Asked if she liked America, an Italian homeworker replied in 1911: “Not much, not much. In my country, people cook out-of doors, do the wash out-of-doors, tailor out-of-doors, make macaroni out-of-doors. And my people laugh, laugh all the time. In America, is “sopra, sopra!” [up, up, with a gesture of going upstairs]. Many people, one house; work, work all the time. Good money but no good air.”
Source: Elizabeth C. Watson, “Home Work in the Tenements,” Survey, 25 (1910), 772
In hindsight, perhaps, the above statement could have been spoken by the hard-working Italian woman portrayed in this iconic, social journalistic photo. Her name was Mary Mauro. Mary lived in Italian East Harlem, in a 5 story “old-law” walk-up tenement, along with her family in 1911. By some “synchronistic serendipity,” Mary was one of the “homeworkers” chosen by sociologist and photographer, Lewis Wickes Hine, to be portrayed in his photographic documentary series, on immigrants in the United States… in this particular case, child labor and tenement homework. In December of 1911, Mary lived at 309 East 110th Street, adjacent to the Metropolitan Gas Light Company’s massive twin gas tanks. (Predecessor of Consolidated Edison.) Coincidentally, for my family history research, My paternal great grandmother, Maria Altieri, her husband, Andrea, and their 5 children lived in the same building, later on in time, during the 1920’s. It’s highly possible that this woman is the grandmother-in-law of my father’s first cousin, Kiki Aiello Mauro, as her husband, Louie Mauro hailed from this Italian enclave. (Note to self: I really need to ask my Aiello cousins if there is a connection here.) 🙂
Upshot: The old adage, “snap a picture, it lasts longer!”, is so true in Mary Mauro’s case, as she and her family are forever etched in the virtual superhighway of our existence! Thank you, Mr. Lewis Wickes Hine! God Bless our ancestral heritage…God Bless America!
ALTHOUGH THE “HALCYON DAYS” OF EAST HARLEM ARE LONG GONE,PLEASE HELP ME KEEP THE MEMORY ALIVE, OF WHAT LIFE ONCE WAS IN OUR OLD NEIGHBORHOOD!
SEND ME YOUR PHOTOS! I WILL POST THEM ON ITALIANHARLEM.COM! I WILL POST THEM IN MEMORY OF YOUR ANCESTORS…JUST MENTION YOUR FAMILY NAME, AND IT SHALL BE DONE!
EMAIL YOUR PHOTOS TO: firstname.lastname@example.org
THANK YOU FOR SHARING YOUR MEMORIES!
Angela Bella Puco
As I add salt to the boiling water, in a small way, I am also “reconnecting” to my Italian Harlem heritage…Rao’s sauce is my favorite macaroni sauce-bar none! There, I said it…macaroni! Shall I say gravy? Sure, why not! ;-)Posted: June 19, 2014
East 119th Street, b/w 2nd and 3rd Avenue. May 11th 1919.
Can you spot the East Harlem storefronts?(Albeit long gone.) Bet some of you can! Have fun!
Remember when? Now, it’s a Dunkin’ Donuts. Go figure! Pretty soon, every remnant of the old neighborhood will be put to rest. That’s a crying shame!