Saturday, March 19, 2011

I'm just a lonely frog....

I should have wished everyone Happy St. Patricks Day in my last post, but like most celebrations around here, we stretch it out as long as we can. Parades honoring St. Patrick started four days after Fat Tuesday and have been going on all week......and then, after a single day of respite, we celebrate St. Joseph's Day [today] with yet another big parade through the Quarter. Essentially, the wearin' of the green blends into the wearin' of the red.

I don't know that St. Joseph's Day is celebrated many other places, but it's a big deal here. Lots of Sicilians about. Literally millions passed through the Port of New Orleans between 1880 and 1920. Many more than went through Ellis Island. My great-great grandfather on my fathers side was one.

U.S. Customs documents of the day show that Italian immigrants were amongst the poorest of the poor. One of the listings I find hard to forget was for an unescorted 14 year old boy with less than 30 cents in his pockets. His possessions were listed as a small piece of cheese wrapped in a rag and an old suitcase containing one shoe.

On the whole, these immigrants were vilified in their new homeland. Even the Catholic Church, then controlled by a hierarchy of Irish descent, issued highly inflammatory anti-Italian pamphlets. Our poverty was held up as proof of our low morals and inferior intellectual capacity, our religious practices were cast as being satanic, our humanity doubted.

In short, Sicilians weren't considered to be "white". A designation then, as now, having much more to do with vague notions of correct cultural behavior as defined by largely protestant western european centrists than simple appearance or for that matter science. The funny thing is, I suspect many Sicilians stayed in the New Orleans area precisely because much of the population wasn't "white".

And that's more or less a joke on my part because in old New Orleans-speak if you want to talk in terms of a black/white racial duality, you say "Americans" and "American Blacks". Ya see the racial theory that gave birth to the "one drop of blood" rule during post-Civil War Reconstruction was [and still is] foreign to many in New Orleans, there being a long local history of racial intermixing, a pre-existing population of "latin" Catholics who were never exactly "white" to begin with, and a vibrant francophone culture which drew heavily from the huge influx of Haitians in 1809.

I suppose what I'm talking about is Creole Culture, which is pretty much the antithesis of what many associate with the American South. Regardless of whether some individuals choose not to identify with this culture, it still definitely includes the Sicilians of New Orleans. At this point it's basically impossible to talk about Creole cuisine without at least mentioning the Sicilian influence. That is, unless you want to show your ignorance.

So today the Italians/Sicilians of New Orleans celebrate St, Joseph's Day by marching through the old ghetto, and then throwing a big formal dinner where we present our "Maids" to society. I myself was presented nine years ago. We also build public altars to St Joseph and feed anyone who asks for food throughout the day. My aunt says she's fed something like 150 people today, many of them strangers off the street.

Baby Girl and I have on a couple of cute red outfits and in a few minutes we're gonna take a stroll down to the parade. Just for a little while. This is a parade I don't miss.

Kiss me, I'm half Sicilian. The tradition is to give flowers in exchange. I expect Baby Girl will end up with the largest bouquet of all.
Here's the a-side of the Starr's 45. Interesting in it's own right, because I can't imagine this song has been covered very many times.

Hope ya'll enjoy....


  1. Thank you for sharing this 45 and your knowledge on Italians and Sicilians in your neck of the wood. Sicilian cuisine really is something.

  2. You have such a beautiful spirit ana-b! Thanks for letting it shine through. I hope the parade fed your soul and that Baby Girl gots her proper admiration.

  3. And Sicilian-style pizza which is way out of fashion these days is still my personal favorite!