Italian American roots in Belleville and Nutley, New Jersey
By Anthony Buccino
Growing up on the border of Belleville and Nutley, the kids in my neighborhood along Meacham Street knew that when we grew old we would speak Italian.
On Gless Avenue where I grew up, we had a few Polish families and there was one woman who only spoke Greek. Otherwise, the family names up and down the block, which was half in Nutley and half in Belleville, were virtually all Italian: Lardier, Dimichino, Gingerelli, Troino, Francisco, Bonano, Buccino, Cerami, D’Ambola, all the way to the dead end.
More than a century ago, Italians came to our towns, following the 400-year-old example of Christopher Columbus, in search of a better life. Our Italian ancestors left the old country with little more than a suitcase or what they could carry away from a land that failed to feed them. In America, they found they could work and raise a family. And, with hard work, each generation would prosper from the Italians to the Italian Americans to the American Italians.
In the Italian neighborhoods, from Silver Lake in southern Belleville to Avondale in northeastern Nutley, and the enclaves in between, street life was the same as fruit vendors called out to the houses from horse-drawn carts. The "bianca-lina" man sold the bleach to make the linens white. Salesmen knocked on doors to sell insurance, Fuller brushes, or offered to sharpen knives.
The trades brought most of the Italian immigrants to Belleville and Nutley. The Italians worked hard, in the pre-Velodrome quarries of Nutley, in the factory sweatshops in Belleville. They broke their backs digging trenches for the towns’ water mains and sewer systems. They built and worked the Morris Canal along the western border of our towns.
In the early days of the last century, when the largest influx of Italians immigrated to Belleville and Nutley, the border was an imaginary government line, as most Italian families in one town had relatives in the other town.
The towns were similarly dotted with old-family mansions and crowded apartments. In the Italian neighborhoods, among the extended families living within a few houses of each other, there were always gardens, fig trees, tomato plants, melons and other favorite greens.
Small farms, such as my grandfather’s, provided food, goat’s milk, chickens, eggs and families drew water from hand-dug wells on many of these streets. Grapevines were familiar in town, and compare’ gathered each fall to make the wine of their forefathers.
Italians crisscrossed town borders, attending celebrations and patron saint feasts held at St. Peter’s Church and St. Anthony’s Church in Belleville, and religious celebrations, communions, confirmations and weddings at Holy Family and St. Mary’s Church.
The towns had social clubs where men from the same villages and dialects gathered to talk about the old country and politics, while sipping espresso and smoking stogies.
Many of our "mitigan" friends learned the slang of our fathers as we did and also appreciated our cooking. Pulitzer Prize winner Russell Baker wrote about his time growing up in Belleville and his esteemed favor of his friends’ Italian foods.
We Italian Americans of Nutley and Belleville are proud of our ancestors and their sacrifice to make a better life for us. We continue many traditions from the old country, especially with meals at holidays. And we continue to work towards the goal of a better life that our forefathers gave up so much to make real for us.
We continue to educate ourselves and the next generations through chapter meetings of Unico National, the Italian-American service organization, featuring insights on our rich history, culture and heritage.
Italian-American roots in
Belleville, Nutley first published Sept.
29, 2011, by
NorthJersey.com and in
The Belleville Times
and The Nutley Sun.
first published Sept. 29, 2011, by NorthJersey.com and in The Belleville Times and The Nutley Sun.
Adapted from Greetings From Belleville, New Jersey, collected writings by Anthony Buccino
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New Jersey author Anthony Buccino's stories of the 1960s, transit coverage and other writings earned four Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism awards. The Pushcart Prize-nominated writer has been called ' “New Jersey’s ‘Garrison Keillor” or something to that effect.’
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