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Collection Working in Paterson: Occupational Heritage in an Urban Setting

Italians on the Avenue

A significant number of businesses on 21st Avenue are owned and operated by people with ties to Montescaglioso, a small town in the Basilicata region of southern Italy. Italians from that town found their way to Paterson, and settled in the 21st Avenue area earlier in this century. This population increased over the years, at least in part because of the Italian practice of chain migration. The Paterson Montese community was fed by renewed immigration after World War II, from about the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, when immigration from Italy to the United States slowed considerably as a result of vastly improved economic conditions in Italy.

Crowd of people in Lewis Street, between float carrying statue of San Rocco and the front of the Montescaglioso Club.

The migratory waves emanating from Italy brought many people from Montescaglioso to Paterson. They formed a club — San Rocco di Montescaglioso — and put up a building for it, on Lewis Street. The club is still active today; it is very busy on Sundays and on Thursday evenings and has moderate attendance at other times during the week. Events the club sponsors include a festa, or saint's day celebration, held annually in August; and a banquet held around Columbus Day. In the 1980s, a street festival drew large crowds and enhanced business activity in the area for some months before and after the festival. The festival no longer takes place, but there are other, smaller celebrations.

A map of the Basilicata province in Italy.

There is also an active social club on Beech Street, founded by people from Sicily. And the Italian Catholic Men's Club, which is associated with St. Anthony's Church, is located not far from the main 21st Avenue business district. There are several Sicilian-owned and operated businesses on the avenue (a deli, a stucco and plastering company, and a few coffee shops). And, finally, there is a third group of Italians, who are unorganized in the sense that they do not have their own club. They are from Benevento Province, in the Campania region of Italy, from towns not far from Naples. They, too, have businesses along the avenue.

After a mass, statue of San Rocco is carried from St. Anthony's Church to float parked in front of the church.
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