The 1950s North End was a brilliant, once-in-a-lifetime place to grow up. Similarly confined, energetic neighborhoods could be found elsewhere in America, but few, I dare say none, with so dense a population confined in so small a space, developing the cachet, the personality of us Urban Villagers, living in our Street Corner Society.
We were buoyant, friendly, and exuberant people, confident of place and self, street-wise and people-smart, possessors of both a centuries-old understanding of the social value of small village life, and of youthful American optimism. We synergized and telescoped our communal energy into a palpable, vibrant warmth that penetrated visitors like a deep-tissue massage, earning oft-repeated visits.
We became these people by being always mindful of our separateness and our minority status, and we became these people by taking.
From our forefathers we took more than two millennia of artistic appreciation, sensitivity, passion, family values, village-building skills, and a hedonistic love of food, wine, and the opposite sex.
From Roman Catholic schools and churches we took discipline, respect, and a foundation in the values, knowledge, and beliefs of Western Civilization.
From our local American institutions, our library and our settlement houses, and the people who directed them, Mr. D and Mrs. Herrick, we took our first glimpses of the world outside our clearly-marked, tight borders.
Love and limitless sacrifice we took from our parents;
loyalty and self-confidence from our friends;
and from the United States of America, our birth country, we took respect for the rights of the individual.
From the thousands of daily visitors and tourists, whose presence showed their appreciation of our contribution to American culture, we took a vindication of our odyssey, and an invitation to join middle-America, the Big Show.
We took from within ourselves, the ability to assimilate and articulate these experiences.
And, here, in our Little Italy, we blended these experiences, lessons, values, emotions, institutions, and freedoms, and we created the Italo, American-born and raised, significantly influenced by Italian culture.
As payment for what we took, we gave this transformation of a hopeless 1900s slum into our own 1950s Emerald City the metaphorical equivalent of our own personal development and growth in American society. We gave our own North End, where the joie de vivre of an Italian-rooted daily routine merged with the optimism that is America; our own North End, this sociologically magical moment, this quintessentially personal thank-you.