The Controversy

People are becoming angry over the San Gennaro festival.  Chinatown encroaching northwards into Little Italy has created a slew of Asian shopkeepers, fervently opposed to the feast.  On the other side lie Italians, who claim San Gennaro as their cultural right.

Yet it is undeniable that Little Italy has changed.  Now just an estimated 5% of Little Italy is still ethnically Italian1 and even these numbers are fast declining.  Coming from the South, Chinatown’s expansion is easily visible.  From the West comes an expanding SoHo2.  All in all, the shrinkage is easily spotted when walking through the area.  In fact, I would say that it is only the first two blocks of Mulberry Street heading north off Canal, that seem to evoke thoughts of an Italian retreat.  Through the rest of Mulberry, clothing stores and Chinese groceries separate the sparser and sparser Italian shops.

But the Italian festival of San Gennaro still runs through eight blocks of Mulberry Street3.  Practically most non-Italian shops on the street have complained.  High price fashion retailers at the Northern end of the feast grounds, have disparaged San Gennaro as “a greasy low-brow event4.”  One such boutique states that during San Gennaro “[The streets] are disgustingly trashed [and the whole thing is] a total nuisance.”  Further adding to that is the smell of sausages which as these stores claim: “costs them valuable customers5.”

Money is also an issue.  Tang Dance, a clothing boutique, states that during the feast it has to close down and so lose an estimated $2750 in revenue6.  Other shops such as the one mentioned in the interview with a Chinese shopboy are forced to do the same.  Anger among the different stores has allowed them to unify and pressure the Government for aid.  And their lobbying efforts have paid off.

In January of this year, Manhattan Community Board 2 requested that the San Gennaro festival be shortened by several blocks, to finish at Kenmare Street rather then Houston7.  Outrage in the Italian community erupted, as Italian Mulberry businesses protested.  New York City Mayor Bloomberg responded with a compromise.  Physically the festival was not to be shortened, however time wise the Feast of San Gennaro would begin 30 minutes later and end 30 minutes earlier on each day8.

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During my investigation into the feast on Mulberry Street, I noticed something very curious.  Italians were ready and even proud to declare their thoughts on the issue.  Some did get the facts wrong (I encountered a lot of confusion about Bloomberg’s exact time limitations of San Gennaro,) but over all it was very different response then what I had gotten from the non-Italian community.

Chinese store clerks and stall workers were extremely reluctant to say anything in front of a camera.  Most that I requested an interview with immediately refused.  The two Asian interviewees that I managed to find were both young and so if I might assume, sufficiently “Americanized” to freely speak their mind.

And this is what is at the heart of the matter.  There are many rowdy festivals throughout the city such as St. Patrick’s Day, yet none of them evoke this sort of response.  The not-very-much Italian festival is being opposed by a community which has not yet been sufficiently Americanized.  It is the Americanization aspect which explains why they are so against a festival that just happens once a year and causes a disgusting smell and a drunk rowdy crowd, because these types of celebrations are American.

As the future takes hold and we move forward, communities will Americanize and opposition to San Gennaro will fade away.

  1. Roberts, Sam. “New York’s Little Italy, Littler by the Year.” New York Times 21 Feb. 2011. Web.
  2. Roberts, Sam. “New York’s Little Italy, Littler by the Year.” New York Times 21 Feb. 2011. Web.
  3. San Gennaro. Web. 16 May 2011. <http://www.sangennaro.org/>.
  4. Goldenberg, Sally. “Mayor Bloomberg to Allow San Gennaro Festival to Run Full Length.” New York Post. 1 Mar. 2011. Web. 16 May 2011.
  5. Bowen, Alison, and Emily Anne Epstein. “Metro – A Feud over a Feast Rages in Little Italy.” Metro. 1 Mar. 2011. Web. 18 May 2011. <http://www.metro.us/newyork/local/article/789527–a-feud-over-a-feast-rages-in-little-italy>.
  6. Bowen, Alison, and Emily Anne Epstein. “Metro – A Feud over a Feast Rages in Little Italy.” Metro. 1 Mar. 2011. Web. 18 May 2011. <http://www.metro.us/newyork/local/article/789527–a-feud-over-a-feast-rages-in-little-italy>.
  7. Colvin, Jill. “City Will Decide San Gennaro Fate Soon, Mayor Says.” Dnainfo. Jan.-Feb. 2011. Web. 16 May 2011. <http://www.dnainfo.com/20110223/lower-east-side-east-village/city-will-decide-san-gennaro-fate-soon-mayor-says>.
  8. “Bloomberg Says San Gennaro Festival To Run Full Length.” Huffington Post. 1 Mar. 2011. Web. 16 May 2011.

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