The dream, which becomes more difficult to maintain every day in this era of ignorance as populism, is that we are a better people than all the mounting evidence would indicate, that all those overblown projections of America as the savior of the world that we once believed, not entirely without reason, still have some connection to reality.
In the very good April issue of Philadelphia Magazine (I subscribe and got mine in the mail; I assume it will be on the stands this week), there is a long, excellent story about how Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese morphed from a small, popular storefront in the famous Italian Market along Ninth St. into a multi-location empire which is what writer John Marchese calls “this city’s answer to the great high-end food shops such as Dean & Deluca, Balducci’s and Zabar’s.”
“Italian Market” is, and long has been, a misnomer. Asian immigrants became a vital part of the scene more than two decades ago with their shops and restaurants adding a new dimension to those run by the descendants of the Italian immigrants who made the dingy street famous. Its iconic image has always been workers warming themselves next to flaming bonfires in 50-gallon drums on the sidewalk. And, of late, Mexican newcomers are the third wave.
And that is were I find hope, in this passage from the story:
In that part of 9th Street, if you had a Rizzo’s-eye view, you could see the bodegas and taquerias that have filled up most of the storefronts north of the cheesesteak mecca that is the corner of Pat’s and Geno’s. It is this Spanish-speaking strip that prompts cab drivers to correct your destination request: You mean the Mexican Market; it ain’t the Italian Market anymore. A few decades ago, it would’ve been a crack about the Asians taking over.
The fact is, this place has always been a platform for new immigrants grasping for a toehold in America. And though the embarkation points have changed from Naples to Saigon to Puebla, the striving speaks the same language. There are whispers that some of the established Italians don’t like the Mexican newcomers. “That’s asinine,” says one of the younger Italian-American shop owners. “When I look at the Mexicans now, I see my Italian grandparents.”
So long as we have in our midst those who remember and appreciate our past like that “younger Italian-American shop owner” does–and there are a lot who do, the majority of us I hope, although they are rarely seen by an inept and almost criminally unfocused media which devotes all of its attention to blathering politicians and the screeching hoards on both sides of the political divide–we still have a chance to be the America we once claimed to be.