We Are Family

New York City: Family-oriented and inviting. What?? That’s not the average person’s view of New York City. Yet in the first two chapters of The Madonna of 115th Street by Robert A. Orsi, the image of East Harlem that is depicted is not one that most New Yorkers share. This is not only a modern view of New York City, but also one that has been in existence since it first became known as an urban center. However, the image of New York City that Orsi depicts is one of a welcoming place. The description on page 19 of Ellis Island, the entranceway to the city, “as a point of reunion, a moment in a larger family structure,” is very different from many people view New York. New York City is seen, particularly Manhattan, at least in popular media, not as a warm place but one where people go to get lost. There are very few movies where people ‘find’ themselves amidst the gray, never-sleeping background of New York City.

The family-oriented East Harlem that Orsi portrays is one that seems like it has been picked up out of Italy and brought across the Atlantic Ocean. On page 19, Orsi cites that many of the Italian immigrants felt as if their only connection to Italy was their family. Once all of their family members had moved to the United States, the connection with Italy was almost completely severed; there was no need for this connection because the most important aspect of Italy to the immigrants were their families. Once the family had moved locations, there was absolutely no necessity to look back towards the ‘homeland’ because everything they desired was in New York.

This tight family-unit is extremely inviting and as I read I couldn’t help but feel a bit envious. While the new immigrants obviously struggled throughout their attempts to make better lives for themselves in New York City, they almost always had a group of fellow Italians, often whom they were related to, to fall back on. The hardships that they went through weren’t just to become wealthy, living the capitalist dream, but instead had a goal to make a better life for their family.

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