According to the 2000 Census, 187,540 residents
of Queens identify themselves as Italian in ancestry.
This was an increase in the number of Italians
in the borough since 1990, making the group the
largest ancestral category in Queens besides “other.”
Three-quarters of the borough’s Italian-Americans
now live in Eastern Queens, but you’ll find
plenty of Italian influence in the West. One is
the statue of Christopher Columbus right under
the Triborough Bridge.
They Got There
“The Italians came to Queens for a more
suburban life,” says Jerry Iannece, the
chairman of Bayside’s Community Board 11
and legal counsel for the Federation of Italian
American Organizations of Queens Incorporated.
“As they settled into the borough, [they]
emphasized education and learning English. Their
children went to school. Many of them went into
the professions. They became lawyers and doctors,
and the trend was that they moved east to Bayside,
Douglaston, Little Neck, Malba, Whitestone, and
areas like that . . . As they moved up in the
world and had more money, they moved into bigger
homes in more rural areas.”
Who They Are
“If you look at the Italian areas of Queens,
no matter where they are, you’ll see one
and two family homes with very strong family units,”
Iannece says. “That’s one thing Italians
have definitely kept from their culture, the family
unit. We still sit down every Sunday at the table
and eat together. That part of the heritage will
never disappear. As long as that’s the case,
we’ll keep growing.”
Pizzeria in Forest Hills is one of literally
hundreds of pizza joints in Queens that
provides authentic Italian specialties.
Tribune photo by Ira Cohen
Throughout Astoria, you’ll find a taste
of Italian in stores. Try Forno Italia, with its
brick oven pizza and handmade mozzarella; it’s
been distributed around New York longer than any
other city distributor’s mozzarella.
There are bocce courts on Steinway Street between
Ditmars Avenue and 23rd Avenue. Old World Italians
can be found playing bocce and cards, and can
be heard discussing the latest news in Italian.
Astoria is also home to the Federation of Italian
American Organizations of Queens Incorporated,
which is an umbrella organization for other Italian
organizations. It runs citizenship drives, announces
job opportunities, holds English classes, offers
cultural trips and several other things—not
just for Italians, but for everyone.
At times, differences between Italians caused
conflict in early Italian neighborhoods. “People
from Northern Italy looked down on people from
Southern Italy, and people from the Mainland looked
down on people from Sicily,” says Iannece.
“There was some jealousy and some biasness,
even people from town to town. But I don’t
see too much of that now.”
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