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Fighting to Keep the Italian Culture Alive

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Small businesses face struggles everyday just to stay in business, but when a natural disaster hits their world can be turned upside down. Hurricane Sandy left a path of destruction throughout much of New Jersey and New York, home to many Italian Americans, and more importantly, home to some of the places that keep the Italian culture alive in the United States. A recent New York Times article discussed the devastation of a few of the beloved historical establishments in New York that are fighting to survive after the storm. On Coney Island, Totonno’s pizzeria has been temporarily shut down because of the damage, and in Brooklyn Randazzo’s Clam Bar, Jimmy’s Famous Heros and Gargiulo’s are just a few of the spots that have been damaged by the storm.

The article explained that over decades, places like Gargiulo’s, Totonno’s and Randazzo’s have evolved into much more than restaurants. "They’re community centers,” said chef Michael Lomonaco, adding, “They have anchored the community for decades.” However, three weeks after the storm hit, Antoinette Balzano of Totonno's was still waiting for an engineer to show up to survey the damage. The pizzeria has been in her family for over 100 years and although a comeback will be difficult, it is the only option for Ms. Balzano. “I just pray that I have the strength to do what I need to do,” she explained in the article. “I can’t let Grandpa go down this way.” 

This disaster brings up some interesting points for the Italian American community to consider. What does this say about the sustainability of the common Italian American model of keeping a small successful business in the family?  What does the Italian American community lose if they close?  Is protecting someone else's private business part of protecting our cultural heritage? And should our community help raise money and support to keep these businesses alive? Please, share your thoughts with us. Send them to comments@niaf.org

Learn more about how NIAF is helping to contribute to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts and get involved by visiting www.ItalianAmericanRelief.org