Perhaps the fact that I was born in Brooklyn into a lively Sicilian family and enjoyed the usual flavor of a neighborhood where the butcher sliced veal into cutlets that were translucent, the shoemaker smoked Di Napoli stogies and the bakery produced braided Sicilian bread triumphant with sesame seeds explains my affinity with Italian ethnicity. Yet, fortunately, besides this Italian aura, our neighborhood included Euro-Americans from Ireland, Germany, Ukraine, African Americans, some Jewish store proprietors and the lonely Chinese laundryman, so I witnessed diversity and interaction every day.
Majoring in history at Hofstra University, I upscaled my studies to graduate school at Rutgers where I discovered that immigration history was a legitimate area of research and Rudolph Vecoli, a pioneer in the field of Italian American studies, had just joined the faculty. With his help I learned how my family and other immigrants fit into the larger pattern of immigration. And I appreciated how each group met the challenges of becoming American according to their transported culture and values.
When I arrived in Baltimore to teach at Towson State University, I found myself in a quasi-southern city with a more diverse population than my Brooklyn neighborhood. Eastern Europeans as well as Germans, Irish and Italians and a large Jewish and African American population along with native born Appalachian whites gave this predominantly working class port city vibrancy. U.S. Senator Barbara Milkuski (then a social worker and neighborhood activist in Baltimore) spoke to my US Immigration History class about her Polish heritage and her efforts to convince the Maryland Historical Society, then "first families dominated", to collect artifacts, documents and photographs relating to all the immigrant/ethnic groups in Baltimore. I decided to record the history of Baltimore's Little Italy. The students that enrolled in my US Immigration History classes wrote papers on whatever immigrant group they favored.
When I moved to San Francisco I discovered an Italian community
dominated by northern Italians and had an opportunity to learn about
them while researching and co-authoring the 100th anniversary history
of SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in the historic North Beach area.
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