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The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, Second Edition Paperback – March 1, 2002


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Product Details

  • Series: Yale Nota Bene
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 2 Sub edition (March 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300091354
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300091359
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #635,590 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"A richly tapestried portrait-narrative... Orsi is to be commended for a truly significant contribution to the annals of American social history." Francesco Cordasco, USA Today "Orsi has fashioned an impressive fusion of the inner histories of immigrant social and religious life." John W. Briggs, American Historical Review

From the Back Cover

Reviews of the earlier edition: "A richly tapestried portrait-narrative. . . . Orsi is to be commended for a truly significant contribution to the annals of American social history." —Francesco Cordasco, USA Today "Orsi has fashioned an impressive fusion of the inner histories of immigrant social and religious life."— John W. Briggs, American Historical Review

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The Madonna of 115th Street is the study of Italian immigrants who settled in East Harlem, New York City. It is additionally, a story of a religious celebration, the annual festa of the Madonna of Mount Carmel on East 115th Street in New York City. The book highlights personal experiences of this particular ethnic group as they adapt to life in America while striving to preserve their heritage. These Italian immigrants use the festa to pass on to the children their deepest, most important values of faith in God, rispetto (mutual respect), and the domus (family).

Above all else, the domus was the most important thing to the Italian immigrants, and everything that they did was related back to concern for their family. Perhaps because of their oppression in the old country, southern Italians understood that first and foremost, they must support and protect their family because that is the only thing that truly matters. "They had traveled by steamship away from the world of la miseria, the great suffering of southern Italy, best translated as slow dying, an emptying of hope and ambition in the face of oppression and neglect. The immigrants themselves knew the spiritual consequences of this economic disease-a numb posture of hopelessness and despair. The world they left was characterized by unemployment, overpopulation, disease, over taxation, and internal colonization. They left to save themselves and their families." The decision to emigrate was a family decision, taken as part of a broader family strategy for survival. Some member or members of the family would leave home and travel to America to make money and send it back to the family."(18) "The family provided for everything. We ate as one family. We had no use for money as individuals.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Matt Tippens on February 8, 2011
Format: Paperback
Robert A. Orsi's "The Madonna of 115th Street" examines the Madonna of Italian Harlem, a particularly important figure between the years 1880-1950. Orsi's book is also a study of Italian immigrants, the growth of Italian Harlem, and the concept of domus. Within this mix is Catholicism in America, which stood opposed to many of the customs brought to Harlem from southern Italy with the immigrants. Orsi explores this rich mix of influences and takes a sympathetic view towards what he calls the Italian popular religion and insists that it was a legitimate part of the Catholic Church in America. What was the function of religion in Italian Harlem? Orsi details its function, the role of the Madonna, and the annual festa, in which the people of Harlem revealed their values and understanding of the world.

Orsi describes Italian Harlem as a theater of extremes where immigrants came with great hopes and found a world not much different from the one they left. It was poor, densely populated, troubled by crime and juvenile delinquency, yet it was a place people came to love. Amid these extremes grew the devotion to the Madonna of 115th Street, a symbol of Italian popular religion. The statue of the Virgin, imported from the old country, was a visible link between Italy and East Harlem. The use of the Madonna was controversial in the United States, but received approval from Pope Leo XIII that sealed the presence of a Rome-centered Catholicism in the United States. The Madonna functioned as a protector for Italian women - to guard the body and defend the soul. Women told the Madonna about their troubles: sickness, unemployment, family tension, or unhappy relationships. Then the Madonna would intervene.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Siciliano VINE VOICE on October 9, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Like the many penitents he renders, Robert Orsi sees all things in "The Madonna of 115th Street."

A scholar of things religious, and connoisseur of matters Italian-American, Orsi combines these two interests so that one defines and explains the other.

To the uninitiated, the Madonna of Mount Carmel is just a statue like countless others throughout Europe and the Americas that interprets the Virgin Mary in plaster relief.

But in Orsi's erudite hands La Madonna (and the faith she engenders) becomes an analytical tool that unlocks doors to discussion on Italian-American family life, the role of work, the trials of immigration, the history of colonization in the old country, and, of course, food.

His base of scholarly operations is the now-vanished Italian East Harlem, but those raised in the culture will recognize themselves, their families, and neighborhood networks in its residents.

The author did years of in-depth research, but found most of his truths on the streets of Little Italy. The resulting interviews may have informed the text, but don't make many actual appearances.

Much of "Madonna" is given over to Orsi's ornate reasoning, and even speculation, about the meanings of the religious icon, and how they can be discerned in the behaviors of mid-century Italian-Americans in urban New York.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. Somebody had to do it and his thoughts mostly ring true. Where they don't, the opportunity for debate and discussion naturally arise, and that is a second service the author rendered.

Don't give this book to your Aunt Rosina in Coney Island unless she's got a college degree and a sociological bent.
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