American Labor Party with Gerald Meyer @ the NYPL Mulberry St Library
The waiter took this picture and we promise to PhotoShop the red eyes out of this image. Clockwise from left is Gil Fagiani, Stephen Siciliano, Maria Lisella, Gabrielle Napolitano, Charle-John Cafiero, Adam Meyer, Roberto Ragone, and Gigi Assante. Stay tuned for more info!
Christopher Bell remembers a forgotten Harlem at the Marcantonio Forum
The Vito Marcantonio Forum presented “East Harlem Remembered” the new book by historian Christopher Bell a journey down memory lane about the history of a rapidly changing neighborhood. (In italiano).
Anyone tooling social media channels lately cannot help but notice long discussions on Italian American sites of people falling in and out of love with the PBS series The Italian Americans that has been airing on public TV.
One viewer noted, “Once again a golden opportunity was missed – with the investment of something like four million dollars, and they still did not get it right,” meaning that the narrative is, with few exceptions, the played out cliché of rags to riches patriots rather than reflecting the melting pot of immigrants who landed on these shores: from anarchists to labor activists, feminists and conservatives, fascists and numerous Italian American progressives.
So the timing could not have been better for another event from the Vito Marcantonio Forum (VMF) this time celebrating Black History Month featuring historian and East Harlemite Christopher Bell who presented excerpts and slides from his latest and third book East Harlem Remembered (McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers). The event took place Saturday, Feb. 28 at the Mulberry St. Branch of the New York Public Library at 10 Jersey Street in New York City.
An East Harlem native, Bell has arrived at a crucial moment in East Harlem’s history as gentrification has accelerated through this neighborhood. Through his work, he has preserved a rich segment of ethnic diversity in New York City through a series of in-depth oral histories among characters alive and past, telling their stories. The book reflects the cohesiveness of this fabled neighborhood that formed a unified and progressive electoral block for decades.
Closely associated with Italian, Jewish, German and Irish immigrants, East Harlem’s the African American community has often vanished from the narrative because as Bell said, it is assumed all Blacks lived exclusively in Central or West Harlem.
As has become a tradition at VMF events, poet, translator and independent scholar, Gil Fagiani kicked off the afternoon with a reading of his poem Litany of San Vito printed on what appear to be holy cards or “santini” as they say in Italian.
Professor Gerald Meyer, the foremost scholar on Vito Marcantonio, emceed the event while other VMF members such as Gigi Assante, LuLu LoLo Pascale, Roberto Ragone and Luis Romero gave passionate readings of East Harlemite Langston Hughes’ work including Let America Be America.
Bell’s presentation described the multi-ethnicity of the Black people who arrived from all over the world – from the Caribbean to the deep South — and settled in Harlem. He brought the audience face to face with an intimate view of daily life in East Harlem when three and four-story tenements lined the streets filled with immigrants of over 35 ethnicities speaking some 27 languages. During the 1930s, there were literally hundreds of small single-owner grocery, candy stores, doctors, tailors, shops, funeral parlors that provided a vibrant local economy.
Bell mentioned how people would climb on to their fire escapes to watch the hotly contested stickball games below on East 100th Street.
With the post-World War II era, politicians advocated for public housing which provided decent housing, but as Bell pointed out, meant the destruction of the tenement row-houses, many of which had been built in the early 1900s tearing the cohesiveness of the neighborhood.
At the same time, Bell drew the strong links between the country’s most electorally successful progressive politician, Congressman Vito Marcantonio, and his efforts to promote Civil Rights legislation, to destroy the poll tax, which prevented both the poor and Blacks from voting in southern states, and in the pre-Jackie-Robinson era, advocated fo African Americans to be included in major league baseball.
During WWII, Marcantonio worked with William Patterson and Benjamin Davis, Jr. in forcing the Red Cross to integrate the blood banks. At that time, he succeeded in bringing about the passage of the Fair Employment Practices Commission that outlawed discrimination based on race, religion, and nationality. Like other VMF gatherings, the event attracted activists, historians, workers, writers, culture workers and New Yorkers profoundly conscious of the city’s history, eager to set the record straight regarding progressive political history while acutely aware of the perils of gentrification sweeping the upper reaches of Manhattan today that threatens to wipe out its glorious history.
The VMF is a historical, cultural, and educational organization that brings together people from a wide variety of backgrounds, dedicated to disseminating and sharing knowledge of the life and work of Vito Marcantonio (1902-1954). “Marc,” as he was affectionately called, ran on the American Labor Party line, and was the most electorally successful progressive politician in U.S. history having served as the congressman from East Harlem for 14 years (1932-1950).
For more information, you can visit the web page of the Forum. The next VMF event will celebrate Labor History Month on Monday, May 4th, from 5:00 to 7:00 PM at the Mulberry Street branch of the New York Public Library.
Gerald Meyer, author of Vito Marcantonio: Radical Politician, 1902-1954, will focus on the American Labor Party (ALP) that ran candidates in New York elections from 1936 until 1954, which tremendously influenced State and City politics toward a progressive agenda. Both Fiorello LaGuardia and Vito Marcantonio ran on the ALP ticket. In 1944, Franklin Delano Roosevelt garnered almost one-half million votes on the ALP line. The ALP attracted support from the City’s minorities and had a large following among Italian Americans.
A cultural program will follow featuring Roberto Ragone and LuLuLoLo Pascale. The VMF hopes this program and its other activities will inspire progressives to revisit the lessons of the American Labor Party for our own times.
*Maria Lisella is vice president of the Vito Marcantonio Forum. Her work appears in major travel publications. She co-curates the Italian American Writers Association; Her latest book, “Thieves in the Family” was published by NYQ Books.
in Celebration of Italian Heritage Month, presented his paper:
“Vito Marcantonio: Beloved Son of Italian Harlem, Master of the Multiethnic Coalition,”
as well as read a sample of his poetry on
Wednesday, October 29, 2014, 6 pm to 8 pm at
The Center for Worker Education, City College of New York
25 Broadway, 7th Floor New York City, NY
On the evening of Wednesday, October 29, 2014, at the invitation of Professor Vicki Garavuso, and in celebration of Italian Heritage Month, I gave a talk and poetry reading at the Center for Worker Education, the City College of New York. The audience was comprised of students from five classes making for an audience of nearly 120.
The following professors brought their classes: Prof. Joanna Clapps Herman, “Writing Children’s Literature,” Prof. Steve Levine, “Power, Race, Culture: The History of NYC,” Prof. Mary Lutz, “Sociology of Welfare Institutions,” Prof. Vicki Garavuso, “Sociology of Education,” and Prof. Susanna Rosenbaum, “Women and Work.”
I began by saying that I would be talking about an Italian American historical figure that was radically different from those the mass media usually banters about, such as: Christopher Columbus, Don Corleone, Tony Soprano, Rudolph Giuliani, and Antonin Scalia. Before I read my paper, I asked the students how many had heard of Congressman Vito Marcantonio? No one raised their hands.
I presented an earlier version of my paper “Vito Marcantonio: Beloved Son of Italian Harlem, Master of the Multiethnic Coalition,” at the 46th Conference of the Italian American Studies Association, in New Orleans, Louisiana on October 4, 2013. The conference theme was “Italian American Identity Politics.” In my paper, I argue: While incorporating positive elements of what today is conceptualized as identity politics, Marcantonio’s emphasis on coalition politics and a progressive working class agenda, largely avoided the tendency of identity politics towards insularity, sectarianism and ethnic strife. Thus his legacy transcended identity politics and remains relevant to a new generation of activists. Marcantonio remains as the only elected politician who defied the truism of American politics that in the United States a radical politician has only two possible fates—defeat or co-option.
The students seemed genuinely interested in Marcantonio and following my paper, asked many questions, including: Can you name a current elected politician that is similar to Marcantonio? I said, in my opinion, the closest would be independent Senator Bernie Sanders.
I explained I was a founding a member of the Vito Marcantonio Forum, and elaborated on some of our recent activities. Then I recited some of my poetry. First, I read, “Size in Sicily,” both in Italian and English, to give the students a taste of the language of Dante. Then I read several poems from A Blanquito in El Barrio, illustrating the rich history and complex culture of El Barrio, as well as the grassroots tradition of radical activism. I finished by reading my two Marcantonio poems, “Doña Carmen Dreams of San Vito,” and “Litany of San Vito.”
Afterwards, students approached me and said, that, while they had never heard of Marcantonio before my talk, he sounded like someone who should be salvaged from obscurity, as well as someone who could serve as a role model for today’s politicians. I distributed over 20 Marcantonio “holy cards” that list the Vito Marcantoio Forum Website, and my poem “Litany of San Vito,” urging the students to regularly check our website and to participate in our future activities.
Gil Fagiani was a founder of the radical political organization White Lightning (1971-75), and a co-founder of Italian Americans for a Multicultural US (1992), the East Harlem Historical Organization (1992), and the Vito Marcantonio Forum (2011). A clinical social worker and addiction specialist, he directed Renewal House, a residential treatment program for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts in Downtown Brooklyn for 21 years. A translator and writer, he is a member of the Board of Directors of the Italian American Writers Association and has published six collections of poetry. His latest book, Serfs of Psychiatry, was inspired by the 12 years he worked at a state psychiatric hospital in the Bronx.
Gerald Meyer and Roberto Ragone live on WBAI
The Julianna Furlano Show featured Professor Gerald Meyer and Roberto Ragone, Co-chairs of the Vito Marcantonio Forum on her radio show:
So You Wanna be Italian? by Anna Filameno.
Book party at the Italian American Museum was a blast!
The Italian American Museum located in New York City’s Little Italy was proud to host a book party and presentation for Anna Filameno’s So You Wanna be Italian.
Members of the Vito Marcantonio Forum were on hand to read excerpts from the book and perform dramatic readings. The event was filmed by VMF co-founder David Giglio and will be available soon… Stay tuned! In the meantime, you can purchase the book at Amazon.com CLICK ON THAT LINK!
The IAM provided an excellent performance space that we all are grateful for. The readings were fantastic as was the reception afterwards. Anna signed books for everyone and we can’t wait till she releases her next title.
The following article originally appeared in
N.Y. / REGION|SIDE STREET
A Poet Mines Memories of Drug Addiction
By DAVID GONZALEZ FEB. 16, 2014
Gil Fagiani pulled out a copy of “White Lightning,” a tabloid from 1972, whose yellowed, brittle pages declared revolution. Inside, he pointed to a polemic he wrote headlined “Racism and Dope.” It described how he — a heroin addict with white, middle-class roots — was let off by the police with a warning inside an East Harlem tenement while his would-be connection, a Puerto Rican ex-con, was stripped, arrested and clubbed.
He recounted the tale in his living room in Long Island City, Queens, almost within sight of those East Harlem streets where he had been a junkie in the late 1960s. He had been many things back then: a military college graduate, a community organizer, a political radical and a junkie. Now, at 68, he is a survivor.
The rough past is gone, but lingers in memory. He has mined it in poetry, rendering in free verse the rhythms of struggle and street life that he hopes will connect with people in a way that his political writings could not. That newspaper story from 1972, he said proudly, has become “Just Out of Jail,” a poem that was recently accepted for publication in a journal.
“In prose it was didactic, but as a poem it is powerful,” he said. “I feel poetry can affect people in a way that is more powerful than an essay because it stirs up the emotions. I trust myself and try to be honest. You don’t change people with political rhetoric.”
He has noticed the outpouring of emotion and opinion in recent weeks since the high-profile overdose death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Like many, he sees it as a cautionary tale, as well as a lesson that might jar other addicts out of denial because of the victim’s celebrity.
At the same time, he understands the thrill and allure that precedes the fall, because he saw it in his own life. Some of his poems reflect that seduction, where hyped-up young men feel invincible, or at least numb. What others saw as surreal, or just criminal, was the everyday to him.
For a good part of his adult life — after he kicked heroin — he worked in a psychiatric hospital in the Bronx and later ran a drug rehabilitation center in Brooklyn. Poetry came later, when he was in his 40s, though it did not come easily, given his day job.
“I was a substance abuse professional,” he said. “There was a contradiction between that and being an honest writer. There’s a freedom you have in poetry. In my poem ‘Crossing 116th Street’ I wrote about this cocktail of drugs, about being so ramped up and in this almost perfect state of well-being. I enjoyed drugs. In the beginning.”
Of course, that changed. He changed. A 14-month stay in a therapeutic community — presciently called Logos, Greek for “word” — set him on a new path in 1969. In time, he explored his Italian roots and learned that an uncle, Cesare Fagiani, had been an esteemed poet in Italy. Cesare and his father and his wife had all been poets, he discovered, writing mostly in a dialect of their native town of Lanciano. They were also, he said, in the tradition of poets of the people.
“They were poets not from a literary background or from a privileged class,” he said. “These towns in Italy were their own universes. They had their own languages. When I asked someone for directions to the street named after my uncle, he started reciting one of his poems.”
When he turned to poetry in the 1990s, his wellspring became the people and places of his past, from his upbringing in middle-class Connecticut to his down-and-out days in East Harlem and his rebirth in the Bronx. One collection dealt with the 12 years he spent as an aide at the Bronx Psychiatric Center. Another was called “A Blanquito in El Barrio” (“A White Boy in El Barrio”).
He retired from his day job a few years ago, devoting even more time to his writing, translation and scholarship, especially on the life of Vito Marcantonio, an Italian-American radical who once represented East Harlem in Congress. He is not interested in scoring points with the literary crowd. He’d rather reach people.
“I had a calling in recovery, a calling to help people,” he said. “I’m not that politically active anymore. It comes through my poetry. I’m willing to take the risk and trust the reader. I’m also more interested in giving a sense of dignity to the people that society would see as the scum of the earth. They’re human beings. The reason they became addicts is complex.”
A version of this article appears in print on February 17, 2014, on page A14 of the New York edition with the headline: A Poet Mines Memories of Drug Addiction.
original link to article:
In between First and Second avenues in East Harlem stands a street sign marking the intersection of Pete Pascale Place and 116thStreet.
The nearby corner at Second Avenue, Pete Pascale’s daughter Lois told documentarist Zenobia Pintora, very special meetings once occurred.
“I’m crossing the street at the corner of 116th Street and Second Avenue to Sandy’s Restaurant, which used to be Cinciotti’s Pastry Shop, holding my father’s hand. And in the distance I see Vito Marcantonio approaching us and I remember groaning to myself, ‘Oh noooooo! Now we are going to have to sit on this corner and my father and Marcantonio are going to talk for a very long time.’ And being a good little Italian girl, I knew I had to stand there quietly and not interrupt them.
“I wish I could remember what they were talking about.”
Pete Pascale was born in East Harlem in 1914. Like Vito Marcantonio, his grandparents emigrated from Basilicata in southern Italy. Like Marcantonio, he never left the neighborhood, which is one way to get a street sign posted in your honor.
Another way is to help people in that neighborhood. According to Lois – the performance artist LuLu LoLo – Pascale walked into Haarlem House (“spelled the Dutch way, with two As)” one day to see what was going on at the center for neighborhood social work, “and it changed his life.”
He stayed on to volunteer, coached basketball and acted in plays until he resigned as executive director of the settlement house 50 years later.
Marcantonio’s wife, LuLu remembers, worked there. “Miss Sanders, as we called her, was the nursery school teacher.” The future congressman from East Harlem worked alongside Miriam Sanders before marrying her.
“My father always considered Marc his mentor and talked to me about Marc with deep admiration and love, but also with outrage at the way Marc was treated by those who opposed him, including the Catholic Church which refused to give Marc a funeral at our Lady of Mount Carmel Church.”
(drawing by Vince Evans, LuLu’s son)
This article was originally posted in Marcantonia by VMF founding member Stephen Siciliano