FROM ITALIAN PIZZA TO SALVADORAN PUPUSA
Updated: Dec 3, 2021
The following paper is the product of this researcher’s participant observation study of twin immigrant communities—Italian and Salvadoran—in suburban Glen Cove, New York. All names of the subjects/informants have been changed, although these accounts are based on personal interviews. All interviews in Italian and Spanish were conducted by the researcher, who is fluent in both languages, and who translated and transcribed them into English for this paper.
One of the myths of immigration to the United States is that those who left their native countries abandoned the world of their birth; that once the trans Atlantic journey was concluded that the immigrants, physically removed from their Mother Lands, were disconnected from the countries left behind.
The reality, whether one studies the movement of rural Southern Italians at the end of the 19th beginning of the 20th century, or rural Salvadorans at the end of the 20th century beginning of the 21st century, is far more complex and suggests rather a class of citizenry more properly conceived of as a distant national connected in myriad familial ways to the Mother Land, than an entirely new hyphenated U.S. National.
This paper, based on observational research, interview and archival review of primary historical documents, is meant to be a preliminary re-examination of the reality of those distant citizens. However the context for the new rural immigrants—resettled in the United States--is not the usual immigrant urban village of a large metropolitan area, but a suburban area—Glen Cove, New York.
Glen Cove was chosen as the locus of this study because it has experienced two movements of immigrant peoples in ways more urban than suburban. The massive migrations from rural southern Italy at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, and the consequence of extreme poverty sent Italians “to the country,” to Glen Cove; and the wave of migrations during the last two decades of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st century as civil wars convulsed El Salvador, sent rural Salvadorans al Norte (up north) to seek refuge and new lives in Glen Cove.
The histories of these two immigrations, during two very different historical moments, and from two distinctly different historical realities, nevertheless share surprising parallels. The intent of this brief paper is to point out some of those commonalities and describe how they have colored and continue to have an imprint on the life of Glen Cove, a suburban city.
Standing in the tidal basin separating the City of Glen Cove’s Morgan Island neighborhood from mainland Glen Cove, I can look across Long Island Sound to Donald Trump’s New Rochelle Tower. Straining my neck a bit looking further east along the Connecticut coast, the green foliage and beaches of exclusive Greenwich are clearly visible. One hundred years ago, had I been standing here, I would have been arrested for trespassing, for as far as the eye could have seen, the Island, its greenery, and buildings surrounding me, would have belonged to fabled banker/philanthropist John J. Morgan. Dosoris Lane, the road I had traveled to reach Morgan Island, would then have been lined with narrow cul-de-sacs at the end of which would have been the homes of some of the most illustrious bankers, industrialists, and oil men of America’s Gilded Age. This was their Gold Coast.
Fast forward a hundred years from the Glen Cove of the Gold Coast to the post-industrial age, 21st century suburban Glen Cove, which is today the proxy homeland of rural southern Salvadorans.
Standing at a pupuseria (corn bread café) on Glen Cove’s Glen Street, next to Eliseo who eats lunch here every day, I finish my pupusa de frijol y queso(stuffed bean and cheese corn bread sandwich), the salsa roja (hot red sauce) taste still on my lips, and wash it down with a long, slow pull on a cool glass of home-made atol de elote (a sweet thick corn-based summer beverage). The pupusas and the atol, whose kernels are stripped by hand, are both made in the backroom by family members of the owner. A CD player pumps out the alternative rock singer Ricardo Arjona’s tune Si el Norte Fuera el Sur (If the North Were the South), a sarcastic and biting commentary on US relations with the Americas south of the Rio Grande. The music reverberates throughout the tiny eating area. Around me, the rhythms and speech patterns of Salvadoran Spanish are in the air as the patrons, all men, but not all young; most having arrived on the bicycles parked outside, discuss work, soccer, music, and women. The tastes, the smells, and the music are so unmistakably Salvadoran that I could be standing, as I have done many times before, at a pupuseria on a side street off of Alameda Juan II in downtown San Salvador; but this is Glen Cove.
The history of Glen Cove, New York is not like that of other Long Island suburbs that grew up after World War II and William Levitt’s building of Levittown, the template for today’s modern American suburbia. Glen Cove’s origins are in Colonial America and the 1668 arrival of the Joseph Carpenter family from Rhode Island. Joseph Carpenter was a contemporary of the Puritan dissident, Robert Treat, who had also abandoned the New Haven Colony to found New Ark (Newark). The Carpenters logged and milled the surrounding woods of Musketa Cove, Glen Cove’s original name; and prospered.
From its modest beginnings as a wood milling community with a fine harbor and easy access to New York City, Glen Cove became a powerful industrial and artisanal center. Its waterfront, lush vegetation, and easy access to New York markets not only provided the basis for its original economic success, but enticed a much later economic elite of the early 20th century to journey here to enjoy its waterfront beaches and admire its beautiful vistas on the Long Island Sound. It also appealed to this elite group because of its proximity to their New York City businesses. Here, the palatial homes, grounds, and children of the J.P. Morgan, F.W. Woolworth, Charles Pratt, Henry Clay Folger, Jr. families, among others, were tended to and cared for by immigrants—mostly rural southern Italians who settled in the “country” of the then small, early 20th century village of Glen Cove. By 1910, of the 2100 residents of Glen Cove, forty percent (850) were southern Italian immigrants.
Tonino accepted my invitation to talk about his father Angelo, one of the first Avellinesi (Italians from the southern Italian province of Avellino) to settle in Glen Cove. We met at the Order of the Sons of Italy, Glen Cove Loggia on Glen Street, next door to a Salvadoran pupuseria.
“In those years, almost no one went to school in the Villages of Southern Italy. My father Angelo, who was 18 at the time, couldn’t read or write. One day a letter came to the Post Office from a villager who had left for America and settled in Glen Cove, Long Island. My father and his paesani (countrymen) gathered around the Post Master who read it to them. It was from Giuseppe, a neighbor, who three years earlier (1907) had left his hamlet of Gesulado in Avellino Province for America. My father said the letter wasn’t long, but one word from it captured his imagination. Even today, almost 70 years after he told me the story, I am still filled with sadness at my father’s innocence. He said Giuseppe had written that all the paesani who had traveled with him to Glen Cove had a sciabola. Sciabola is Italian for saber. It would have been uncommon for a peasant like my father or his paesani to see one, let alone possess such a wonderful object.”
Angelo’s imagination ignited, he dreamed of his paisano Giuseppe in a far west American frontier town. He, like most all of his migrating friends, had little comprehensive knowledge of the geography of Italy, let alone America. Italy had been a nation for less than fifty years when the massive waves of immigration began. In fact, his son would later tell me that his father Angelo did not even call himself Italian until several years after living in Glen Cove. Angelo’s primary identification was inward looking –family, Village of Gesualdo, and his Province of Avellino. Angelo had no idea Glen Cove was a suburb of New York City until he arrived there. He had imagined himself battling with his saber on the Plains of Kansas.
Confronted by the grinding hopeless miseria (poverty) of his Village, engendered by the historical inequalities of the land tenure system of Southern Italy which kept Angelo and most of the rural peasantry of Avellino and Campana in virtual servitude, Angelo badgered his mother until she finally consented. With $15 dollars and ten other familiari (family members) from Gesualdo, they made the then not-so-simple 100 mile trek westward to Naples from Gesulado and the boat to America.
Soon after his arrival in Glen Cove, Angelo was reunited with Giuseppe and other paesani Avellino (Avellino countrymen) some from Gesualdo, others from Frigento, and a majority from the neighboring village of Sturno. As soon as he could, Angelo spoke with Giuseppe asking to see his sciabola. To Angelo’s dismay, Giuseppe produced a shovel, not a saber. In the Italian/English of the times, sciabola had been transfigured into the English-Italian pidgin word, shabola or shovel, an implement which Giuseppe and his paesani did indeed possess, working in the clay pits, farms, and most especially the estates and the mansions of the “lords” of Glen Cove’s Gold Coast.
Unlike Angelo, weapons held no fascination for Eliseo. Like most Salvadorans of his generation, he was as familiar with the capabilities of a Belgian Fal, an Israeli Galil, and a cuerno (a horn), slang for a Soviet Kalashnikov, as he was with the planting cycles of chilis, corn, and cotton. His native province of Usulután was one of the principal centers for both agrarian insurgency and governmental repression. Besieged by warring political forces, brutal killings, and weary of the constant uncertainty as the conflict intensified, Eliseo, family members and neighbors decided to flee al Norte (up north).
¡Corran, corran, ya viene la Migra! (Run, run, Immigration!) Eliseo, kneeling shoulder to shoulder with Froilán, reacted swiftly to the command moving from immobility to rapid action, scampering low and agile, arms brushing hard against cactus, as they both avoided being seen by the approaching U.S. Border Patrol. Thirteen days ago, 18 year old Eliseo had said goodbye to his young wife, infant child, father, mother, and in laws, and together with seven other parientes (relatives) and campadres (buddies) from the same Cantón (county) left his sand grain speck of a southern Salvadoran hamlet near Jiquilisco, in the Province of Usulután, the last of the men to be picked up. The others had also left family and children behind to travel al Norte.
Eliseo was not traveling al Norte to escape the poverty that had forced Angelo and his Southern Italians to seek relief in America in the early part of the 20th century. In 1991, one year before Peace Accords were signed that ended El Salvador’s Civil War, Eliseo left El Salvador because he and his compadres were trapped—innocent victims—between the guerrilla forces and the Salvadoran Army in a struggle that had been simmering since the early 1930s; and then smoldering as civil war engulfed the country—this smallest and most densely populated of the Central American republics—in the early 1980s.
Supply anything to the FMLN(Farbundo Marti Liberation Front) and the National Guard accused the peasants of being guerrilla sympathizers. Care for National Guard soldiers who were billeted in the hamlet, and the guerrilla forces would accuse the peasants of siding with the government troops. At 15, Eliseo saw his paternal uncle tortured and killed before his eyes by Army soldiers; three teenage cousins had been forcibly conscripted by the FMLN; chili, coffee, corn, and sesame crops were burnt by both warring sides; and an attempt by Juquilisco peasants to occupy vast abandoned private agricultural lands and create a cooperative, had been met with severe reprisals by governmental troops.
Desperate to escape the intimidations and killing, Eliseo’s band of relatives and friends decided to seek refuge al Norte. Eliseo’s journey took 15 days in a van contracted by a local coyote (smuggler) who three years earlier had taken his brother Rafael through Guatemala and Mexico to the U. S. border and then to Glen Cove, where a paternal cousin was already living. He and each of the other men paid $5,500 in cash borrowed from relatives and friends and remittances from relatives already working in the States. Many times during the journey North, the driver had to take evasive action to avoid local authorities. This resulted in the men being forced to abandon the van and walk as many as six or seven hours until they could be reunited with the driver. Under cover of darkness, though without much difficulty, the men crossed international borders, continuing their journey day and night until reaching the Mexican/US border.
The Salvadoran coyote handed the men over to a Mexican smuggler who moved them across the U.S. border near a deserted area where Texas Route 83 runs close by the border. Yet another driver in a waiting van was in constant cell phone contact with the Mexican smuggler, and met the men at an agreed upon location. They then drove seven hours to a safe house in Houston. After spending a day making travel arrangements and calling family and friends to assure them of their safety, the men boarded the van again, to be dropped off at various locations throughout the Plains States and the Mid West. Only Eliseo continued on to the Northeast and Glen Cove, Long Island.
Thirteen days after Eliseo left Jiquilisco, his brother Rafael received a call from him in Houston, Texas asking to be picked up at the gas station at Exit 8 on the New Jersey Turnpike. Rafael walked to Glen Street in downtown Glen Cove from his nearby, newly acquired two- room apartment. After speaking with three fellow day workers lunching at a nearby downtown Glen Cove Salvadoran restaurant, he was directed to an older gentleman at an adjacent table. A Honduran, he had a legal Driver’s License and agreed to pick up Eliseo for $100 and the cost of gasoline. Rafael gave him cash, Eliseo’s cell phone number and a picture by which to recognize him.
By nightfall, after three years of absence, Eliseo and Rafael were reunited in Glen Cove. Earlier that week, Rafael had moved out of one of the many single rooms he had lived in and shared with three other Salvadorans, and into his own two rooms in a former one-family house, three blocks from downtown Glen Cove. On July 7, 1991, thirteen days after leaving Jiquilisco, Usulután, Eliseo arrived in Glen Cove, Nassau County, Long Island.
The following week, speaking no English and having entered the United States EWI (Entered Without Inspection), as his United States Immigration and Citizenship Service documents would later read, he was working on a demolition crew in Glen Cove. After paying seventy percent of his first month’s wage to the Dominican who ran a clandestine job agency, Eliseo then earned more money his next month than he would have earned in half a year in Jiquilisco. He and Rafael sent remittances home in September, a combined sum that would allow both families to acquire several manzanas (plots of land) and begin construction of a new home.
If you walk east along Glen Avenue out of Glen Cove, past the Court House and City Hall, past Nicco's Calabria Caffé, past the Orchard Plaza Shopping Center and the Cuscatelco Deli, you will come to a fruit and vegetable market. It is the only visible vestige of what had been the early 20th century Italian neighborhood, called The Orchard—home to Angelo and the majority of Italians who settled in Glen Cove. Its placement today is incongruous. There is no foot traffic here except for jornaleros (Hispanic day laborers)who are either going to or returning from work at the nearby golf courses or landscaping companies. The store’s appearance is modest. Here for decades, it has survived the normal patterns of social mobility and economic changes of a human community.
Its industrial surroundings give no indication that this market was part of the heart of The Orchard, named because the property had been an apple orchard sold to members of the Italian community. This self-contained neighborhood, where the vast majority of the Italian laborers who settled in Glen Cove in the first decade of the 20th century lived, offered the immigrants the necessary emotional, social and linguistic stability to maintain, to a remarkable degree, their cohesiveness and solidarity even though they were now in a strange new land. Stores catered to their tastes. Shop keepers spoke their dialect. Kinship networks were preserved. Personal codes of honor were maintained. A Church, St. Rocco’s, an almost exact replica of the Church of the same name in the Village of Sturno in the Province of Avellino where most of the Italians immigrated from, was built to rival the Downtown St. Patrick’s, deemed the Irish Catholic Church.
Angelo and the Avellinesi arrived in groups composed of family members as well as paesani from their hamlet or nearby villages. The decision to leave was made collectively. According to Tonino, Angelo's oldest son, "My mother and my aunts encouraged my Dad, uncles, and older cousins to leave Gesulado for America. I think they felt that this was the only way our family could resolve its economic suffering.”
Once in Glen Cove, faith, food, language, living, and work were shared. Similar to their urban counterparts living in the Little Italy ghettos in the cities of America where they settled, Angelo and his fellow Avellenesi lived in a single Glen Cove neighborhood. They were not dispersed throughout Glen Cove. They lived within a seven block enclave, not as homeowners, but as boarders in relatives' homes or in the many boarding houses within the Orchard that served as dormitories for laborers, where rooms and meals were shared. In fact, the number of households with borders was over 69 percent. The number of boarders from six to eight, and the similarity of surnames indicated kinship relationships.
There is no Little El Salvador in Glen Cove. Unlike the Italians before them, the Salvadorans are not located in a single physical and social space. Eliseo lives on Hill Street now, a ten minute walk from downtown Glen Cove; and ten minutes from The Place, the first street laid down by the 17th century settlers of Glen Cove. Eliseo’s wife, Ana Gloria, arrived a year ago, coming al Norte with eight women led by the same coyote who has moved all members of his family across international borders. There is no Salvadoran equivalent of The Orchard. Its community is dispersed throughout Glen Cove. Only the northern neighborhoods, the former Gold Coast of the Morgans and Woolworth’s, do not have a Salvadoran component. The former Orchard is now a neighborhood of mostly one-and two-family homes.
In the neighborhoods where Salvadorans live, like most of the earlier Avellenesi migrants, they share rooms and cooking. Glen Cove’s one-family houses, many owned by first and second generation Italian landlords, have become boarding houses; and legal apartment houses have been further subdivided into rooming houses. However, unlike the boarding houses of the early 20th century which housed Italian immigrants, living arrangements which rarely, if ever, attracted public opposition, the Salvadoran boarding houses of today have been met with negative public reaction. The legal apartment house where Eliseo and Ana Gloria live has been subdivided into many more rooms for living than its original design. Neighbors have lodged complaints about noise and overcrowding.
Although Salvadorans, unlike the early southern Italians, are physically spread out across Glen Cove and so do not eat, live, shop, and socialize in a single ethnic enclave, their physical presence as bicyclists, pedestrians, shoppers, and street corner socializers in downtown Glen Cove, in strip malls and side streets of the Downtown, make their presence a universal feature of the cityscape. Late weekday afternoons, Salvadoran men can be seen walking on Glen Cove's streets carrying small black plastic bags with purchases for a day or two's food from the Glen Cove markets that now cater to and sell Salvadoran foodstuffs and fruits they favor—beans, cemita (pineapple cake), curtido (pickled cabbage), tamarind juice, etc; and on weekends those small bags are stuffed into enormous duffel bags filled with a worker’s laundry and carried over their shoulders. Baby carriages pushed by Salvadoran mothers and bicycles ridden by Salvadoran men of all ages are ubiquitous.
Like the Italians, the Glen Cove Salvadorans have arrived in groups. Like the Italians, most, if not all, share kinship relationships—siblings, brothers in law, cousins, aunts, and uncles live in the same dwellings or close by. The decision to leave is made collectively between husbands and wives and extended kinship groups. The men and boys arrived first. Most if not all of Glen Cove’s southern Salvadorans were escaping not from the poverty of need, but from the poverty of spiritual and physical exhaustion and losses engendered by the violence of their war-ravaged Usulután hamlets and villages. Eliseo and his wife, Ana Gloria, live in the same building or in close proximity to his brother, Rafael, and his family; as well as Ana Gloria's brother, two of her uncles, and three young cousins.
If both of Glen Cove’s major immigrant groups have much in common, it would seem however that today’s globalized, computerized, electronic world of cell phones, instant messaging, and Skype would make comparisons between the connective tissues of these two disparate Glen Cove immigrant communities with their homelands implausible. Separated by a hundred years, geography, and transformed world political and economic orders, the two groups nevertheless share a multinational expanded sense of place and an expanded sense of women’s role in the family.
Angelo and his paesani were frequently and disparagingly called birds of passage; a negative reference to their return trips to Italy from Glen Cove. In the Spanish-speaking Argentina of Angelo’s generation, where Italian immigration also changed the sociopolitical landscape, Italians were similarly and equally disparagingly referred to as golondrinos (swallows). Americans and Argentines felt that the Italian immigrants, like the seasonal migratory birds which journey for food, weather, and mating but do not remain, took more from the countries to which they migrated than they contributed; returning to their native lands with the riches of the host countries.
While the production of wealth and limited capital flight from the United States and Argentina is not the subject of this paper, in point of fact, southern Italian immigrants did not make single journeys from their villages, abandoning family, paesani, and Province. Rather, immigration was a dynamic process which involved multiple trips back and forth corresponding with the work seasons of the Italian laborers. Each traveler going back to Italy brought new knowledge of America – work conditions, wages, employment opportunities, comparisons between the workaday living world in America, and their southern Italian villages. Those who returned to America after several migrations were accompanied by new family members, a wife, a new bride or parents. Immigration stretched the southern Italian family entering into a globalized world. Those returnees who stayed and renewed a life in Italy, challenged old notions of power, authority, as well as nation. And, not unexpectedly, each absence changed the role of the women left behind, but not abandoned. Each return altered the lives of these women as they readjusted to the presence of their returning men folk. The Southern Italian women, far from the cloistered females described in literature, were actively absorbing new mores and, even more importantly, new roles, as they were required to maintain the families in the absence of the men. For every Italian who immigrated to Glen Cove, six or seven returned. The effect was dynamic.
For Glen Cove’s Salvadorans, return to the homeland is normally not possible. Most enter the United States Without Inspection, that is to say illegally. A return trip is problematic—physically and economically. However, if they are unable to return physically, cell phones, telephone centers, computer cafes, satellite TV, and Skype make of Glen Cove’s Salvadorans distant nationals; that is, The issues and concerns of the Mother Land are a constant presence in the daily lives of Glen Cove's Salvadoran community. At the same time, they are citizens who are as conversant with the politics of their madre patria ( Mother Land) as they are with the issues of governance, housing, health insurance, police, and electoral politics in Glen Cove.
The Salvadoran women left behind when husbands migrated, like their earlier southern Italian counterparts, assumed larger roles than those customarily assigned to rural women as they learned to negotiate, absorb, disseminate, and act upon information received from their husbands about living and work conditions en el Norte (up North); migration routes, fees, and trusted smugglers.
However, unlike their southern Italian female counterparts, when Salvadoran women arrive in Glen Cove, they arrive as more than household managers. The Salvadoran women assume responsibilities in the life of their newly established Glen Cove family that separate them from the traditional roles of women in rural societies. Typically their realm would not extend beyond the home. However, the pressures and urgencies of the years of warfare in El Salvador, the presence of husbands and family members in Glen Cove, trained and prepared the Salvadoran women who arrived in Glen Cove to move beyond the usual boundaries of home and hearth.
In Glen Cove, amongst the Salvadorans, not only are women a daily presence in the streets and in the stores, they work outside the home and own businesses. Salvadoran women assume roles of power. In Glen Cove, the woman is the family member who usually deals with housing, legal authorities, and schools. Salvadoran women are also usually responsible for contacting and dealing with immigration lawyers to seek solutions to their family’s legal status in Glen Cove.
Further stretching the physical boundaries of Glen Cove's early 20th century rural southern Italians and the late 20th century rural Salvadorans, are the economic contributions both groups made and continue to make to their families back home. Incomes earned by both groups were less for personal gain and more for the welfare of the family. For Glen Cove's early 20th century Italian immigrants, there were no wire transfers of money or direct deposits in bank accounts. Instead, the back and forth immigrants would physically bring their savings home with them. Money from America brought economic relief, prestige, and social status.
Like their Glen Cove Italian counterparts, Salvadoran laborers are regular monetary contributors to their families back home. Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons and at the end of each month at Glen Cove’s Palomino Express, Stop and Shop or King Kullen, the money wire transfer counters are filled with workers helping each other complete the paper work to send money back home. Work and consequent earnings are, as with the Italians, not viewed as monies for personal gain as much as part of a family strategy to improve the collective lives of all members.
Unlike the Italians, however, Salvadorans are unable to return home except in the most critical circumstances—a death or severe illness in the family. The monies earned by Salvadoran laborers are not physically carried home. They are sent in the form of wired money transfers called remesas (remittances), which are critical to individual families as well as to the welfare of their still-recovering war torn rural Province. Rural Salvadoran families, for better or worse, depend on the remesas (remittances) sent home by their Glen Cove relatives. In spite of the resolution of the political conflict with the signing of the 1992 Peace Accords, southern rural coffee, cotton, and sugar workers still face long periods of tiempo muerto (down time) until crops are ready to be harvested. The hard earned Glen Cove remesa dollars, unlike monies lent to the El Salvador government by the International Monetary Fund, are not subject to requirements for structural economic change or interest. The remesa dollars directly benefit these families. No international accounting watchdog agency imposes conditions on the monies earned and remitted.
As part of their invisible baggage, both the rural southern Italians and the rural southern Salvadorans who immigrated to Glen Cove brought with them gustatory memories. Both groups, because of their limited economic resources, were accustomed to eating simple and inexpensive foods. Both ate little meat, and those meat dishes that were eaten were almost universally from parts of cows, goats, pigs, and sheep considered inferior—bones, cows’ cheeks, pigs’ knuckles, goat hoofs, pork bellies, ox tails, and tripe.
For the southern Italians arriving in Glen Cove one hundred years ago, none of their familiar dishes were available. They had little choice but to find ways to recreate their own foods. A single family, the Cocchiollos, opened Stangos, a family restaurant which, in essence, became The Orchard’s kitchen procuring the ingredients and cooking the familiar dishes that the Avellenesi immigrant workers had grown up with but could not find locally.
Today it would be impossible for any resident of Glen Cove, or for that matter any city—large or small—in America not to eat the favorite foods the Cochiollos cooked— calzoni, foccaccia, pizza, sausage and pepper sandwiches; food which can still be eaten at Stangos Restaurant in its original location. Italian cuisine continues as a staple of Glen Cove where some of Long Island’s finest Italian restaurants—La Bussola, La Pace, and La Veranda—are located.
The rural southern Salvadorans arriving in Glen Cove faced similar food and food preparation choices as the southern Italians. The foods eaten by the English-speaking community, Italian-Americans included, were unfamiliar to their rural diets. The first Salvadoran men and boys who settled in Glen Cove experimented with what they saw. Pizza became their default food; and today not only do the Salvadorans enjoy pizza but a Salvadoran is the owner of a Glen Cove Pizzeria; and were it not for the many Italian-trained Salvadoran pizza makers, most of Glen Cove’s pizzerias could not operate.
As the Salvadoran population expanded in Glen Cove, entrepreneurs, Salvadoran as well as Dominican, quickly responded to the need for familiar foods. Small grocery stores, abarroterías in Salvadoran Spanish, bodegas in the New York Spanish lexicon, began to appear in and around the downtown Glen Cove area. Today, there are four bodegas and two restaurants—El Tazumal and 7 Mares—and a bakery that cater to the food tastes of Salvadorans. The area’s supermarkets—King Kullen, North Shore Farms, and Stop and Shop—now offer Salvadoran-style tortillas, quesillo (cheese), fruits, and vegetables like guava, nance, (similar to a cherry), and yucca; and pastel de tres leches (Three Milk Cake), made with evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and cream.
The iconic food dish of the Salvadoran community is the pupusa—a thick hand-made corn cake the dough of which is stuffed with cheese, pork, chicken, refried beans, squash or loroco, a flower bud. Food critics writing for the English-language press and Blogs are already promoting the pupusa as the next “big thing” in fast foods. Pupusas are inexpensive, filling, and nutritionally healthy. They are made and sold at two Glen Street pupuserias as well as at some Glen Cove pizzerias.
The role of religion in both the Italian and Salvadoran Glen Cove immigrant communities is fraught with ambiguities. While the Avellenesi brought to Glen Cove an historical southern Italian anticlericalism and an indifference to the official Catholic Church, they did not reject Catholicism. However, Catholicism in America at that historical juncture was infused with Irish Catholic customs, rites, and style. The Italians struggled with their own native indifference to church worship, as well as with the rites and manners of what they regarded as the Irish Catholic Church of Glen Cove, St. Patrick's. Following a long struggle, a new Catholic parish was created and a church, St. Rocco’s, fashioned architecturally after St. Rocco's in Sturno, Italy, was built in less than a year in The Orchard with the sweat equity of the Avellenesi. The Church became and remains a focal point for the Italian community, more as an assertion of a then growing sense of Italianness and less as a place strictly for worship. The Church also served as an internal caretaker for community members' personal and societal problems. For Glen Cove's second and third generation Italian Americans, Saint Rocco's remains an enduring symbol of their Italian heritage.
On Sundays, Eliseo, Ana Gloria, their brothers Rafael and Hector and their wives Orfila and Eugenia, plus their three young U. S. born children walk to a Church not far from their neighborhood. Although there is a church across the street from their boarding house, it is Evangelical. Eliseo and Ana Gloria and their in-laws are Pentacostals. Ana Gloria and the other church women all wear long skirts and doily head coverings. They are familiar sights now on the streets and in the neighborhoods of Glen Cove where Salvadorans live.
Most Glen Cove Salvadorans who are Pentecostals or Evangelicals were raised nominally as Catholics in El Salvador. Eliseo and Ana Gloria abandoned their birth rite Catholicism here in Glen Cove. They readily accepted the beliefs and aid that their Pentecostal church offered them. Eliseo and Ana Gloria had little formal contact with any church in El Salvador. During the war years, any association with an official church group was politically too dangerous. In point of fact, there were no priests, pastors or churches in the sand grain hamlet where they lived.
Today in post civil war El Salvador and amongst Glen Cove’s Salvadoran immigrants, Evangelical and Pentecostals are the fastest growing religious groups. Their ministerios descalzos (barefoot or grassroots ministries) are more concerned with issues of the here and now amongst the urban and rural poor than with the after life. In El Salvador and in Glen Cove, the Church’s message has translated into community activism and welfare action programs ironically reminiscent of the Catholic Liberation Theology movement of the decade of the 1960s within Latin America's Catholic Church. That message of localism and activism has been largely abandoned by El Salvador’s Catholic Church. Into this spiritual and social vacuum, the Pentecostals and Evangelicals have appeared.
Glen Cove’s Catholic Salvadorans , anticlerical and indifferent to the official Catholic Church, just like the earlier Avellenesi prior to immigration, have for practical, spiritual, and symbolic reasons, returned to the Church. In Glen Cove that Church is Saint Patrick’s; the same St. Patrick’s which had been viewed as too Irish Catholic for the newly arrived Avellanesi Catholics, now serves as an internal caretaker for matters related to their immigration status, as well as family matters. Sunday masses are conducted in Spanish in a Chapel adjacent to the main Sanctuary and are widely attended. For the Salvadoran immigrant community, San Rocco’s is viewed as la iglesia de los italianos (The Italians’ Church).
The Orchard of Glen Cove’s early 20th century Avellino immigrants was not simply a physical space, it was a social and cultural enclave. In The Orchard immigrants were, to a remarkable degree, able to maintain continuity with the daily routines of village life left behind in Italy. They produced their own foodstuffs, butchered their own meats, shopped, socialized, and worshipped within the precincts of their village within a village. Here they were also able to remain loyal to the Italian dialects spoken in their villages. However, within a short period of time, that loyalty began to yield to a pidgin form of English in which the workers’ newly acquired English was transformed into a comprehensible form of communication which combined elements of their Italian dialect and their English language employers. Words like giobba, bosso, trocco, gud morni, mista are examples of that spontaneous language. Within a single generation, the children of the immigrants were already English language dominant thanks to the public schools of Glen Cove and the good work of Orchard House, a settlement house modeled on New York City’s Henry Street Settlement House.
In today’s Glen Cove, the Spanish of El Salvador has replaced Italian as Glen Cove’s second language. However, since there is no history in this country of immigrants maintaining their Mother Land languages and dialects beyond the first generation as the principal language of exchange, Salvadorans who began arriving in the early 1980s have already begun to follow the language patterns of the previous Italian immigrants. That is to say, the older immigrants remain Spanish dominant, speaking a pidgin Spanish-English; and the first generation of Salvadorans born in Glen Cove, while bilingual for the most part, are English language dominant. Maintaining their Salvadoran culture in the face of the pressures of the majority American culture has proven to be a daunting, complex, and generally unsatisfactory undertaking for Salvadoran parents, as has been with the case with all previous immigrants. The generational divide is not an easy one to bridge.
The southern Italian immigrants to Glen Cove moved from rural peasantry to urban villagers, and finally to fully acculturated city dwellers, in three generations and one hundred years. In the process, they became another people changing the social fabric of the Gold Coast city of Glen Cove. That Glen Cove is now built on a bedrock of Italian socioeconomic characteristics.
One hundred years after that arrival of rural southern Italians, today’s majority immigrant group in Glen Cove, Salvadorans, rural peasantry like the Italians, will not need one hundred years and three generations to leave their imprint on Glen Cove. They have already moved from the peasant world of walking to busing, and now are riding bikes and driving their own cars, owning their own homes and businesses, while at the same time learning to eat pizza along with pupusas in less than a single generation in their Costa Dorada Norteña (Northern Gold Coast).