San Pedro's "Little Italy"
In 2019 the Los Angeles neighborhood of San Pedro, located on the coast adjacent to the Port of Los Angeles, the largest in the nation, was officially designated "Little Italy" by the Los Angeles City Council. These ethnic designations of different neighborhoods, like Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Little Armenia, etc.., are not meant to be discriminatory and segregate, but to recognize the majority group of people who once and in some cases still live in certain neighborhoods and were a huge part of their history and development. In some cases it is a way of memorializing that ethnic group, in a sort of living museums, and to share that history with the world, particularly if that historic population is now dispersed. It is a way for a people to say "We were once here. We helped build this." However, that said, segregation is now illegal in the United States, as well as restrictive housing covenants, so any group of people can live in any neighborhood they wish, no matter its name. You don't have to be Chinese to buy or rent a home in Chinatown, and you don't have to be Italian to live in San Pedro's Little Italy. However, you should learn and respect the history of your chosen community and while contributing your own culture and adding on your own story to it, you are also encouraged to help preserve and share the culture of the neighborhood that has been there for generations or had created that community.
This designation was not without controversy though, as San Pedro, like most of Los Angeles, and indeed like the United States as a whole, was a diverse area with many ethnic groups, though through my research the two most visible were yes, the Italians, but also Croatians. Yes, Croatians. According to Richard Foss in "San Pedro’s ‘Little Italy’ Raises Historical Fiction Question," published in Random Lengths News, "As a historian, I was puzzled when I heard that part of San Pedro would be designated as Historic Little Italy at the instigation of Councilman Joe Buscaino. Though a large Italian community did exist here, most coming from the coast and islands near Naples, the area’s Croatian community has been more active in recent decades. It’s worth noting, though, that to Angelenos in the 19th century they were the same. Angelenos routinely referred to coastal Croatians as Italians, because it was a linguistic designation, not a national identity. Before 1871 there was no nation called Italy. Due to the trading importance of Venice most coastal Croatians spoke Italian as a first or second language and shared a food culture and in 1870s LA there were Italian restaurants owned by people with names like Markovich and Illich. In San Pedro the two communities, both Catholic and involved in the fishing trade, were commingled almost from the outset."
Just as there were also Portuguese, along with smaller ethnic populations, in the neighborhood now called San Diego's "Little Italy," so were there Croatians, among other groups, in San Pedro. While, as an Italian American, I am delighted that there is now a spot on the map of the City of Los Angeles with the words "Little Italy," I must, in good conscience, recognize the Croatians and other groups that once called it home with many still living there today. Designating San Pedro "Little Italy" is meant in no way to erase the heritage and contributions of the Croatians and others, simply to recognize one of the pivotal populations as there is still, along side the Croatians, a visible Italian population in San Pedro with Italian American Club, Trappeto Club and Mary Star of the Sea church, among a few historic businesses that are owned or cater to Italians in particular, like A-1 Grocery and Marabella Winery, though none of those are within the borders of today's "Little Italy" San Pedro.
Ironically, today, and for many decades now, all things Italian are loved and desired, when a century ago Italians and our culture were nearly despised, so this designation is also used as a branding and marketing tool to attract economic activity to a depressed region that is experiencing rebirth and redevelopment. As Councilmember Joe Buscaino and Former Assemblyman now Little Italy of Los Angles Board Chair Mike Gatto point out, and as I explained here above, all are welcomed to San Pedro's Little Italy and all cultures, particularly those indigenous to the neighborhood, like the Croatians, are welcomed to share and celebrate their heritage there.
I hope whenever you are in the Southern California area you visit Little Italy of Los Angeles and immerse yourself in the history and culture of the Italians of San Pedro, while also learning about the other ethnic groups and cultures that make San Pedro, and Los Angeles in general, the awesome multicultural American city it is today.
In 2019, I attended the official unveiling of the Little Italy San Pedro gateway sign and after a year and a half of the pandemic, I was able to attend the first big in-person event in that neighborhood, Festa Italiana that was held on Saturday, October 2nd, 2021. Below are videos of those two events.
Commemoration of the Official Designation of Little Italy Los Angeles and Sign Unveiling 2019:
Los Angeles City Councilmember along with Former Assemblyman now Little Italy of Los Angles Association Chair Mike Gatto Welcomes Guests to Festa Italiana and Awards the Night's Honorees, October 2nd, 2021:
Photos of Festa Italiana 2021: