By Dr. Sal Martingano, FICPA
“EH… ASCOLTAMI !”
Ever watch an Italian in conversation? The words are not as important as the hands. In fact, most of us Italian boomers would be mute if we couldn’t speak with our hands. Wow….the memories are vivid; wish you could have been there. Hey, maybe you can if I can use words instead of hands. Guess what…I did… and you’re in for a real treat.
Yes, first wave Italian Baby Boomers were a unique bunch; I know, I was one of them. However, despite what you may think, not all stories about Italians living in Brooklyn during the 40’s and 50’s were centered around mob families. This one surely isn’t…. this one is about, me and my 5 lifelong friends; boys who grew up in Bensonhurst during this time when life never sucked. Italian families, especially mine, took pride in exuberant behavior. The ‘incoherent ranting’, I labeled as “after work arguments triggered by almost anything”, were highly animated, loud and often had no point in mind other than to overpower the conversation. Most Italian households appeared to be loving war zones; however, the streets were a melting pot of fellow boomers eager for adventure. The story you will read is true, the adventures are real and the names have not been changed because we all were innocent, so get ready.
BUT FIRST – SOME BACKGROUND ABOUT NEW YORK CITY IN the 1940’s & 1950’s:
Between 1946 and 1947 nearly 16 million World War II American servicemen were returning home at the same time; with about 1 million from New York. Early boomer moms began popping out babies at the rate of 338,000 per month, probably because there was no TV at the time…. eh..ya’ know what I mean? The 5 boroughs of NYC, especially Brooklyn became Boomer heaven.
Some 12-14 million others emigrated from Germany and Ireland through Ellis Island at 5,000 per day. NYC became the melting pot of America. East Harlem became “Little Italy”. By the end of WW2 Little Italy was busting at the seams and it was time to spread out to the boroughs of Brooklyn, Staten Island and ‘Da’ Bronx.
Brooklyn was just a stone’s throw away from Ellis Island, and Italian immigration central. It was the first chapter of a new life for those who became the boomer generation. By 1925 over 4 million Italians fled the poverty and corruption of southern Italy and Sicily to take their chances in a country that espouses FREEDOM; something unheard of under the Socialist and Fascist control of Italy. The rich and powerful were in northern Italy while southern Italy was violent, corrupt and the home of crime families. In short, my grandparents and 4 million other Italians decided…we’re ou’tta here.
You might ask, what about the crime families? Bensonhurst, Brooklyn became the partial home of the Lucchesse, Gambino and Genovese crime families, making my Bensonhurst home safe and secure…or else!! In fact, my Bensonhurst home was neighbor to a “Capo” in the Genovese crime family and I never knew it until his son and I got into a fisticuff match at 11 yrs. old……good thing I was Italian!!!
Growing up in Bensonhurst was a magical experience. Being allowed to fail without ridicule; develop educational and economic successes based on self-reliance and strong family bonds, are traits disappearing under Liberalism. Movies may have portrayed us as long-haired, hippy, bong-carrying, good time rock n’ roll greasers who terrorized old ladies by “mooning” them as they sipped their afternoon “tea” at their home windows but make no mistake boomers were an unprecedented economic force, pushing up rates of homeownership, making leaps in technology and innovation, consumer spending and, most important of all, employment.
BOOMERS AND OUR IMPACT
The “boomer” generation, 71 million strong, was the offspring of our “greatest generation. We earned our place in American society by capitalizing on all that American culture and ingenuity had to offer. We were free to explore, invent, develop lasting relationships and experience life filled with excitement that future generations can only read about. Yes, times have changed but memories live forever; check it out.
In retrospect, some wish they were part of that generation, others are simply happy to read about it. Whatever your interest level, how it really happened requires firsthand experience. As a card-carrying Italian baby boomer from Bensonhurst Brooklyn, I can tell you, I experienced American life as it was meant to be; raw, exciting and filled with adventure.
I invite you to read more about this time when life never sucked, and more Brooklyn Italian culture, the Boomer generation and read some great stories. It is my mission to ensure that our present and future generations be as prosperous and fortunate as I have been and never lose sight of what it means to be FREE.
The Boys of Brooklyn: A Time When Life Never Sucked
is available on Amazon here.