By Tom Cesarini | Little Italy Heritage
What’s in a name? Everything
The Convivio Now and Again Series comprises oral histories from Italian-community members. In this excerpt from an interview with Louis Palestini, the treasurer of the Little Italy Association, Louis discusses the new neighborhood piazza and his sentiment about heritage preservation in the community.
Retail-store associate, banker, musician — Louis Palestini has embraced many roles in his life. In the early 1990s, Louis, known to everyone as “Lou” or “Louie,” took a leadership role in the redevelopment of the Italian neighborhood, starting with the introduction of the business improvement district model in the neighborhood and the development of the Little Italy Association, the group created to manage and maintain Little Italy. As Lou states, it is “an organization meant to promote awareness of Little Italy,” through which Lou would become prominent in “helping them increase business [and] tourism.” He notes, “I was elected and remained the treasurer, as an executive officer, for many years, and I wore the position with pride. Since my retirement in 2008, I have become fully involved in my Little Italy, offering both time and service in doing something I believe in. I was involved in the Piazza Basilone as the chairman of the project. I’m the chairman for our summer concert, featuring the Marine bands. I have [had] other committee involvements, such as the Festa, the Amici Park, Piazza della Famiglia, among many others. I sit as a member of Our Lady of the Rosary finance committee. I am a past member of Washington School Foundation Committee.”
But Lou takes most pride, arguably, in his heritage and in his advocacy for the preservation of cultural assets in Little Italy — the beloved neighborhood of his youth. In his wining proposal to the Little Italy Association addressing the naming of the new piazza recently opened in Little Italy, Lou explains how he argued passionately for the name, “Piazza della Famiglia” and emphasized “why we should pay tribute to San Diego’s Italian immigrants and their families.”
As he had stated in his written proposal regarding the immigrants, “These are the people who planted the seed in this Little Italy community. They worked hard as a people and as a family. It was the family that created the strong ties with the church and neighborhood. It was the family who held everything together. Thus, it was the family who helped secure our heritage in this part of the world. It’s because of these immigrants and their families that we have this Little Italy. It’s because of these immigrants and their families that many of you are able to make a living today — just like all the new businesses moving in. They all want a piece of the action — the action that was made possible by the Italian immigrants who settled here in San Diego’s Little Italy. Therefore, I would like to see us become more personalized in the making of our grand piazza. Let’s tell a story about who we are. Many of our families and friends were the people who gave us our Little Italy. These are the people we can’t forget. WE OWE IT TO THEM [emphasis in original document]. Yes, we have a select few families under the [Little Italy Association] Legacy program, but we all know there were many, many more families that helped form the Italian community we enjoy today — ‘Little Italy’ — named for the Italian immigrants and families who traveled across the world to make a home here in San Diego’s Little Italy. Who better than these people symbolize the Italian foundations of the United States of America as having an entrepreneurial spirit — innovative and adventurous pioneers?”
Growing up in a rich tradition of music within his family, Lou had served as an integral part of a musical group in his youth, the Sociables. He penned two songs — “Safari” and “Candida,” receiving copyrights for both. Recently, Lou has returned to his musical roots and has written a piece titled “La Famiglia,” lyrics co-written with Danny Moceri (vice president of the Little Italy Association). The song will be released soon (with Moceri’s vocal interpretation to be delivered at the piazza). Today, Lou holds steadfast to his traditions and cherishes his upbringing in the Italian neighborhood while continuing to embrace Little Italy’s new dynamic and cultural evolution.
—Tom Cesarini is the executive director of Convivio. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.