There is a reason why Little Italy exists in NYC and why it has remained. Although it is not like it was before, much of the culture and influence has stayed in various neighborhoods throughout the city. Generations of Italians, that may even link back to great great grandparents still surround much of New York’s five boroughs. Iconic Italian names like Robert De Niro and Marisa Tomei is proof that the culture is still associated in New York. Italian is indeed a great language to know here in the Big Apple. So here are a few reasons why you should learn Italian as a native or newcomer New Yorker.
1) Getting Around Italian Speaking Neighborhoods
You’re going to immerse yourself in the Italian experience by learning the language. How so? If you learn Italian, you will get to discover other Italian neighborhoods as if you were a local. There are smaller neighborhoods in areas of Brooklyn and Queens that are still considered to be iconically Italian. One neighborhood in particular in Brooklyn, Bensonhurst, is known as “Brooklyn’s Little Italy.” Not only are there still plenty of restaurants and bakeries that are authentically Italian, but so are the owners. By learning Italian, you’ll be able to connect and understand the older generations that still inhabit this neighborhood. Italians genuinely are impressed when New Yorkers such as yourself take it upon themselves to appreciate the language. You’ll pick up on common pastimes specifically ranging from espresso runs to watching the weekly soccer game. Their friendly nature will extend to being invited everywhere! Including the local cafe, church community, and coveted food markets.
2) Appreciating Italian Opera Even More
Italian food is a big part of NYC culture. However, there are other aspects of Italian culture that is relevant here in New York. A big part of Italian culture is music, especially opera. If you learn Italian, you will get to experience Manhattan’s Metropolitan Opera in a whole new light. Italy is known for their iconic contribution to opera performances. By understanding the language, you will have a deeper appreciation and love for the storyline and music. Notable opera performances such as La Boheme and Madama Butterfly are even more appreciated by understanding the Italian lyricism.
3) Rediscovering Italian Art in a New Light
Not into opera? Learning Italian is a great opportunity to discover art. There is a reason why Italians are credited for their contributions to art history. You might believe that Italian art is only known for their Renaissance period. However, there are other Italian artists that are not as well-known who have contributed to modern art. By learning Italian you will get to familiarize yourself with modern artists such as Tina Modotti, Giorgio Morandi, and Piero Manzoni. Museums here in NYC such as the Center for Italian Modern Art, display drawings, photography, and sculptures of many Italian artists.
4) Conversing with Italian Tourists
Did you know New York is a popular vacation spot for Italians? Believe it or not, many Italians love the idea of visiting NYC (including my own relatives). If you learn Italian, you will have a chance to put your skills to the test with tourists who come over summer break. You might have to go to populated tourist spots, but you can be almost guaranteed to run into Italians stumbling through the big city. It will also be an opportunity to meet native Italians and try carrying a conversation. If you are looking for a summer job, Italians are the most likely to participate in city tours and destinations. Not only will it land you a job as a tour guide, but an occasion to form conversations with Italians. You never know if you could meet a new friend or potential visit to Italy!
5) Discovering Authentic Italian Food
When we think of New York we automatically picture Manhattan. To be more specific, we also connect Italian Americans living in New York to Little Italy. The area still has plenty of Italian restaurants and cuisine, but there are other Italian neighborhoods that are often ignored. By learning Italian, you can frequent yourself with locals who know authentic and lesser-known Italian cuisine. There are plenty of hidden Italian bakeries and restaurants in areas outside of Manhattan. L & B, Garguilo’s, and Joe on Avenue U are just a few hidden gems located in Brooklyn alone. As you enter these restaurants, you will be able to read the menu and converse with the original owners. Some of these restaurants will include specific Italian delicacies from regions such as Sicilian, Neapolitan, and Milanese. Now that you learn the language, you will be able to identify only the most authentic Italian food there is.
Bonus Note: Eataly, a staple for Manhattan-bound Italians
On the surface, once you walk in the door, it will probably look like an ordinary Italian supermarket. On the front display, you would see generic Italian brands that you would find in most NYC Italian neighborhoods. But, once you walk down the aisle, you will find snacks that only an Italian native would know about. Snacks that they would have dig out from their grandmother’s cabinet. Or that yummy afternoon treat that you would indulge in after school. From gourmet tomato sauce to artisan brick-oven bread and authentic Christmas Panettone, you could find the best Italian imported products there … unless you travel to Italy yourself!
Alessandra Lanno considers herself both an avid reader and writer. Born and raised in