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Collection Working in Paterson: Occupational Heritage in an Urban Setting

A Declining Community?

There are indications that the Italian community may be in eclipse on the avenue, or that it has at least suffered a decline, a falling away from the solidarity that was evident a decade or two ago. The slowing of immigration from Italy is one possible reason. Another is success itself, which induced many former merchants in the area to leave the avenue for the suburbs, where they reopened their businesses and resettled their families. One merchant told me that he can think of many businesses now in the suburbs that got their start in Paterson, on the avenue.

There has been significant cultural change in the neighborhood of the avenue, with an increasing shift from Italian to Hispanic presence. The change has affected Italian businesses, though all shop owners I interviewed told me that they have Spanish-speaking customers and many business people have learned to speak Spanish as a result. On the other hand, some Italian merchants and residents of the avenue attribute the "decline" or general malaise along the avenue to this cultural shift, while being careful to say that Spanish-speaking people are good customers.

The decline of Italian dominance on the avenue flows from a variety of causes, from cultural change (Italians are giving way to Hispanics in the neighborhood), to economic instability (the closing of local mills as well as a general downturn in the economy), to geographic patterns (people are ranging far from their neighborhoods to shop, and many have moved away from the 21st Avenue neighborhoods). The rise of the Italian community on the avenue was dependent on all these factors: Italians resided in the area, they had jobs, and they spent their money in the avenue's stores and shops.

Listen

Ralph Venezia: "Italians come here more often as tourists than immigrants."

Matthew Carbonelli: "There are a lot of Italians who speak Spanish, and a lot of Spanish who speak Italian."

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