On Little Italy and the Feast of San Gennaro

Feast of San Gennaro in 2015 (Image via Voices of NY video)

Feast of San Gennaro in 2015 (Image via Voices of NY video)

Ahead of the Feast of San Gennaro, running Sept. 15 to 25, Our Town‘s Angela Barbuti speaks to John Fratta, a member of Figli di San Gennaro, the nonprofit that runs the festival. The feast, which Italian immigrants started in 1926 as a one-day event to honor their patron saint, now runs 11 days and is this year celebrating its 90th anniversary.

John Fratta (Photo courtesy of the Figli di San Gennaro via Our Town)

John Fratta (Photo courtesy of the Figli di San Gennaro via Our Town)

Fratta, whose great-grandfather Luigi Vitale was one of the feast’s founders, is a fourth-generation Italian American born in Little Italy and remains a resident there to this day.

He describes the origins of the first feast:

It came about as a celebration. When the Italian immigrants came over, especially from Naples, they came to Mulberry Street and brought with them their custom of honoring their patron saint, who, of course, is San Gennaro. And they brought that over to New York, like they do in Italy. In Italy, it’s always sunny, so they celebrate the feast outdoors. So it started here more or less as a block party honoring San Gennaro. And then it grew and it grew and it is what it is today. The most important aspect of the feast is the religious significance. People make money during the feast and that’s all great. But without San Gennaro, you don’t have a feast.

When asked about the relationship between the Italians in Little Italy and the Chinese in Chinatown, Fratta says the groups “grew up with each other” and are friends.

A lot of times the press likes to do stories about how there’s an antagonistic attitude between the two groups, but there’s really not. As a matter of fact, some of the leaders in Chinatown have asked us to bring the feast back to the other side of Canal Street, where it used to be. But we couldn’t do it because there are two different community boards and it became too difficult. But we have a great working relationship with the Asian-American community. As a matter of fact, when they were trying to shorten the feast, the Asian community came out and supported us.

Fratta also goes into initiatives Italian-American groups are working on, as well as growing up in Little Italy, how Figli di San Gennaro maintains the religious aspect of the feast, and the story of San Gennaro in Italy. Go to Our Town for the full interview.

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