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Mayor Fiorello La Guardia reading the Daily News election results in 1941.


March 24, 2008, Italian American Museum Announces Faith and Identity: Saint Dominic Church and the Italian Americans of Brooklyn is a photo documentary about post-World War II Italian immigrants and their children and grandchildren.

Among Italian Americans, Catholicism has endured the tradition from generation to generation longer than language, culinary traditions or craftsmanship. Events such as weddings, baptisms, and religious feasts bring to the church even those in the community who are not churchgoers. Attending these ceremonies is a matter of tradition as well as a matter of religion. All the generations still alive come together for the celebrations, which provide an insight into the Italian American culture.

Built in the early Seventies in the heart of the Italian enclave of Bensonhurst, Saint Dominic over the years has become a reference point for the last wave of Italian immigrants in the area.

Through the documentation of religious feasts, baptisms and weddings, the project visually explores the role that this small church, which is the only church in Brooklyn that still offers a daily mass in Italian, plays for the Italian American community left in a neighborhood that is slowly but steadily losing its Italian ethnic soul.

In 1970, in fact, Italians comprised more than 40 per cent of the population in Bensonhurst. In 1980, Italy was the birthplace of the greatest number of New York City’s foreign born, but by the mid-1980s Italian immigrants had gone down to 26th place. With a whole generation of immigrants fading away and no newcomers on the horizon, the disappearance of ethnic Italian churches is inevitable.

Since the beginning, Saint Dominic’s boundaries have contained such high numbers of Italian speaking people that a daily mass in Italian became a necessity. The tradition has consolidated over the years and today the parish is well attended also by second and third-generation Italian Americans who feel particularly attached to their Italian roots.

Keeping the Italian heritage alive through language and through a constant mediation between the American and the Italian aspects of the parishioners’ lives has become Saint Dominic’s legacy.

Day by day, with common sense and an open mind, Father Ellis Tommaseo and Deacon Carlo Mellace try to reach out to different generations of Italian Americans through dialogue rather then impositions. They don’t question, for example, the fact that very often parishioners don’t get married at Saint Dominic’s because it is not a beautiful church and it doesn’t have an aisle to walk down. They make sure that Saint Dominic is always represented in Italian street celebrations, whether it is the Columbus Day Parade or a FIFA World Cup victory.

The project, that has required 6 months of fieldwork, is an effort to document Saint Dominic’s community within and outside the church boundaries. Its aim is not only to portray a reality that is disappearing but also, in these times of increasing xenophobia, to make the viewers empathize and sympathize with anyone suspended in between worlds.

The Italian American Museum is the first museum dedicated to preserving and presenting the cultural and social contributions of Italian Americans to the American way of life. The exhibit, Faith and Identity is free and will be open to the public from Monday through Friday 10:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment (212.642.2020) at 28 West 44th Street, 17th floor between 5th and 6th Avenues. Major funding for this exhibit has been provided in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the Columbus Citizens Foundations. Please visit our website www.italianamericanmuseum.org.

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