A homemade music video by a beloved Bensonhurst icon is raising eyebrows in the increasingly diverse neighborhood, which has gone from mostly Italian to predominantly Chinese in the past decade.
Maria “The Ice Cream Girl” Campanella — locally famous for her ice cream truck, which she has driven through Bensonhurst’s summer streets for 30 years — uploaded to YouTube a song titled “Yo Granny’s in My Garbage” poking fun at Southern Brooklyn’s can and bottle collectors.
The video shows a woman in yellowish make-up and wearing a conical straw hat popping out of a garbage can and rolling a cart around Bensonhurst to grab recyclables from trash bins outside private homes — a phenomenon that Campanella said is rampant in her native neighborhood.
“It’s an epidemic,” said Campanella, who finds the trend disturbing. “I see them out at two, three, in the morning. And people don’t like it, because they’re coming onto people’s property.”
But some Chinese community leaders say that the video is unfair and offensive to Asian-Americans.
“The way they present it is very disrespectful,” said Steve Chung, president of the United Chinese Association of Brooklyn and a member of Bensonhurst’s Community Board 11 — though he added that he didn’t believe Campanella’s intentions were necessarily bad. “I don’t think there’s any viciousness behind it, but I’m disappointed as a human being.”
But Campanella argued the video doesn’t single out Chinese-Americans — despite the Asian-looking headwear of the video’s main character
“If you go in any neighborhood, they got different people doing it, American-born people, Polish people, Asian people. It’s not racial profiling,” said Campanella. “A hat doesn’t distinguish a culture. If it’s a sunny day, anybody can wear a hat like that.”
Campanella also pointed out that a white can collector appears in the last 30 seconds of the video, and compared the song to a public service announcement, warning that it’s dangerous for elderly people to be out collecting recyclables from garbage cans late at night.
“There’s unsafe objects lurking in people’s garbage cans,” said Campanella. “They’re walking down the middle of the street at night, with a big shopping cart, and they can’t see the traffic. Granny should be home at night.”
Other prominent Bensonhurst Asian-American leaders agreed with Campanella. Community Board 11 member Victor Wong — who called the Ice Cream Girl a friend — said the video didn’t bother him.
“It wasn’t meant to be a racial thing at all,” said Wong “Someone who doesn’t know Maria well could potentially construe it as offensive, but that’s true with anything.”