As I wander through the Saint Louis enclave known as The Italian Hill, I think about the numerous generations of Italian immigrants who have walked these streets before me. I think about those who first came to Saint Louis more than a century ago—those who settled north of downtown near Saint Joseph Shrine on Biddle Street. I recall my mother who came over with her family and settled in a tiny one room home on Marconi. She didn’t make the journey by boat like so many others from previous generations. Rather, she and her family came by plane for they were part of the last wave of Italian immigrants.
I’m strolling along Marconi Street in a pensive mood today. The façade of Saint Ambrose Church is directly in view. I haven’t been inside in years. Why not take a peak in. As I enter, I see Msgr. Bommarito arranging the altar for a wedding. It’s Saturday. The smell of incense and candles fill the sanctuary. I light a candle in memory of my nonno and nonna. As I step outside, my senses are bombarded with the smell of salami coming from Amighetti’s. My friend Giuseppe works there so I stop inside. Giuseppe’s parents were born in Sicily. My mom was born in Venezia Giulia. We come from cultures worlds apart in Italy, but in St. Louis we are best friends or amici di cuore as we say in Italian. He can speak Sicilian. I can speak Triestine. I catch him on his lunch break and we talk for about a half hour. He tells me he’s going to make pizza for his girlfriend tonight. That reminds me, I need to prepare something for this evening. I head down to DiGregorio’s Market, the primary reason I came to The Hill in the first place. There’s a sweet elderly lady at the cash register. I greet her in Italian, “Buongiorno Signoria, come stai?” Her face lights up. She’s been here ever since I can remember. I can’t imagine the market without her. I buy some fresh mozzarella cheese for an insalata caprese that I’ve decided to make for some friends tonight. I need something light and simple. It’s a humid day. Polenta is definitely not an option. On my way out, I pick up a free copy of Il Pensiero, St. Louis’ only Italian-American newspaper. Heading back to my car, I realize I that parked right next to Gelato di Riso. I try and resist the urge but I just have to try one scoop of their stracciatella. It’s delicious.
This is The Italian Hill. My Italian Hill. Our Italian Hill. Each of us has our own experiences of this quaint and cozy neighborhood. Some of us grew up here. Some of us immigrated here. Many of us come here regularly to shop, to eat, and to meet friends and relatives. I hope that through Saint Louis’ new Italian-American magazine Ciao St. Louis we can make The Hill a more inclusive community for all Italians and Italian-Americans, young and old, immigrants of yesteryear as well as recent arrivals.