Where I grew up my neighbors were Greek and Polish but the mayors of Springfield were always either Irish or Italian. We’ve had Ryans, and Dimauros, Sullivans and Albanos, Hurleys and Sarnos. Fairly soon the torch will be passed on to Rodríguez, Domínguez, García, and Ramos. All good. But in truth it seems pretty clear that the Italians have bailed on their tradition heartland: The South End.
It probably started right about the time Theodore “Teddy” Dimauro became the city’s first Italian mayor; Groucho wouldn’t join a club that would have him as a member, perhaps Italians won’t live in a town being lead by other Italians. I live right on the edge of Springfield’s oldest, and best known Italian neighborhood. When I was a kid, every once in a while…maybe just once, I went to the Italian Fest. There was food and music and people were very very very loud…and there was food…and people were really loud. It was fun. Loud, fun, and also a thing of the past.
When I lived in downtown’s #1 condo and vertically gated community, my old high school “Classical”, one of the highlights of the entire year was the Columbus Day parade put on by the local Italian community. Leaving aside whether Columbus is worthy of celebration, whether or not he was Italian, or whether, even if your answers to the prior two questions are “yes”, whether anything he did ever had “f&@$ all” to do with Italy (that answer being definitively “No!”), it was the best parade in the region. The Irish put on what feels like 18 hours of snooze fest they call a parade in Holyoke with politician after politician walking and waving punctuated by the occasional clown…no wonder people drink there.
The Columbus Day parade was 20-30 minutes of entertainment: floats, clowns, Shriners, music, candy, done. Ya!. Let’s go get pizza! Red Rose is closed? It’s Monday. Damn it. Greek pizza it is!
But that parade ceased to be a thing almost 20 years ago. (Perhaps breaking the prime directive of parades, “First, be no fun”, put it on a parade hit list) When I first bought this house there were always fireworks mid-July set off as part of the Mt Carmel Society festival, from my backyard I could watch them and it was as though they were being set off just for me; amazing, and loud. Also, just recently, a thing of the past.
The Mount Carmel parish came to the historical commission for permission to raze a neighboring structure in order to build a new social hall; the church having sold the neighboring school to the city due to declining enrollment in parochial schools and increased enrollment in public schools. So far, though we were told the financing was in order to build the new hall, it is just an empty, weed covered lot. I suppose there are worse things for a church to lie about, but I suspect the plan all along was to put up another parking lot in a vain attempt to get more former South End residents to get their weekly fix of woo where their grandparents did.
All the best things about the South End; Red Rose, Milano’s, Frigo’s, Mom and Rico’s, La Fiorentina, Langone’s…perhaps even a new pseudo Ciro’s, they’re all Italian. Will the sudden burst of construction from MGM, and maybe some well targeted contributions from MGM to the Italian community, revive some of these traditions in the South End? It would be a wise investment, after all, Columbus Day is always a Monday, Red Rose is closed.
The last attraction of the Italian Columbus Day parade was always a replica of the Santa María with, appropriately enough, local girls from the Hispanic community waving from the deck. As Columbus Day morphs into El día de la hispanidad, El día de la raza, or even El día de la resistencia indígena, I hope that we can keep some of our Italian heritage here in this tiny corner of the city as we also embrace or new identity. And…Raices IS open on Mondays!