In our fast-paced world, how do you take time to genuinely slow down to enjoy the moment, the company and the conversation within the community? As you journey through San Diego’s Little Italy, you’ll find a sense of vibrant diversity paving way for new possibilities in the midst of tradition. From the owner sweeping the sidewalk before business ensues, the bocce ball players arguing in Sicilian dialect, to the up-and-coming artist belting Sinatra at the Amici House concerto. Convivio is a state of mind that invites you to embrace a love of life, of culture. We invite you on an international journey of the senses, connecting the old world to the new through coffee, historical conversations, speakeasies, films al fresco, heritage excursions and more. Come break bread the old-fashioned way and fill your cup with compassion and community. Whatever you choose to bring to the table, we’ll always have a spot for you. Welcome to La Famiglia!
San Diego’s Little Italy has fast become a neighborhood bathed in an urban chic sensibility and one with its own mythos. But before the contemporary convergence of myriad restaurants and retailers, the neighborhood had modest beginnings with its history going back hundreds of years. It is a collective tale of immigration and assimilation–and an overarching theme focused on the individuals and families that helped to shape a neighborhood, a waterfront, and a city. The preservation of San Diego’s Italian historical narrative is a core component of the Convivio mission and vision. To that end, with the Italian Community Digital Archives, Convivio strives to collect, catalog, and convey the stories of Italian Americans through photographs, oral histories, exhibits, and other projects. Visit italianarchives.org to view our digital archives and contribute your historical photographs to the cause by contacting us.
Today’s Little Italy has become a culinary and cultural locus for San Diego residents and visitors. With the Little Italy Association at the helm of the rampant redevelopment of the neighborhood— beginning in the early 90s after decades of decline—what was once known as the Italian Colony has thus been reimagined, reinvented, and reinvigorated. Today, Little Italy is being hailed as a bold model for urban redevelopment. Moreover, with the arrival in recent years of a new wave of immigrants, a modern tale of toil has taken the place of the previous historical narrative of this colorful community.
The characteristics of these new immigrants (while in some ways not so different than the immigrants of past generations looking to make good in a new land), do contain one notable difference: These entrepreneurs have often arrived with a plan in place and requisite funding in hand. Consequently, they represent a vital component in the overall systemic restructuring of this neighborhood.
Little Italy has become an ever-evolving enclave, one that is at once suited for and defined by the vibrant and diverse demographic that composes its landscape—a neighborhood that has almost come to represent a microcosm of our cherished land of opportunity writ large. The new merchants setting up shop in the neighborhood have deliberately flocked to San Diego’s Little Italy, likely for the sense of community and for the ambience Little Italy fosters and of which they are also creators. So, too, are the new residents of Little Italy looking for a sense of community in a downtown setting when it comes to their selection of dwelling, and they are not only consumers but co-creators as well.
The neighborhood has taken on a different role, not one based on history or tradition but one based on a continually changing definition of purpose and place. The evolution of the neighborhood’s cultural artifacts, then, is a natural extension of these dynamics. But how does its changing identity and purpose affect the cultural heritage of the neighborhood? Regarding cultural artifacts and assets in the form of narrative, what stories are being told, who is recounting them, and what is being left out? Ultimately, how the neighborhood develops in the next several years and how it retains an Italian American identity or perhaps how it reshapes that identity will provide a context for rich scholarship.
San Diego’s Little Italy remains a salient element in Italian Americana. At Convivio, we are doing our own redefining of space and place at Amici House in the Little Italy Dog Park—contributing our voice to the overall narrative of the enclave. The charming restored cottage serves as the community’s cultural hub creating a third place for residents and visitors to the Italian neighborhood.
Ultimately, we at Convivio envision a large-scale Italian American museum and cultural center in San Diego and are working toward that goal. You can learn more on our site at conviviosociety.org/vision. In the meantime, we would love to hear from you! What makes Little Italy stand out for you? What would you like to see regarding programs at Amici House? Please drop us a line at conviviosociety.org/contact.
Strangers Among Us—Little Italy During Wartime
The Convivio Now and Again Series comprises oral histories from Italian-community members. In this excerpt from an interview with Fran Marline Stephenson, Fran discusses a dynamic experienced by many Italian Americans during World War II.
The war was getting really heavy, and a man in an officer’s uniform came to our door. He said, “I have some papers here, and I want you to read these. You have to leave your home and go to Oklahoma, and you’re going to go into a concentration camp. We’re going to take all the people who live near the waterfront because you’re too dangerous.” I said, “I don’t understand why we’re dangerous. My brother is in the Navy. I worked in an aircraft plant. And you’re telling me that you’re gonna put me in a camp with a bunch of people? I’m not a foreigner.” He said, “Well, your father doesn’t have second papers.” I said, “I’ll fix that, but don’t tell me you’re gonna take me out of my house. And who do you think you are, coming here and telling me…this is my country.” I just tore into him, that poor soul. And he just looked at me. He said, “All right, all right, don’t get excited.” And I said, “Excited? I’m furious to think that my government would come and tell me that they’re gonna put my family in a concentration camp. Shame on them.” He said, “Well, I’ll give you a month. If your father can write his name and go get his second papers, we’ll forgive you for that.”
And we got out a big sheet of paper, and I gave my father a pencil and said, “You’re gonna write your name.” He said, “What? I can’t.” I said, “You’re gonna learn, starting tonight.” And his hands were so thick because he pulled in [fishing] nets all the time that he couldn’t bend them. I put a pencil in his hand and I said, “Okay, now I’m gonna show you.” I took his hand and I said, “Federico.” I wrote, Federico. Now you write it by yourself.” And very slowly he copied it. He looked at it for a while and he said, “That’s my name?” I said, “Yes, Pa, that’s your name.” He said, “I’ve never seen my name written before.”
And so it was about four months later, we had to go to court, and all kinds of people were coming there to get their last papers. But they had to learn to say The Constitution of the United States. So we practiced it and we practiced it. “Pa, today we’re going and you have to tell the judge, say, ‘The Constitution of the United States.’” Well, I didn’t know what he’d kept in his head. But he got up in front of him and the judge said, “Mr. Marline, can you say ‘The Constitution of the United States?’” And he goes, “Lo conna-sta-too-shon,” and that’s all he said, “Lo conna-sta-too-shon.” And the judge pounded his gavel and said, “That’s okay—at least you tried.” And he got his second papers.
And he was so overwhelmed, he said, “Gee, just think, I’m an American citizen now.” He was so proud. And even before he had his papers given to him, every flag day we used to have a little flag, and he’d put that outside the window—he had a little stand for it, let everybody know that he believed in this country. And what I learned in my lifetime in Little Italy was being different, and yet the same. We’re all the same people, we’re just different color, but we’re still the same people.
Another Italian-themed, hat-giveaway night with the Padres has come and gone, but not without its share of excitement and emotion as the Padres met the Rockies. To start the day, the U-19 Team Italy softball squad, playing this weekend in Irvine for the U-19 Women’s Softball World Cup, paid a visit to Amici House after a practice session at SDSU and before a stop at Petco Park for the captains to throw out the first pitch. Italian American singer Grace Giordano beautifully delivered the national anthem with culminating cheers from the 20,000 fans in attendance. Our thanks to Mona Lisa Italian Foods in Little Italy for the support and great food for the team’s reception. Thanks to the San Diego Padres for hosting Team Italy! For photos, please follow the link to our Facebook page.
THURSDAY, MAY 31, 2018 @ 6:10PM
PADRES VS. MARLINS
The Little Italy Association and Convivio are proud to partner with the San Diego Padres for the 2018 Italian Heritage Night on Thursday, May 31.
Come celebrate with us for an evening of special guests and programming. Purchase your tickets today to have a chance to receive a limited edition commemorative San Diego Padres Italian Heritage Night hat and an option to upgrade to a VIP experience. The first pitch will be at 6:10 p.m.
Nico Garbella // Team Italia
Giovanni Garbella // Team Italia
Erika Piancastelli // Team Italia (Softball)
Location: Pacifico Porch
Includes: Admission into Petco Park, seating in VIP section, commemorative San Diego Padres Italian Heritage Night hat, hot food (1-hour before and 1-hour after first pitch), free flowing Pacifico beer/water/soft drinks (1-hour before first pitch until 7th inning), and more.
(Tickets Coming Soon)
* Limited seats available.
Location: Field Pavilion Upper Half
Cost: $29-$30 each**
Includes: Admission into Petco Park and commemorative San Diego Padres Italian Heritage Night hat.
** Subject to fees.
Read our current article in San Diego Downtown News. We have an exciting program in store with several events slated through the next several months, all leading up to Italian American Heritage Night at Petco Park! Stay tuned for more information!
This week, the Brunetto Family of Mona Lisa laid to rest its patriarch, Stefano Brunetto (known to me and most of the community as “Zu” Stefanu, meaning “uncle” in Sicilian.) He touched the lives of many of us and was a fixture in our community. When I would see him, he would remind me of my importance: “Tu si numero uno,” he would say to me. (“You are number one.”) Yes, he called everyone that, but he had an uncanny ability of making you feel like you were truly the only number one—this was just a small part of his unique charm.
It is no surprise that many of my memories of him revolve around soccer, as he remained passionate about the game throughout his life. I fondly recall an exhibition soccer match where I served as a ball boy, with Zu Stefanu and my dad at the field as organizers, and I proudly donning my Juventus jersey. (Juventus was Zu Stefanu’s Italian soccer team of choice.) I also remember watching the 1982 World Cup in his company amid our shouts as the match concluded with Italy reigning as champion. I still picture his excitement at the victory and can see his beaming face.
Zu Stefanu came to this country as most immigrants—with an entrepreneurial mindset and a family-focused spirit, building both a business and family with love and care. One important aspect of Zu Stefanu that remains today is his embodiment of the elements an individual must have in helping shape a community and how that can result in a business becoming much more than a mere space. Mona Lisa is a fixture, its reach extending beyond the confines of the Little Italy neighborhood. Many of our Italian-community members who have long since left the neighborhood often return to shop and eat at Mona Lisa, once again highlighting the importance of place, not just space, and its symbolism in our community. Zu Stefanu, at the helm of Mona Lisa and serving as an architect of place in Little Italy, has taught his children and grandchildren well, as they now carry on a grand tradition, maintain a strong work ethic, and emphasize a focus on the community they continue to shape and to which they contribute so much.
In his later years, Zu Stefanu would always ask me about my uncles back in the old country, his paesani with whom he was very close, also emphasizing his remembrance of the people and place of his past and how that connection remained important to him.
I wish the Brunetto family much solace during this time. Zu Stefanu will always have a place in my heart as well as in our community’s collective one. Thanks for all the love you gave, Zu Stefanu. You are the true Numero Uno. —Tom Cesarini