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The goal of this oral history project is to collect and preserve the precious traces of the Italian American experience in Montclair, New Jersey, throughout the community's history from the late 19th century to today. Tracing the history of the Italians of Montclair is only one component of an initiative that will identify and revalorize all the stories of the various communities whose unique experiences, woven together, form the rich tapestry that is the multiethnic Montclair experience. What is particularly unique about this component of the project is that it constitutes the first concerted effort to formally document and commemorate the Italian American presence in and contributions to this community. Who were, and are, the Italians of Montclair? What did they bring to the community, and what have they left behind? How do they practice their culture and how has their unique ethnic identity shaped their American experience?

Where there is a diminished sense of community and of identification with a particular geographical place, and where there is a need for documentation of historical experiences that have been previously marginalized, a project like Montclair Memories: The Italians of Montclair Oral History Project can play an important role of recovery. Lawrence Ferlinghetti's famous poem "The Old Italians Dying" may paint a lugubrious image of the old Italians "dying out in Little Italys all over America," "One by one / Year by year / they are carried out / The bell never stops tolling," but projects like this one can make them live again in cultural memory. As Robert Viscusi, scholar and poet, once wrote, "In the new age, Little Italy can be anywhere." This project will preserve its place in memory, by recording its voices and making a virtual community pulsate with new life.

 


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