The Geno’s proprietor doesn’t speak for South Philly.
by Steven Wells
“Joe Vento is neither the spokesman for South Philly nor a resident of South Philly. He’s from South Jersey, as is his attitude.”
Gregory Mario Jacovini, editor of Ciao Philadelphia (formerly The Italian Newspaper), is annoyed.
He says Joe “Speak English” Vento, owner of Geno’s Steaks, doesn’t even begin to speak for the real South Philly. And he says the media’s focus on Vento’s confused ramblings distorts the picture of what’s really happening in his neighborhood.
He’s got a point. Since Vento put the “THIS IS AMERICA, WHEN ORDERING ‘SPEAK ENGLISH’” sign in his restaurant window, he’s become a local media star and the darling of racism-button-pressing right-wing radio hosts nationwide.
So much so that an outsider might easily get the impression that Vento articulates the views of most of his South Philly neighbors.
And that’s what’s got 28-year-old Montrose Street resident Gregory Jacovini steamed.
“It’s not a Philly attitude. It’s definitely not a Democratic attitude. It’s more of a Republican, suburban mentality to have that kind of animosity to newly arriving people.
“If you really want to know what South Philly’s Italians think of their Mexican neighbors,” says Jacovini, “look no further then the Italian contractors who speak a hybrid of Italian/Spanish with their Mexican employees.
“Ask Pedro Beltran of Karina’s Ristorante on Passyunk Avenue how Italian-Americans taught him the art of Italian cooking. Watch as Italian-Americans purchase produce from Mexican-Americans along Ninth Street.
“South Philadelphia is incredibly welcoming to the newest arrivals because true South Philly Italians remember we were all once the new arrivals.”
A keen student of history, Jacovini can talk at great length about Italian-American involvement in the civil rights movement and how Italian-Americans were the second most likely group to be lynched in the South.
He describes how in the 1870s—in the streets of Northern Liberties and what is now South Philly—Philadelphia’s native (aka English) Americans fought Gangs of New York-style battles with Irish immigrants. And how the Irish in turn refused to let the newly arrived Italians use their Catholic churches.