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Streetscape and Ethnicity: New York's Mulberry Street and the Redefintion of the Italian American Identity (2008)

Directed by Prof. Jo R. Leimenstoll. 161 pp.


The current research looked at ways in which the built environment of an ethnic enclave contributes to the definition and redefinition of the ethnic identity of its inhabitants. Assuming a dynamic component of the built environment, the study advanced the idea of the streetscape as an active agent of change in the definition and redefinition of ethnic identity. Throughout a century of existence, Little Italy – New York’s most prominent Italian enclave – changed its demographics, appearance and significance; these changes resonated with changes in the ethnic identity of its inhabitants.

From its beginnings at the end of the nineteenth century until the present, Little Italy’s Mulberry Street has maintained its privileged status as the core of the enclave, but changed its symbolic role radically. Over three generations of Italian immigrants, Mulberry Street changed its role from a space of trade to a space of leisure, from a place of providing to a place of consuming, and from a social arena to a tourist tract. The photographic analysis employed in this study revealed that changes in the streetscape of Mulberry Street connected with changes in the ethnic identity of its inhabitants, from regional Southern Italian to Italian American. Moreover, the photographic evidence demonstrates the active role of the street in the permanent redefinition of the Italian American identity.

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