Rite Before Christmas

Assimilation challenges tradition in South Philadelphia’s Italian-American population.

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Dec. 29, 2008

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So what accounts for all this modernization? According to the last American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2007, Philadelphia’s Italian-American population exceeds national averages (of all ethnicities) in family earnings and education level. Italian-Americans are also more likely than the national average to work in a professional or managerial office job. Such jobs generally aren’t conducive to cooking for days on end.

Additionally, the average family size has gotten smaller. The majority of Italian-American families have only one child. Unless extended family lives nearby and shares in the meal, it’s not economical to cook seven to 20 fish dishes.

The neighborhood has changed, too.

Though Philadelphia trails only New York City in Italian-American demographics (9 percent), that population has moved beyond South Philadelphia. In the last 30 years, the number of children enrolled in elementary schools in South Philadelphia shrank by more than 75 percent.

At the same time, new waves of immigrants have moved into South Philly in recent decades, mixing taquerias, pho restaurants and specialty Asian shops in with the cheese shops and butchers.


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