an Italian Enclave as a small geographic Italian-American neighborhood with a cluster of Italians living there. It would also have some shops like a bakery, and usually an Italian-American church.
In some cases an Italian Enclave has been discovered and identified even though it might no longer have any shops or a church left standing, and very few remaining residents.
Italian enclaves in Pittsburgh
I'm originally from Oakmont, Pennsylvania a suburb of Pittsburgh. Although there are a speckling of Italian families in Oakmont there isn't a cohesive Italian neighborhood that would constitute an Italian enclave. In cases like this these families could probably be traced to an Italian enclave in the Pittsburgh area, like Bloomfield or the Strip District. Pittsburgh is well-known for one of the most emblematic Italian-American sandwiches made at Primanti Bros.
Primanti Bros. began during the Great Depression when the Italian-American brothers Joe, Dick and Stanley Primanti started selling sandwiches to truckers, steel workers, and other blue-collar employees from their cart (a food truck of sorts) in downtown Pittsburgh.
Eventually, Joe saved enough money to open a Primanti Bros. storefront to serve the hungry crowds that came to the Strip District.
Fast forward, there are now a total of 37 Primanti locations in United States. The state with the most number of Primanti Bros locations is not surprisingly Pittsburgh with 9 locations.
The Primanti Bros. signature sandwich is made with grilled meat, melted cheese, an oil & vinegar-based coleslaw, tomato slices, and French fries (on the sandwich!) between two thick slices of Italian bread.
Who was the Italian Enclaves created for?
Italian Enclaves is for anyone and everyone, not only Italian-Americans like my friend and frequent podcast co-host, Michele Di Pietro. Michele has a 100% Italian bloodline and she's a New Jersey Italian-American born and raised. She's also on the board of the Italian Enclaves and a frequent content contributor.
Italian Enclaves is also for people like me who are Italian by affiliation. I don't have a drop of Italian blood in me but I'm married to an Italian and have lived and worked in Italy for almost four decades running Italian cooking classes and food tours, and now podcasting all about Italy.
There are others who are simply interested in Italian immigration and the Italian-American diaspora, and the evolution of the Italian-American community throughout the United States.
The Italian Enclaves community
The Italian Enclaves website has information on Italian-American neighborhoods throughout the United States. Many vintage and current photographs are already on the website but there are also many photos that have been donated and gathered that the Italian Enclaves is in the process of digitizing and categorizing.
This very rare photo is of a procession for Mother Cabrini in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. At the time the photo was taken in 1946 she was newly-canonized as a Saint and the first US citizen to ever be canonized. Carroll Gardens always had a love for Mother Cabrini since she founded many schools and other institutions for Italian immigrants, including the school attached to Sacred Hearts Saint Stephens parish.
Getting involved in the Italian Enclaves Historical Society
You can support the Italian Enclaves Historical Society financially, or as a sponsor. Italian Enclaves encourages the participation of anyone who is passionate, and would like to contribute content as well as financial support.
Italian Enclaves has a blog and welcomes new content from contributors if it fits with the Mission: "We aim to research, document and develop a thorough, searchable, online catalog of hundreds of Italian enclaves in the United States. Documented through photographs of its people, churches and businesses, through interviews
and personal accounts and, of course, through its recipes and foods. All of these things made and continue to make these enclaves such a vibrant thread in the fabric of America. The IEHS online catalog will house thousands of photographs to serve as both a historical database and living advocate for Italian-American neighborhoods, people and commerce. It will be a treasure trove for those looking to discover their roots, for Italophiles and for ethnic neighborhood aficionados seeking either a sense of history, an authentic Italian specialty food store, or the best cannoli in town!"
You can now become a member of the Italian Enclaves Historical Society as a
student member, an individual member or a sponsor.
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