Skip to comments.Move Over, Irish; Italians Now Rule Boston
Posted on 10/05/2004 12:54:35 PM PDT by Pharmboy
BOSTON (AP) - In this land of Kennedys, O'Neills, Fitzgeralds and Flynns, where shamrocks grace the jerseys of the basketball team, the Italians are taking over. With the ascendancy of Salvatore DiMasi to the speakership of the Massachusetts House last week, Italian-Americans hold the two top positions in the state Legislature for the first time in its 224-year history.
"Finally," said Sheryl Iftikhar (maiden name Spataro), who works at a convenience store in DiMasi's lifelong home, the city's North End, a neighborhood where visitors can buy signs that read "Parking for Italians Only."
DiMasi, who took over from Irishman Tom Finneran, joins Senate President Robert Travaglini, a fellow Boston Democrat who became leader of that chamber in 2003, as well as Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and State Auditor Joe DeNucci in the heights of the state's power structure.
Last Wednesday, they stood side-by-side as DiMasi made his official debut as the new speaker and listened to a blessing given by the vicar of the Old North Church in DiMasi's neighborhood.
"I doubt that earlier residents of Massachusetts ... could imagine all the repercussions of hanging two lanterns in the steeple of the Old North Church," said Vicar Steve Ayres, referring to Paul Revere's ride. "Nor could they imagine that the two beacons of light now keeping the flame of liberty alive in the North End for the state of Massachusetts would be named DiMasi and Travaglini."
The Irish remain dominant in Massachusetts, with 23 percent of residents declaring their Hibernian roots in the 2000 census - the highest of any state and far ahead of Italians, who make up 14.5 percent of the population.
Over the years, ties to the Emerald Isle have been seen as a huge political advantage in Massachusetts. So much so that a minor controversy arose last year when a genealogist hired by The Boston Globe revealed that John Kerry is not of Irish descent after all. The Massachusetts senator, whose grandfather was born to Austrian-Jewish parents, says he never claimed Irish ancestry.
While three Italian-Americans have served as governor - most recently Argeo Paul Cellucci - the state's pantheon of legendary leaders is purely Irish: former U.S. House Speaker Thomas "Tip" O'Neill, Rep. Joseph Moakley of the Irish bastion of South Boston, longtime Boston Mayor James Michael Curley, former state Senate President William Bulger, and President Kennedy and his brother Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
But the Irish-American grip on power has weakened.
"We've got Menino, we've got Travaglini, we've got DiMasi. What more could we want?" said Johnny "Shoes" Cammarata, presiding in his North End barbershop, Johnny & Gino's. "It's a good, good feeling. The Irish had their day. Now it's our time."
The Irish appear to be taking the success of Italian-Americans in stride, comforted by the number of politicians sharing their ancestry who remain prominent in city and state politics. Among them: Boston Council President Michael Flaherty, Judiciary Committee chairman Eugene O'Flaherty, and Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole.
"Things goes in cycles," said John J. Somers, owner of the Green Dragon Irish Pub, who emigrated from County Kerry to Boston in 1971. "But it's not the nationality that matters. It's the man. And I think a lot of Irish women have been marrying Italians over the past 50 years, so we still have our influence."
When immigrants from both countries streamed into Boston in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Irish at first gained the upper hand. But the divisions have long since evaporated, said DeNucci, 65, the state's auditor since 1987, who grew up in an Italian enclave in Newton.
"It was a real rivalry growing up," he said. "We were behind in terms of the Irish because the Italians came here and they couldn't speak the language. We faced discrimination from the people who were here before us. We were pegged as gangsters. We really never got any credit for any major contributions we made."
One thing the transition will mean, DiMasi said this week, is that there will be a little more demonstrative affection flowing through the House. DiMasi on Wednesday called the Italians an "emotional breed" and then proved it by embracing nearly ever person he encountered in the House, including Gov. Mitt Romney - twice.
"I hope you realize when I came in that under my speakership there's going to be a lot of hugging going on," DiMasi said.
The phrase "E Pluribus Unum" is long forgotten now.
Irish or Italians, it doesn't matter -- the Red Sox will lose come October.
Just doesn't sound right, eh?
That's what I'm tawkin about!
But the Patriots are still kicking *ss.
Faith and begorrah, don't be forgettin' the Kerrys.
The Italians can have it, and the whole state of Taxachusetts along with it.
...But the Italians still vote Democrat! Fuggedaboutit!
Gianni Kerry sounds even weirder.
The divisions evaporated because after World War II the Italians and the Irish intermarried like crazy.
Go Red Sox.
For those interested in such things, Italian Americans are the largest group by ancestry in Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey (duh) and New York. I believe gli Paisani are also the number one ethnic group in Delaware as well, and second only to the Germans in Pennsylvania.
Keep in mind, however, that such figures include person such as myself that are of mixed ancestry. I may not have a vowel at the end of my name (my mom does), but I am counted as "Italian American" in census surveys.
Of course, upward mobility and intermarriage mean that such distinctions as Italian-American and Polish-American (my two tribes) are of less importance, particularly outside the northeast and certain parts of the midwest. Being third generation, I have greater "cultural" loyalty to the region of I was raised in than to any ethnicity.
Historically, Italian Americans who owned their own businesses tended to be Republican (especially in places like Mass, Rhode Island, Illinois and upstate New York) while those who were involved in the building and industrial trades voted Democratic. Italian Americans also voted for Lew Lehrman over Mario Cuomo in the 1982 gubernatorial election.
The Irish only got into politics so we could get a job.
Since the "bluebloods" wouldn't hire us...
Remember the N.I.N.A.(NO IRISH NEED APPLY) signs.
Well the Irish have since prospered, educated their children and grandchildren and moved on...
You can have Taxachusetts!
Yes...what you say rings true. I spent four years in Cincinnati and they care much less about ethnicity than here in the northeast.
Eh, they can HAVE it, AND the Red Saaaawks!
Where would the zeppole be without tribalism :)
Where would the linguini be without tribalism :)
Where would the parmigiana be without tribalism :)
::motioning with hands and using Momma Nome's broken accent::
Shame on you!!!!!!!!! My whole family, relatives, and every other Italian I know are voting for GWB. Damn you for such blasephemy. I would vote for Nader before I voted for a RAT.
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