It seemed like the grassroots effort to name a San Jose neighborhood Little Italy was cruising along with the grace of a Ferrari on a Formula One track. But in case anyone was getting ready to start belting out “Funiculì, Funiculà” prematurely, the lessons of Little Saigon should have been a warning: Members of an ethnic group don’t always sing to the same sheet music.
The horse head in the bed in this case was an Aug. 26 email grenade lobbed by one of the godfathers of the local Italian-American community to a mailing list of about 75 people, most of whose last names end in a vowel. The loosely linked coalition was developing momentum to convert a decrepit stretch of North 13th Street, near Japantown, into a stretch of Italian restaurants, cannoli bakeries and spumoni joints. Then Frank Fiscalini, the former vice mayor, weighed in with the view that “there are other locations in the city that have a significant Italian history.”
Specifically, Fiscalini suggested that “the River St ./St. John area ... was a major enclave for Italians during the early history of our city.” Then, sprinkling some leprechaun dust into the mix, Fiscalini suggested, “Furthermore, I would think the developers of San Pedro Square would welcome a Little Italy development in the area.”
Given the emotional nature of ethnic wars, city officials may hesitate before biting into this meatball.
“You can’t blame them,” said Joshua DeVincenzi-Melander, president of the Italian American Heritage Foundation, which is spearheading the Little Italy effort. Even though the Italians were making plans for a Little Italy business district in San Jose long before the Vietnamese rallied for Little Saigon, the controversy was in full swing by the time they rolled out the 13th Street plan.
“They realize it’s a different project,” DeVincenzi-Melander said.
As Fly sees it, city officials should relax a little on this one. We just can’t imagine Italians going on a hunger strike.