September 1, 2009

The Feast of Santa Rosalia (18th Ave Feast)

18th Avenue in the rain and a detail of the statue of Santa Rosalia
By Giovanni di Napoli

Every year in Bensonhurst the locals celebrate the Feast of Santa Rosalia. Although she is the patron saint of Palermo during “The Feast” the entire Sicilian and Southern Italian community venerate her. This year the festival spans from August 27th through September 6th.
So far (as of this writing) I attended the celebration twice this year. The first night I went it rained, so there was obviously a poor turnout. The weather was better the following day so I used it as an excuse to get another vesteda sandwich and some zeppole. Sadly, the feast is not as popular as years gone by. The event has lost a lot of its character and in my opinion there are many reasons why.

The most obvious explanation for the feast’s decline is that the neighborhood is a pale shadow of what it once was. No longer a staunch working class Southern Italian enclave (that once vied with Manhattan for the right to call itself New York City’s “Little Italy”) it is now home to more recent immigrants primarily from Asia and the former Soviet Union.

Secondly, in its quest to be more inclusive the vibrant cultural event has become just another vacuous street bazaar with the same generic vendors found at any flea market. Where once thousands of revelers gathered to celebrate their faith and culture there are now dispassionate individuals simply looking for something to distract them from the daily monotony. This is further evidence that multiculturalism is not culture but is in fact anti-cultural.

If not for the traditional cuisine, which now competes with other ethnic fare, there would be absolutely nothing remotely cultural about the festival. Folk dance, music, literature, and art are non-existent. And except for the effigy of the patroness, so the pious could donate money to the parish, there is nothing at all spiritual either.

Maybe it’s just me but when I attend a Sicilian or Southern Italian fair I don’t want to listen to hip-hop or eat other cuisines. I’m there to partake in an authentic folk experience. We remaining “holdouts” must take pride in our own heritage and culture or we will disappear forever.

Vestiges of our community in Bensonhurst