Volume 80, Number 44 | March 31 - April 6, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Photos by Jefferson Siegel

Victor Papa, left, and John Fratta shared some words during Saturday’s Italian Unity Day rally.

Jamie Gagliardotto, 26, right, Queen of Little Italy 1999, joined the procession.

Italian pride fills Mulberry after feast tensions

By Jefferson Siegel

A rally organized to commemorate Italian unity brought almost 200 flag-waving marchers to Little Italy on Saturday afternoon. The gathering, ostensibly to celebrate the city’s decision not to shorten the San Gennaro Festival, went off without incident.

There were concerns the march might be antagonistic toward local merchants who had tried to have the yearly street fair shortened. But the procession up Mulberry St. from Canal St. to Prince St. was all cheers and no jeers.

As marchers gathered in front of Most Precious Blood Church on the cold but sunny afternoon, organizer John Fratta welcomed the crowd with an advisory.

“Let’s not do what our adversaries want us to do,” he implored, hoping marchers would not heckle shopkeepers as they proceeded past recent retail arrivals in Nolita.

Waving Italian and American flags, the crowd chanted, “Little Italy!” and “Unity!” as they made their way northward.

Police closed off Mulberry St. in front of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral as the crowd gathered for speeches and music.

“This is a day to bring Italians together,” Fratta said. “This has nothing to do with Nolita or the boutiques. We want one united Little Italy community.” Fratta said there were plans to make the unity march an annual event in New York, as well as in Chicago, Baltimore and Portland, Maine.

Nolita activist Kim Martin stood listening on the crowd’s periphery.

“I don’t understand what the point of the rally is,” she said, raising her voice to be heard over the loud music. “I want to support the diversity of our community.”

Martin hopes to continue the discussion this week at a meeting of the area’s new political club, the Lower Manhattan Democrats. They plan to meet on Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. at 310 Greenwich St.

Victor Papa, president of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, said the rally was a reaction to what merchants thought of Italian-Americans.

“They should look at each other as the same and blend in,” he said of the newcomers.

 

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