Inquirer Editorial: Has the Italian Market outgrown its name?

Apr 26, 2013 1004

With taquerías and other conspicuously non-Italian businesses proliferating in South Philadelphia's Italian Market, should the neighborhood be renamed for the sake of anthropological accuracy? The answer is the same whether you're a Sicilian or a Sinaloan: No.

The Daily News' Helen Ubiñas raised the question in a recent column, arguing that these days, the neighborhood's name "just doesn't reflect the reality of the street." As she pointed out, the collection of businesses occupying the historic curb market along South Ninth Street has steadily become less Italian and more Asian and Latino, particularly Mexican.

National Italian American Foundation chairman Joseph V. Del Raso took exception in an Inquirer commentary this week. Though the market is clearly going global, he argued that it should retain its name partly because, from Di Bruno Bros. to Giordano's, its "predominant flavor remains Italian, and its most prominent merchants are Italian Americans."

In fact, every aspect of the market's makeup is worth noting and appreciating. But we don't need to conduct a census to name a neighborhood.

Even if there comes a time when the market's Italian old guard disappears, the old name need not go with it. We wouldn't expect Philadelphia's Chinatown to be renamed based on future demographic shifts, and Germantown certainly ceased to "reflect the reality of the street" long ago.

America's cities are replete with neighborhoods that have outlasted the residence of their eponymous ethnicities. Italians are about as outnumbered in New York's Little Italy as the Chinese are in Washington's Chinatown.

Particularly given current congressional debates about border security and pathways to citizenship, such historical neighborhood names are a useful reminder that immigration in this country is a long story with many chapters. The languages, cultures, and continents have changed, but the motivations, obstacles, and successes form a pattern.

The Italian Market's name memorializes the fortunate reality that today's immigrants weren't the first to crowd into its stalls, and they likely won't be the last.

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