Holy Mola! Heirs to Italian heritage honor the immigrant past

Holy Mola! Heirs to Italian heritage honor the immigrant past
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

A tiny town in Italy is making it to the big time — with a street co-naming in Carroll Gardens!

Court Street between Third and Fourth places is on the road to being co-named “Citizens of Mola Way,” a tribute to the industrious denizens of Mola di Bari, who emigrated to the neighborhood decades ago.

Backers say the co-naming honors their forebears who paved the way for their success in Brooklyn and beyond.

“This is about our ancestors who slept on rooftops so we would have a bed,” said Joe Tanzi, who came to Brooklyn in 1959, was a decorated Vietnam War veteran, and later worked as a manager for IBM.

The Van Westerhout Cittadini Molesi Social Club on Court Street and Fourth Place, one of the last two remaining area social clubs, proposed the co-naming to celebrate nothing less than the American dream — not just for Mola, but for all immigrants.

“We all made good in the United States,” said Pino Deserio, the facility manager at the Red Hook Ikea, who came to Brooklyn in 1970 when he was 17-years-old. “We all realized our American dream.”

Club members estimate that 5,000 former residents of Mola — a town in the sparsely populated region of Apulia, the heel in Italy’s “boot” — eventually found their way to Carroll Gardens.

“They picked this neighborhood because it was close to the waterfront,” noted Michael Pesce, an appellate court judge and former Assemblyman.

Pesce left Mola in 1960 with his father Francesco, who worked as a longshoreman.

“The co-naming is about making a statement about the history of Carroll Gardens — when it was changing from an Irish neighborhood to an Italian neighborhood,” he said.

Of course, the transition wasn’t necessarily an easy one. “There was friction,” particularly on the waterfront, Pesce recalled. “But we learned to live together.”

Community Board 6 last week voted overwhelmingly to support the co-naming, which will ultimately require City Council approval.

This isn’t the first time the board has given props to an Italian city — in 2009, it gave the nod to co-naming Henry Street between Sackett and Union Streets “Citizens of Pozzallo Way,” a nod to the contributions of the people from that Sicilian seaside town.

Still, not all board members think the co-naming is magnifico.

“In general, I’m against co-naming unless there is an enormously compelling reason,” said Elizabeth Shipley. “Plus, when a street changes its name, it just throws people off.”

Mola is known for its industrious citizens — and great food — as Luigi Battista demonstrates.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini