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Oral history interview conducted by Gregory Ruf
June 29, 1993
Call number: 1994.007.12
RUF: This is the Chinatown History Museum and the Brooklyn Historical Society's8th Avenue Sunset Park project. It is Tuesday, June 29, 1993. The interviewer is Gregory Ruf, and I'm interviewing Tony Giordano. Okay, I'd like to ask you to start by simply introducing yourself.
GIORDANO: Okay, I'm Tony Giordano of Sunset Park.
RUF: And your address here?
GIORDANO: 653 52nd Street, Brooklyn.
RUF: If you don't mind, I'd like to start with a little bit about your familybackground, your own personal life history, in a way. Can you tell me something about where your parents or your ancestors are from?
GIORDANO: My parents are both Italian. My father immigrated here around 1915 or1:00so, and my mother was born here but her father came over as a young man from Italy, and her mother was born here in America. The family was very proud of the fact that they were American births, along the line. And my mother's parents settled in South Brooklyn, the area around -- I guess -- close to what would be Carroll Gardens now. It was sort of a leap-frog kind of thing that many of the Italians did at that time. They would become acculturated, they would get used to this new country, and the old neighborhood, and then once there was steady employment, a little bit of money, they'd move up to what they considered to be a better neighborhood, which was a more mixed neighborhood. So my mother's parents came to Sunset Park as that leap, which was at that time to a 2:00Scandinavian neighborhood. And my father's parents started, he actually came into the country in Boston. I don't know the reason for that, but his side of the family seemed to all come through Boston. And they started out down in Chinatown, actually, across Canal Street on the Italian side. And they made the leap from that old neighborhood; they all refer to the "old neighborhood," to a little bit further up in South Brooklyn, President Street area.
RUF: I have a good friend who lives on President Street. What part of Italy werethey from?
RUF: Did your father, or your mother, or any of your ancestors, ever talk muchabout the old country, what it was like?
GIORDANO: Very little. In fact, it was disappointing to us, because I guess theywere in America at a time when you wanted to be as American as possible, so it 3:00was really important not to talk like an Italian, not to act like an Italian, not to cook like an Italian. So there was a lot of emphasis on being American. They didn't really talk much about it. We didn't know what to probe, what areas to probe in, as kids. As we got older the stories, if we asked the same story on different occasions we got different responses. So everything is apocryphal at this point.
RUF: It's very interesting--
GIORDANO: It's age. It's just a matter of age. The stories change. But in termsof this wanting to be American, my mother at one point even toyed with the idea of having us change the family name from Giordano to Jordan, and there was no indignity involved in that, it was just being a more American kind of family. In fact, an interesting thing in my youth is that we rented an apartment in South 4:00Brooklyn, on President Street, just up the block from my grandparents, and one day, playing in the basement, hidden inside of a locked room, behind a whole mess of stuff, was a suitcase that wasn't locked, a very small suitcase. And inside of it was a lot of paraphernalia that might be associated with the brown shirts, an Italy-type movement. And I can only imagine that it was material belonging to the landlord. I know it wasn't my family's material, and I just concluded from that that he had been in some kind of pro-Italian organization, and then at some point became worried and buried away in a building that he owned. He didn't live there. But there was this whole thing of being American and living up to the expectation of what Americans are supposed to be, which 5:00was, at that point, a very White society. Although I take pride in considering Italians as non-Whites, I don't feel that we really fall into that category of so-called "White." I see us as Mediterranean ethnics, if anything. I don't take any particular pride in Italy, only because I don't have any of that culture in me. The foods aren't part of my eating, my background.
RUF: Did you eat Italian cuisine as a child?
GIORDANO: No, not really. My father had various dishes that he would eat thatwere very foreign to us. But in fact, my mother was always looking for again, the next most American thing to bring into the household. I even remember when instant mashed potatoes came about, this company French's came out with it, and they had this quarterback guarantee for buying it, or a quarter refund, and it 6:00was just this amazing thing. And when plastic dishes were out, my mother had to have plastic dishes. Everything American, everything new, every new style, and not must of that respect for the old things.
RUF: When your father came, you said he came through Boston. Did he come byhimself to Brooklyn?
GIORDANO: Actually, there's a photo in the next room on the wall. My grandfathercame first, by himself, my paternal grandfather, and then the family followed as a unit later. And the interesting thing about the photograph is it shows them at that period all together, but they didn't all sit together for the photograph. What happened is that the photographer, the studio, pieced together the two portraits so that it would be one photograph.
RUF: And why was it done that way?
GIORDANO: I don't know if it had to just do with the separation. I don't know7:00why they didn't wait until they were all together. Maybe just the idea of wanting to be together. They sat separately; they were separated by distance, of course. And they had it put together.
RUF: When your father's father came here, what did he do?
GIORDANO: As far back as I remember, he worked for the subway system. It wasn'tthe city subway at that point, it was a private company, and he was a track man, or something to do with the tracks. I remember he gave me a whistle that was part of his job, that when a train was coming they had to all signal each other with this little whistle.
RUF: What did he do in Italy before he immigrated?
GIORDANO: I don't know.
RUF: Your family lived in Naples itself?
GIORDANO: Just outside of Naples, according to my father. A very rural kind of8:00existence. The only clear story that I know of with any accuracy is, one time when he was sick they had to load him onto a horse-drawn wagon to bring him into town, where there was a doctor that could see him.
RUF: This was your father?
RUF: And your father came in 1950?
RUF: With the rest of the family?
RUF: How many siblings were there?
GIORDANO: The numbers keeps changing because of deaths, the infant mortalityrate wreaked havoc on both sides of my family. There was my uncle Joe and my uncle Angelo, and my aunt Lucille was bam here. So there were three children, and my grandmother came at one time.
RUF: And your grandfather was waiting for them in Boston?
GIORDANO: He had moved down to New York, and he went back up to Boston to pickup the family and come down here.
RUF: So he made the arrangements, in terms of the applications for the visas to9:00apply for, at that time?
GIORDANO: I don't know.
RUF: And your mother was born here?
RUF: So her family evidently emigrated at an earlier time.
GIORDANO: We have no record of it, or information.
RUF: Were they from Naples, as well?
GIORDANO: I'm not sure.
RUF: And how did your parents meet?
GIORDANO: At an armory dance, a big thing back in--
RUF: So did my grandparents.
GIORDANO: Back around that time, between the wars, there were these regulardances at armories all over the place. They were huge buildings, they used to stage boxing matches and just about everything else there. She took an immediate dislike to him.
RUF: So he must have pursued her for a while. How old was your father when he came?
GIORDANO: He was just about 5 years old, I believe. Five or six years old.10:00
RUF: And your family lived first in Chinatown?
GIORDANO: They would call it "Little Italy," the Mott Street area. He stillgives an address, I don't know how accurate it is, I don't recall it. But just across Canal Street, on the Italian side.
RUF: Was your mother employed?
GIORDANO: She used to tell of some kind of a factory job or something that shehad before she was married, but then she didn't work when she was married.
RUF: And how long did you stay there, down by Mott Street?
GIORDANO: Well they -- this was my father's family, down at Mott Street, and Iassume that it was just a few years, because most of the family stories and everything are from President Street in downtown Brooklyn.
RUF: And when was it that they moved to President Street?
GIORDANO: I don't know. I should point out; my mother's family was already in11:00that area.
RUF: They were settled there, in downtown Brooklyn.
GIORDANO: South Brooklyn.
RUF: When your parents met, was your father working at that time already?
GIORDANO: He was working at a variety of jobs. It doesn't sound like, from hisstories, that he had steady employment. He did a lot of house painting. From some of the stories, it seems that whenever somebody had work, he ended up assisting in whatever that work was. Painting seems to stick in my mind quite a bit. He loves to tell, even today, how the right way to paint a house, indoor painting, you're supposed to put this calcite-type paint on, because if you don't then the paint builds up and it gets too heavy and your ceiling collapses. And believe it or not, when we came to this house, there was one ceiling in a 12:00hallway that we tried to paint, I did a beautiful paint job, I have to admit, and the next day it all peeled off, just in sheets. I repeated the paint job and it peeled off again. This went on and on, until I found out from someone that it was a practice to whitewash ceilings, basically. And you had to wash that off or just calcite over it again, and so before painting white ceilings in the hallway I had to wash them all down and then, a few months later, we heard from another new neighbor about this mysterious problem in the hallways, the peeling paint. But that seems to be a practice, and he's used to that kind of paint job. He also went to barbering school for a while. He decided he didn't like it very early on. And I have this thing that I tell people, that I'm a jinx to barbers 13:00named Tony in general, because every time I find a new barber his name seems to be Tony, and he dies within a year of me coming to him. But it's just that all the Italian barbers, which were numerous at that time, starting out back in my father's period, are now in their seventies and eighties and dying out. So I've run the limitThere are no more Tony barbers. He also went to school, at one point he went to manual training, which later became, the school itself, the physical plant became Brooklyn Tech. But the school that was using it was a night school; it became eventually John Jay High School in Brooklyn. But he was getting some training in machining, machine-type shop stuff. But he never followed up on that. And then eventually he followed in his father's tracks, and 14:00he worked for the trains. And actually worked in another division and became a bus driver. And he did that for 43 years, until retirement.
RUF: Where was his line?
GIORDANO: Everywhere. It seems that every year bus drivers have this option,based on seniority, to select the days and hours that they'll work, and also to select the line. So as you move up in the system, you know what the plums are, and those are the ones that -- he was proud to say that he was second in seniority in the entire system when he went out.
RUF: In all of New York?
GIORDANO: Yeah. In the buses, all of them. And some of his experiences -- duringWorld War II he trained some women drivers for the buses. He's now recanted that story as he sees women drivers. He says, "I can't imagine this, we never had 15:00women drivers." But he told the other story often enough, that we know that one's accurate. He had a bus line at one time that used the Manhattan Bridge, and went between Brooklyn and Manhattan. He complains about that route having been a really annoying one. And then in later years there were a lot of pleasures attached to it. Knowing various children, because he would either pick them up or drop them off, and he got to know them on a regular basis, some of the older customers and riders. He developed a real friendship for them. In fact, at one point he was driving my school principal to work in the morning, which was a very unhappy arrangement for me, to have my father deal with the principal every day, readily available for conversation.
RUF: Did he ever watch The Honeymooners?
GIORDANO: You know, I've never tried to draw that comparison for him, but there16:00are so many similarities, real strong similarities. But he's never brought it up. He was very proud of the uniform. He never served in the military, so I guess, to some extent, this was his uniform. Very proud of the cap and all the paraphernalia that went with the job at the time. At the time, drivers had to make change for customers. And he enjoyed -- my brother, who's the oldest in the family, of the children; he's a bus driver now after having done many things for many years. And my brother, my father tells, has an easy job. It's so ridiculously easy; all you have to do is drive the bus. It's air conditioned, and people have to have the exact fare. There's, an interesting thing, a dead 17:00man's clutch. My father used to have to keep a foot; I guess it was a foot, on a pedal, to keep the bus from running away, in case he was to die at the wheel. This was an affectation from people's worries about the dangers of motor vehicles, that that would run out of control and wreak havoc. So when he actually came on the job, he had to keep a pedal down, and if you didn't keep that pedal down it would automatically brake the bus. But he teases my brother about all these things, and it got to a point where it sounds like my father actually had to get out and push the buses, until I got to San Francisco that the cable car drivers actually do push the buses. When they get to the end of the line they have to get out and push the rear side of the bus to spin it around on a turntable, to get it positioned to go back the other way. So I rubbed that in on my father a few times, that they really pushed their buses. 18:00But he enjoyed that job, he loved it, the hours were great. He left before dawn and he was back by like two o'clock, three o'clock in the afternoon. Took a little nap, and then he was ready to go out with the boys.
RUF: When did he retire?
GIORDANO: He retired around '70, in the early seventies.
RUF: What did your uncles do for a living?
GIORDANO: My uncle Angelo, who is the youngest of the boys, was involved in theaircraft industry. Very early on World War II came along and he was in the war and all, in the Pacific. And when he came back he was involved in the aircraft industry out in Long Island, which was a tenuous kind of career. Because if the government didn't come through with a certain contract, there were big layoffs. 19:00Then, at that point, he would end up doing just about anything. He was a very handy person. So he'd be involved in the building trades in Long Island, the post-World War II period had a lot of construction taking place on Long Island. One of the amazing things about that uncle, Uncle Angelo, is that he lived in a town named "Babylon," on Long Island. And to me it was no big deal, we would go to Babylon to see my cousin Babylon Steve, we would attach names like that. But then, as I got older and started reading scripture and religious stuff and everything. To realize what Babylon means, that someone in their wisdom would name a town Babylon, in Long Island.
RUF: I guess we're fortunate not to live in Sodom.
GIORDANO: Then my other uncle, my Uncle Joe, he worked for the Transit also,except he did repairs, repair of buses actually, right here in the neighborhood. 20:00At the station that is now called the "Jackie Gleason" depot. They renamed it. We were very upset in the neighborhood, because the depot building was sort of a landmark here in the neighborhood. It wasn't much, architecturally, but everybody was used to the brick facade of the building, and it was torn down, and now we have a square aluminum box replacing it.
RUF: The perils of modernization, I guess.
GIORDANO: My aunt, and I guess as I'm talking about this I realize theconnection, she didn't work as a young bride, and as a mother and all, and about 15 or 20 years ago she started working, as a much older woman. And she works with the Transit Authority. I guess we're a transit family. In fact, my first job was with the Transit Authority. It lasted a couple of weeks. I applied for a 21:00civil service job, I'd seen the advertisement on the way to school, and I had no desire to go to college, and I decided that I would go right into work, and I'd gone to Brooklyn Tech and taken an electrical program there. And a job came up for an electrical maintainers' helper, and I saw it advertised on a bus, on a bus window, riding to school. And I applied and passed the test and there was only one problem. It turned out I was 16 years old, and to take a civil service job you had to be 18 years old.
RUF: So you had to give it up?
GIORDANO: What happened was, they wouldn't take me on. And then two years later,it became available as I turned 18, and I did take the job then, for a brief period of time, and decided I didn't care for it.
RUF: How much did that pay?
GIORDANO: The pay was tremendous, it was a huge amount of money, $120 for a22:0040-hour week, which is about $3 an hour, and it was a huge amount of money, it was incredible to think I would earn that money.
RUF: You were young, living at home?
GIORDANO: I was 18 years old. I was going to college at the time. My lastsemester at Staten Island University. When I found out I couldn't take the civil service job, I decided to go to community college, as a lark. I didn't take it serious, or anything. In fact, I applied to Staten Island only because I had this vision of taking the ferry at 69th Street in Bay Ridge, only to find that the Verrazano Bridge was built that year, and the ferry closed down and I had to take a tedious train ride to South Ferry and then take a very long ferry ride, so commuting was no fun, to college. It wasn't enjoyable at all. But it turned out that college was such a breeze. Brooklyn Tech was really a superior school, 23:00so the kind of education I got there, without even trying to, turned out to be a superior education, and a community college was not a very strong academic code. So my high school at Tech was more than enough to make me a' super student in community college. So without any effort I got straight A's and everything.
RUF: What did you major in?
GIORDANO: Electrical Technology.
RUF: So you were well-qualified for the job market?
GIORDANO: I wouldn't say that, but I had a lot of theory under my belt. Andthen, my last semester, in fact I tease my son about this a lot, because he gets to go to school like two days a week and handle 12 credits, and I had to stick to 18 credits a semester, which had me in school every day, to graduate on time from a community college, which, I assumed everybody meant to graduate in two 24:00years. My friends did. And so the last semester I had to take 20 and a half credits, and at the same time that I took the 20 and a half credits, I had to also work this 40-hour-week on the transit, which was my first real job, and it was my senior year, my last semester. So I would go like Monday to Tuesday without sleeping, and then Thursday to Friday without sleeping, working. I would leave home at 11 o'clock at night to go to work on the trains, I'd work through the night to 8 am, and at 8 am I'd take the train that I was on right to South Ferry, go to school, I had a late English class, I remember, and then from there I'd go directly back to work. And then the next morning I would go to school, and then I would come home from school that day, so it was like a two-day period. I did it for two weeks and realized the insanity of it, it was just crazy. 25:00
RUF: When were you born, Tony?
GIORDANO: [date redacted for privacy] 1948.
RUF: So you're--?
GIORDANO: A post-war baby, I'm 44 years old, going on 45.
RUF: And you yourself have how many siblings?
GIORDANO: There's my two sisters and my brother.
RUF: Are they all still in the area? Here in Brooklyn?
GIORDANO: My brother returned home after a long but terrible marriage. Divorcedand ended up going back to my parents' house. And my sister and her husband have lived in my parents' house during marriage, and then they divorced and she remained there. And my youngest sister ended up moving to Florida. She had first lived on Long Island, then moved to Florida.
RUF: And your brother is the oldest in the family?
RUF: And you're second?
GIORDANO: I'm third.
RUF: What are some of your memories from childhood? The house you lived in,26:00could you describe it?
GIORDANO: We were very fortunate. I didn't realize how poor we were, most of thetime. My mother, unbeknownst to me and even to my father, had worked out an arrangement with the landlord that she would be the superintendent of the building in return for the rent. So my father was still paying the rent to her, to give to the landlord, but that money was being used for groceries and other things. The rent, I remember, was a fantastic figure, about $30 or something like that. So we had a first floor apartment, which was terrific because that gave us access to the basement, which was like a play area for the kids. And we had the backyard. That was the main reason my mother took on the superintendent's duties, so that we'd have access to the backyard. And my mother talked some of the neighbors, women neighbors, into helping her dig a huge hole in the backyard one day, which turned out, when my father came home he had no 27:00choice but to have a pool made out of this huge hole. So we had a most incredible poverty experience, having a built-in pool in a ghettoized neighborhood. It was just incredible.
RUF: So was that house in the President Street area?
GIORDANO: 680 President Street.
RUF: Is it still standing?
GIORDANO: Yeah, it's still there. Pretty much the same, except the prices havegone up tremendously. So we had access to the backyard, we had gardens in the backyard, and we were able to have a dog very conveniently, easily. There was a lot of street life back then. Even though we had the yard, most of the activity really centered on the street, street games like stickball, a version of slap 28:00ball called "V-Ball," and a whole bunch of small-area slap ball-type games.
RUF: How was V-Ball played?
GIORDANO: V-Ball was played with three bases instead of four bases. You playedit sideways on a street by a fire hydrant. The fire hydrant being home, and then you only had first the third, because there was no depth, there was a sidewalk suddenly where second base would be. And usually you played like two or three plays to a team. So if you didn't have enough people to play stick ball, you ended up playing V-Ball. That had pitching, which was a lot of fun, and you pitched on a bounce, and there were all sorts of rules. That you couldn't influence the movement of the ball by putting spins on it and things like that.
RUF: Was it a strong Italian neighborhood?
GIORDANO: Yeah. In fact, I was pretty stupid as a kid, because I didn't realize29:00that everybody I knew was Italian and Roman Catholic. It never occurred to me that this was somewhat unusual. Although I went to a school that was sort of a borderline school. In South Brooklyn, I guess it was Lincoln Place that was sort of the dividing line, I came to know later. It was sort of a racial dividing line, that on the north side of it was the Black community, and on the south side was the predominantly Italian community. It was a really strong dividing line, extremely strong, although there was a Black family that lived on President Street. I didn't think that to be unusual at the time, now I think back and I wish I could have asked a lot of questions about how that happened.
RUF: Were there a lot of tensions between the two communities?
GIORDANO: No, everybody pretty much respected the fact that this was the way itwas. People didn't cross the border too much. The Italians were just about as 30:00ghettoized in the area, except that we had flexibility of moving out of the ghetto, whereas they didn't. In fact, a few years later, after we had moved away, I guess in the early 60's, just before we moved away, a Black family moved onto the corner of President Street and Fifth Avenue, over the store. And they were firebombed out. And my sister and remember bringing blankets to the family and everything. And then there was a similar situation about 15 years later, but a reversal, that a White family was firebombed out of that same corner building. I was then involved in civic affairs as a fairly young person, and I remember going to a meeting where people were decrying this terrible racist act and 31:00everything, and I got a chance to tell the story that had preceded this action. It didn't thrill anybody to hear it.
RUF: Despite that your mother, or your mother and father, didn't seem to place astrong emphasis on your ethnic background, you seem from a very early age to have had a strong conception the importance of history in life.
GIORDANO: I don't know if history, but there was a strong sense of family. I'mdisappointed that I never had a desire to work on a family tree or anything like that, and ask probing questions. But there was just a real reliance on family, everything centered on family back then.
RUF: You were talking about the conditions of your childhood, growing up beingobliged to speak English, becoming Americanized. Was there a lot of anti-Italian sentiment? 32:00
GIORDANO: Not when I was a kid. I heard stories, and not from my parents butfrom others, it was from relatives, actually, about antagonisms between the Irish and the Italians, and how bad it was. It was really a vicious situation. More Italian and Irish than -- there was never a real emphasis about Blacks or anyone else.
RUF: Do you have memories of your first days at school, starting school for thefirst time?
RUF: Your mother took care of you, up to that point?
GIORDANO: Yeah. I didn't go to kindergarten for two reasons. One being that,being born at the very end of the year, I fell into the calendar in such a way that I could skip it if my parents deemed it appropriate. And the other is that, 33:00I assume I probably put up a tremendous struggle, and so my mother probably figured it was a lot better to just leave me home. My sister, who was just about a year older than me, barely, she went right into kindergarten with no problem, and school was a breeze to her, in terms of attendance. When my mother finally got me to the first grade, it was horrendous. I would cry and carry on, fall down on the floor, pull the door open, run out. I just didn't want to be there. This went on for an embarrassingly long time; it went on to the second grade, even to the third grade I didn't want to be separated from my family. I didn't want to be away from home, I didn't want to be with strangers. My children tease me even today, they know how hard it is for me to be with strangers, and yet I 34:00head up so many different organizations and I'm in front of groups of strangers all the time. And they don't believe that it really is an effort for me, it's a difficulty. Part of my mental workup is that I have to be in very familiar surroundings. I'm very home oriented. If I had it my way I'd never leave the house.
RUF: Apart from your first job, and the civil service test, did you do other oddjobs as a youth, trying to help the family out?
GIORDANO: No. We really didn't recognize the economic problems for severalreasons. One, having a civil service job, my father had a consistent income, it was there regularly. It wasn't like people who suddenly went for months without employment, on the block. Our block, I imagine it was similar on other blocks in 35:00the neighborhood, where family helped out family when they were in rough times. So it wasn't unusual to see someone bringing plates of food down the block to the son's house, or the cousin's house, something like that. People were normally out of work. It wasn't an unusual kind of thing. And then an interesting thing happened with my father. A friend of his, right after World War II, asked him if he would accompany him on a ride out to Long Island to take a look at a piece of property he wanted to buy. And the property was in the area called Bay Shore, Brentwood, Islip area, and the property was, I think, $300 for an acre of land. And he said to my father, "Why don't you buy the one next to me. This way we'll have two lots together." And my father didn't have any money on him, so the father lent him the money, which was like $35 for the down payment. The friend ended up selling his lot to my uncle, my father kept his 36:00lot, paid the friend off, and we now had two acres of land in Long Island, which my father and my uncle then proceeded to build all. And it was a tremendous experience for me, as a kid, and it's the only experience that I feel guilty that I haven't given my children, this summer-kind-of, I don't know what to call it, to explore a kind of back-to-nature kind of thing. Basically my father had a man come in and set a foundation for the house. First, actually, before that, we lived in a lean-to kind of thing, my father and my uncle built a shed, which the two families occupied during the summer months. Without electricity, without plumbing. It was so interesting to live like hillbillies, kind of, in the middle 37:00of nowhere. There were just about no buildings in the whole area; there was one house way up the block, where a minister lived.
RUF: Was it forested, or open field?
GIORDANO: There were a lot of pine trees. Long Island went through this terribleperiod of burnings done on purpose just to clear land. They would just burn acre after acre. So most of the pines were all of the same age, and it was a fairly immature forest, it was more a scrub forest. I remember in the distance, huge pine trees that barely survived for about ten years, through my youth. They were sort of fixtures out there. And from this shanty my father and my uncle eventually had cement foundations for two side-by-side homes. And then my father continued construction, doing the work himself with some help from my younger 38:00uncle, my uncle Angelo, and neighbors from Brooklyn would come out for weekends to show my father different aspects that they knew, whether it was electrical or plumbing, or drilling for a well, things like that. So I had a lot of experiences, as a kid, in terms of construction and hands-on activities. Kind of rustic things, priming the well and getting desperate if you lost your prime and somebody forget to leave a gallon of prime water around, or using an outhouse. That was a regular feature two months out of the year for us. So we had, our family had a lot of experiences in the country. Every summer we would go away, even expanded it to every weekend, we would go away, during the warm weather. We'd be away sometimes like Friday night, Sunday night, and then as soon as the 39:00vacation time came, we went. My father had four or five weeks' vacation at one point, close to the end of the job. So at times he's leave us there for a month, and come out of the weekends to us. It gave us a really terrific experience. So we didn't feel poor, because we had two houses, basically. Although one was a rental and one was a shed. We had this feeling of, well; we had a lot of good experience tied to it, a lot of country-type things, like fishing off of piers and crabbing off of docks, and going to drive-in movies and camping out for fun.
RUF: How does one crab?
GIORDANO: There's two or three different ways of crabbing. The novice, you takea kid and you tie a fish head with a string, and you let him dangle it into the 40:00water, maybe two or three feet down. You want to keep it in sight, but to really do it well you have to just pass the point where you can see it anymore. And then there's this telltale norm or tugging. Sometimes it's an actual vibration that travels up the string. You can just actually feel the chewing on the string. And then you slowly tease the crab back across that invisible line between sight and no sight. And then at that point you have a scoop, a net, and you just dip it in. If you're quick enough, you catch them with that. And you develop all these techniques of knowing how to lean behind him about a foot because he's going to be shooting backwards, in this scurrying, kind of wiggling motion, back, and he goes right into the net. That's one way. And the other way is the modern technological way, where you drop what to me is an old-fashioned toaster, an old-fashioned toaster was a plate with four sides of metal net and 41:00you lay bread, four slices on it, and you put it into an oven or any kind of stove that you had, to make toast. Well, they use a thing like that for crabbing. It opens up under water, and you have a fish head in the center. When you pull it up, it pulls the four sides closed. There are some variations. Three sides close, and you catch sometimes two or three crabs in there at one time. And then another way is just to walk along on bulkheads and as you look down you'll see a slit of white amongst the dark, and that's the underbelly of the crab as it's just resting against the bulkhead, and then you just pull it up. Those are freebies, those are too easy. But crabbing is a lot of fun, and night crabbing is even more fun, because you can lead them with light sometimes, you move them around with a flashlight. So we've done that a few times.
RUF: Does your family still own the property?
GIORDANO: No, it's one of the sad things about life that nobody teaches you42:00about I guess. How things change. I don't necessarily believe that you can't go home again, but it sure isn't the same anymore. And as we got older and older, various kids would drop out of coming up. My brother, first, was old enough not to come up with us anymore, so he'd stay in the city. Then my sister, and eventually I didn't want to go there anymore. Actually, my younger sister stopped going before me, and then I followed. And then I ended up going back, years later, with my parents, when I was single, sort of returning home, being with my parents. And they would pick me up at home, it was my first teaching job, they would pick me up at work on Friday, at about five o'clock, and we'd go away until Monday morning. And we'd reverse the entire thing; they'd drop me at school early on Monday morning. So I still enjoyed it as a adult. But I had made 43:00a lot of friends out on Long Island, and I kept those friendships for a while, so there were people I was seeing out there.
RUF: Did your mother or father get any formal education?
GIORDANO: My mother was the smart one, I think she went to like the fifth grade,or something like that. She could read and write well. She could even read and write Italian, which was strange, since she didn't come from Italy. My father went only to like the third grade or something like that. He can read and write. He doesn't enjoy it, it's a battle, and as he's gotten older and older it's gotten more difficult for him. He's great with numbers, but that came out of the job and making change, and all that. He's terrific with that.
RUF: What was the main reason for them not to continue…?
GIORDANO: Keeping the house? I guess a lot of it had to do with just gettingolder. Also, there were troubles out there. The area had started to populate, 44:00and there were big developments all over, nice classy houses, and ours was like the wreck of the block, kind of thing, the embarrassment to the newcomers. All the firemen and cops from New York City that had moved out there. And their kids, the children of the neighborhood, would break in. And one time a bad fire had been started, and a lot of the house had been damaged. We repaired it, but it just wasn't fun going up there anymore. You'd come in and find out that somebody had broken in and spray-painted obscenities all over the place. I guess a lot of the fun of life surrounds activities with your children, with young people; adult business isn't that much fun, for the most part. It's dealing with the illnesses and problems and making money and stuff. A lot of the fun of life 45:00is dealing with children, and nurturing children, and I guess when you don't see little kids playing on army cots and spraying each other with hoses, and stuff, and you just see the images in your mind, it's not as much fun.
RUF: When you lived on President Street, was it a large house?
GIORDANO: No, it was a three-room railroad flat. There were seven of us inthere, at one point. A cousin of mine, her mother died of polio, which was a rage back then, and she ended up coming to live with us, eventually. So there were seven of us in a three-room apartment, which was really difficult. The reading room was basically the bathroom. The homework area was the kitchen table. The family discussion area was the kitchen table. Everything revolved around the kitchen table; parties, just about all activities. And then basically 46:00you went to bed. I never felt cramped except when my cousin came to live with us, because at that point we had to set up an actual bed in the middle of a walking area, and then close it up during the daytime. So that became a little cumbersome.
RUF: What was health care like back then? You mentioned polio.
GIORDANO: I guess, akin to now, in a way, poor people had better health carethan middle income people, because we could go to a health center. So whenever there was a problem, we knew of different health centers. I think, actually, my mind tells me it was the Red Hook health center, but it just doesn't sound right. We would go to these public health stations, and then eventually, when my father had, through his union and everything, good health care, then we went to what they called the "HIP," the Health Insurance Plan. And that was like total 47:00coverage. So we didn't have concerns over that, for the most part.
RUF: When did you guys leave, when did you leave your house on President Street?Do you know?
GIORDANO: It was around 1961.
RUF: Were you married then?
GIORDANO: No. What had happened was, my grandparents lived out here in SunsetPark, and my grandmother died first, and then a couple of years later my grandfather died, leaving the house to my mother and her sister, her last surviving sibling. So the two families moved into that house, it was a two-family house. And my father-- [Interview interrupted.]
GIORDANO: So, my mother wanted to move into the house, and my father wanted tostay behind and within about a month or so he realized that he had to move, 48:00too, so he joined us. And we moved to 48th Street, 615 48th Street, my grandparents' house. And at that point we were all still living at home. No. My oldest sister married during that transition, because my father ended up holding that apartment an additional month or so, and then she married from here, but went back to that house, that was to be her apartment, on President Street.
RUF: She married an Italian?
GIORDANO: Yes, you had to do that.
RUF: All of your siblings did?
GIORDANO: No, my younger sister and I began breaking the traditions of thefamily; we're the black sheep of the family.
RUF: How did your parents feel about that?
GIORDANO: Very upset, they couldn't handle that at all. I remember my sistermarried a Puerto Rican, which drove my father crazy. My mother was very happy 49:00about it, because it gave her a purpose in life, taking care of my sister and her baby and the family. My mother always liked the underdog, so my sister now became the underdog because she wasn't being traditional, whereas as my older brother married an Italian, moved into Bensonhurst, and did everything just very Italian--Christenings, and all the church things properly, and everything. And my older sister did all of those things properly, too. So my youngest sister really sort of shook the family up. Then I shook the family up by marrying a Dominican, that really was the bottom line, especially since my wife is fairly dark. I remember one night my father saying some derogatory ethnic, racial kind of remark, and I had to point out to him, "Dad, you're actually a little darker than she is." I don't think it registered on him. Even to this day I get a kick 50:00out of it. But that marriage didn't last, but there was a son from that marriage who now lives with me and my new family. Then I even went further, I married a Jewish woman, which really-- that was interesting. My parents accepted that totally. But their spirit had been broken. They'd accept anybody at that point. And I had dated just about everybody, so at that point that were just happy, probably, that it was a female.
RUF: Was your family very religious?
GIORDANO: According to the traditions of the neighborhood and all, which wasbasically you try to get to church as much as possible, to confession as often as possible, but you must be there for all the important occasions. In fact, 51:00probably the most important thing in my life, in terms of spirituality, was that as a kid I recognized very early on the lies of the Catholic Church. The idea that this water was so special. The first time that you run in there on an afternoon and fill your water pistol with it, and run around blessing girls and don't get struck dead, you start to realize that somebody's not watching the store. The first communion that I went to, you have to go to your first confession for that, and I just wasn't ready for that because I was a very active little kid. And I wasn't ready to share with any adults, especially not a priest, some of the nasty little games that I was involved in. But fortunately I had a two year older neighbor who told me how to handle it. He said, "What you 52:00do is, you go in and you tell the priest that you disobeyed your parents." And I said, "Out of all the possible things, that's the one thing I don't do. I don't disobey my parents. If they tell me to do something, I listen to them." He said, "Did your parents want you messing around with Sally?" "No." He said, "Well, then, you disobeyed your parents." So I learned that there was this catch-all category, you wrap it all up with that. But I got busted, because the priest, he must have known Joey and Frankie, my neighbors, so he turns around and he says, "Well, did you miss church?" I said, "Well, yeah." You put that in. "Did you curse?" "Yeah, now that you mention it?" And did you do this, and boy he had a dirty mind. He ran right down the list, and he got me for everything. He bagged me all the way. But then I learned my second most important lesson of Catholicism, and I learned that at the altar. This was a very serious moment. I went there to do penance, and Joey and Frankie were nearby, and Joey and Frankie 53:00finished up with about a minute or two, and I was there for the rest of the afternoon saying Our Father's and Hail Mary's repeatedly. I got home, and saw Joey and Frankie, and they explained to me the second lesson. And that is: you say one Hail Mary, one Our Father, and then you tell God you'll take care of the rest later. So you can take care of those wherever you happen to be, when an Our Father strikes you, when a Hail Mary occurs to you, you say it. I was young, but I was wise enough to understand the hypocrisy of this. And then to be beaten by nuns and priests, which was a regular kind of thing. Like, I went to public school, but on Wednesday afternoons I went for religious instruction, which was as close to a concentration camp as I could imagine. The nuns and the lay women that were there to teach you would whack you with their pocketbooks, and really 54:00viciously. Not a friendly sort of "Get back in line" kind of thing. This was really vicious. The brothers that worked there would with glee open doors and show like four or five different sticks that they would beat you with. They would take you into the clothing room, which was strange in itself for me, because in public school we didn't have clothing rooms; we had just closets that were open that you hung stuff in. So you'd go into this actual room and be beaten in there. This happened to me on a number of occasions. So it was no real thrill. And I just never got used to the picture of a brother rolling up his sleeves, and you see these big hairy arms ready to beat you, and stuff. And then as I got older I started to find out about sexual abuses also. None having happened to me, but to friends, and just stories. More stories of, did you know? You giggle about then, and stuff, but now, years later, you start to realize how most of these must have been well-founded. But all these things led to me just 55:00rejecting the entire concept of a God. Because to me, growing up where everybody is Italian and everybody is Roman Catholic, then the only God there is has got to be the God that they have told me about. So at around, I guess it was around 9 years old or so, I just totally rejected spirituality, and then it was only years later that I came back to the Lord and realized that there is true spirituality, there is a God, there is a Father in heaven. I started to understand more about life and how people create religions, and how religion isn't God, it's more a club. So I had a lot of difficulties along those lines.
RUF: What was the catalyst to bring you back?56:00
GIORDANO: Part of it was joy, and part of it was a humbling experience. Thejoyful part was in the life that Renee and I have together. Anthony is my oldest son -when I married his mother, I was still locked into a lot of the old traditions of, you get married, you stay married forever, no matter what the circumstances are. But his mother has a lot of problems, and they keep her from being with a person, having a relationship. And I didn't understand that, and I thought we could work out whatever the difficulties were, and I tried my best, and it just got more and more horrendous. She ended up taking Anthony away as an infant. I guess that's part of Italian, maybe it's part of a lot of ethnicity, 57:00that the first child, whether it's male or female, means a heck of a lot to you. Not that the others don't, but you're still wet behind the ears, you don't know much about life, yet. But what you do know is that that's yours, it really is yours to take care of. And all of a sudden it's not there. There's a lot of anxieties involved in that whole thing, and I went through a terrible stretch, and through that entire stretch I didn't have any kind of spiritual connection, I didn't have anyone to rely on except myself. And I kept botching it up every step of the way. I was pretty good at a lot of different things. I was pretty good at school, I was pretty good at relationships in general, a good talker, a good writer, good at civics, a lot of things I was good at. But the one thing 58:00that I wasn't good at was making a life for myself, I couldn't quite handle that. I didn't know what the connection was to that whole thing, how to get that in order. I knew how to make an apartment look good; I knew how to put up a new ceiling, a new floor, things like that. And then Renee, who had been a friend of mine years before in college, we had met in a flirtation actually, at City College. I was a senior, she was a freshman. And a friend of mine and I had parked ourselves in front of Cohen Library in a spot where freshman would always end up making a wrong turn, having to go through this muddy area, come out the back of the building always looking sheepish and embarrassed, and we used to take great joy in teasing them. So Renee came past, and she denies this, she says I made this story up, but it's true. I looked at her and I smiled, and she smiled back, she agrees to that part. And then she kept walking, and I said, "After you've brought so much joy into my life with that smile, you're not going 59:00to just keep walking, are you?" And she stopped, and we became friends. She swears that didn't happen, that part. But she admits there was conversation, but she doesn't remember the exact words. But we became friends, but it was just a friendship, and we just knew each other around school, I went up to a party of hers' once. In fact, I actually dated girlfriends of her, but she was a buddy, she was a friend, not a date. Then we dated for a while, and I was super in love with her, but she wasn't in love with me. She was really hooked on this guy. Previous to that, or after that, she was supposed to be in love with me and I wasn't interested in her, so we just didn't catch it at the right times. We went our separate ways, and then, all these years later, after school and everything, 60:00my parents received a letter from her with an inside letter addressed to me, with some kind of instruction like; "If everything's going well in Tony's life, throw this letter away quick." And it just happened that I was at my parents' house that night, and got the letter, called her up, we started dating like the next night, and have been together just about since then. But that joyous connection, and everything that sort of started to happen at that point in my life with her, gave me a feeling that something, somebody or something was taking care of me. I didn't build this; this is something I didn't make with my hands. I wanted to know more about God, so I started studying about religions, a lot of different religions and all, and started to find out that I guess I was pretty much a fundamentalist. So then, Renee and I started experimenting with 61:00different churches around here, almost every Sunday a different church, and interviewed pastors and going and meeting different congregations and all. I ended up becoming the superintendent of Sunday school for a church that I wasn't even a member of, because I wouldn't take part in their prayer of unity because there was one major stumbling block that I had at that point, and that was that most of Christianity is really an affront to Judaism. It's hard to say it any other way. The whole idea of switching the Sabbath, the whole idea of creating holidays that aren't biblical, it's really hard to say that you have a bible-based religion at a Christian when things have been changed. I got fairly sophisticated or critical in terms of my examination of Scripture, and some 62:00people say, "Just take it on faith." But that's being blind. There are certain things that the Lord wants you to take on faith, but there are other things that he wants you to be extremely critical of. And there are examples of it in the bible, where God praises people for not just taking even Paul's words immediately. People check it against Scripture. The one thing that was really the stumbling block back then was the concept of Trinity, the concept of Easter, and then when I finally checked the original language as best as available, it turned out that everyone was in agreement that the word "Easter" isn't in the Bible, it's the word "Pesach," for Passover. And that some translator at some point decided to change "Passover" to "Easter." No one lies about it, they just don't tell you about it. But when you check back to the Greek, you find that 63:00that's the word that's there, and in fact, just about anybody, you don't even have to speak Greek, you can spot the letters and understand the word there. And then there's other things, also. I mentioned the changing of the Sabbath, the various--the changing of the Ten Commandments by the Catholics. That's horrendous. I used to always wonder, years later I tried talking to my parents about this, how can you go to a church when there's like statues and all these images, and the bible tells you that you can't? And my mother said, "What are you talking about?" I said, "The Ten Commandments." And we looked through, I guess it's the Douay Bible, the one the Catholics use, and the Ten Commandments have been rearranged to sort of itemize out the idols, to sort of downgrade that. So you know, it's not as strong. I wanted to change my parents, I wanted 64:00to make them understand the things that I understood, but I've come to understand that it's not part of my mission on this planet. Everybody basically has their own spiritual walk, and they have to do what they do as they see fit with the Lord. But it was just too many things, too many problems like that. So Renee and I couldn't take a prayer of unity with any of the congregations we were with. So we started just having bible studies with different families that we were friendly with, and we never had an organized religion kind of thing over too long a period of time, because of that. But Renee considers herself a Judeo-Christian. In fact, I consider myself a Judeo-Christian. In fact, the name 65:00Giordano actually goes back this would make my mother happy, she passed away a few years back the name Giordano comes from the Jordan River, so that gives us a linkage there. And there was a Jordan of Saxony, and we followed a line of that kind of reasoning. But we see the Bible as a single document, the old and new together, and we enjoy as a family--In fact, one of the great concerns of a lot of friends and relatives were, how does a Jew and a Christian raise kids? You could have a great time together, a great love affair and everything, but how do you raise kids together? That's when you're going to see the real punishment that you're going to get for this. But the thing is, there isn't a problem, because we respect everything that's Jewish because it's Christian, it's everything that Jesus taught about. So it's not a problem. So we're one of the 66:00few families, in fact we're the only one on the block, that we have a sukkah in the fall, and we celebrate the occasion of Sukkos, it's the feast of tabernacles. It's really terrible that we live here, because just a few blocks away, in Bora Park, the whole neighborhood is filled with sukkahs. So our kids have a ball when we're driving around, saying "They have sukkah, there's a sukkah, there's a sukkah." And to see all the different ones. We visited this huge sukkah at the Lubovitch headquarters up on Eastern Parkway. But some people get carried away; they have these mechanical roofs and everything like that. But our family is really bible-based. We follow almost every single thing in the bible, unless it's something contradictory that came in through translation through the years. And I feel that we're a very, very spiritual family. We have 67:00a long way to go.
RUF: Was her family very religious?
GIORDANO: They became very religious when I came around. In fact, it's one ofthe sadnesses of our love affair, that her parents, her mother's passed away recently, that her parents have never been able to enjoy the happiness that we've had. And they have very serious sadness in their life, in terms of World War II and the Holocaust and losing their families, and being in concentration camp and all, so they went through such sadness and such grief that it burdens us that they never, at least her mother, never really got to enjoy all the happiness that we've had, all the blessings of our children and everything, and all the happiness of our home. I'd mentioned, also, that among the things that 68:00brought me back to religion, one was the happiness that I found with Renee, the other thing was a humbling experience. And that was that, within all this happiness that we had, there was still a great grief in terms of Anthony, that his mother had let us have him for a year when he was five years old, which was tremendous. We had such a ball, and it was such an important time age-wise, and then when he turned six she just suddenly came and took him away. And it was just the most, it was the most terrible thing that I «an imagine, I was in tears for days at a time, the sadness, the grief was just so incredible.
RUF: Why would she do such a thing?
GIORDANO: She has some real serious mental problems. He is some heck of a kid,some survivor. He's the only kid of a divorce that I know, that has come out as 69:00normal as he is. He's extremely normal. What actually happened was, even with all the happiness with Renee and everything, all of that was being destroyed by this sadness, and again, I was turning to myself as some way of correcting this, this idea that I can make things better in some way. And I just couldn't, and I tried every imaginable thing, everything from deceit to goodness and everything in between, and nothing worked. Until I ended up being on the floor on the bathroom, crying into a towel because I didn't want anybody else to hear me crying, and finally just breaking down and asking God to take over. And that's the one thing--Here I was, an adult, and it was the one thing I had never done in my life, I had never asked God to take over my life, I had never asked God to bail me out in some way. And I know it sounds maybe even superstitious and 70:00everything, but within minutes, first I received phone calls from church families, two different church families; one asking if they could stop over, a missionary was visiting them and they wanted to know if they could stop over for a minute. There was no way that they knew the grief that I was going through at that moment. And then another family just showed up at the door, and then there was a phone call from someone else who's just very dear to me in the church, and we just had a very spiritual conversation. All of this was sent to me to just bail me out. And from that point on, things just started getting better and better and better, until the point that Anthony eventually came home to live with us. He's terrific, he drives me nuts but--like, we were in Manhattan together this morning, and there were times that I practically had to pull the car over to the side because we were just laughing so hysterical. We're a good 71:00team, we drive each other crazy sometimes but we love each other tremendously. And the mix that he has with his brother and sisters, it just defies all the odds of this kind of arrangement, of families torn apart and brought together. Those are the two things that made me spiritual, or brought back that link for me, to God.
RUF: Let's change tracks for a moment. When you moved to 48th Street, back in'61, what was the area like?
GIORDANO: Terrific question, really good. Let me go back a little bit, with mygrandfather. A real old-fashioned Italian type of guy, heavy accent. Relatives used to think that he had a radio in his car that only had Italian stations. Real old-fashioned guy, slap you in the face before talking to you, didn't say 72:00much but when he did you were already in trouble. He was a barber, he had a barber shop on Union Street, and eventually became, not an apprentice, but rented a chair in a barber shop here, on 48th Street and Fifth Avenue. And he rented a chair in the Norwegian-American Barber Shop. I still remember the letters on the window. And here was this Italian barber, catering mostly to the Italians who were in large number in the neighborhood already, and eventually the owner sold the business to the grandfather, and he very wisely kept the name "Norwegian-American Barber Shop." So he was the only Italian owning a Norwegian-American barber shop. And barbering was really interesting in those days, because he would go to customers' homes if they didn't feel well, he would actually go to a hospital and give a haircut and a shave, even on a daily basis, 73:00to customers. So it was much more, a tighter situation. So when he passed away, we got his house and we moved into there. The neighborhood really didn't have a strong Scandinavian flavor at that point; this was the very early sixties, like '61, '62. Although everybody on the outside saw it as really Scandinavian, the neighborhood was really strongly Irish, Italian, and already a lot of Puerto Ricans were in the neighborhood. Many of those Puerto Ricans had come long before, they had come in the '50s, some of them in the '40s. Many were home owners already at that time. A lot of people don't realize that about Sunset Park. And I remember the first winter, the first fall, we had a touch football 74:00team of 48th Street between 6th and 7th, and by springtime, actually by the dead of winter, when the football season was ending, I was the only player left on the team. Everybody else had moved to Staten Island or to Long Island. This exodus was taking place. This must have been about '64; this must have been about three years into it, because this coincided with the Verrazano Bridge opening, so all my friends were gone just overnight, that one winter, that one fall. And a lot of them moved to the same neighborhoods together, in Staten Island.
RUF: These friends that you had, were they Scandinavians?
GIORDANO: No, for the most part Italians and Irish. And just about everybody,every family that had kids my age, there was an exodus, just a massive exodus. 75:00And in place of them, buying up the houses, were other Italians and Irish coming from the old neighborhood, but also many Puerto Ricans coming at the same time. But in their case, many of them were now renting apartments that had been made available in the area of 3rd Avenue, where the city had just red lined the area, the banks redlined it, the city rezoned it. The city had declared everything west of Third Avenue as "industrial." And that made it impossible for homeowners to get mortgages, to get insurance. If more than 50% of the house was destroyed by a fire, they weren't even allowed to rebuild. They could do no infill housing. So the housing there was meant to die. Many of those people became homeowners up here, they filled the vacancies here, but those apartments ended up staying alive for a while, even though they were distressed, but that's where 76:00the Puerto Ricans, for the large part, moved in. At that point, you might expect that there might have been conflicts between the ethnic groups, but there really wasn't. Sunset Park's a street corner neighborhood; you basically hang out on the street corner. And even if you don't know anybody, you sort of lean against a car, this is how it happened with me, you either lean against the car looking at the group of kids, or you sit on the stoop looking at the kids, until somebody looks at you a little slanted, over, sort of like an invitation, and you walk over and you talk to them for a while, and suddenly you're in with the crowd. It even happens today, the same exact way. There's an established crowd, and the new kid on the block sort of leans over and the kid who lives next door to him says, "Come on, let's go." And they just hang out. So it's an easy kind of mixing that takes place. We did go through a gang violence period in the 77:00'70s, which was pretty bad. Youth gangs, and they all mostly Puerto Rican youth gangs, and there was a lot of violence, but that violence was always gang against gang. It wasn't interracial, interethnic.
RUF: I'm jumping ahead here, a little bit, but do people feel problems with theChinese gangs in the area now?
GIORDANO: No, you don't see the Chinese gangs, you read about them in thepapers. It's an interesting transition that we've been going through. The Chinese were upon us in a moment. It was just incredible, I remember the day. It's funny that it hit my awareness level. I guess, you see two or three Asians, you don't think of it, you see four, you see five, it reaches a certain point where all of a sudden you say, "Wait a second, when did this happen?" I was 78:00waiting for my daughter Sarah's school bus to come, so this would put it, she's 13 now, she was about 7 then, put it about six years ago, so about 1987, I guess. I was waiting on 8th Avenue and 53rd Street for her bus, and it was late, usually it came before the local schools were emptying out, so I was there as the kids from Pershing Junior High School were walking by, and they were Chinese, Chinese, Chinese, five, six, ten, five, six, three, in groups, and more and more. And I'm saying, "When did this happen? I don't believe this." It was just as sudden as that. My family's always had Chinese friends since that period, through the kids who were visiting and all. We've learned some of their customs, like now we go barefoot in the house without being embarrassed, because 79:00now it's proper to leave your shoes at the door. We've learned about the color of gift wrapping paper, the difference between white and red in America and in China, the strong sense of bringing gifts to people's houses and everything, humility within their families. I've seen aggression, I've seen strong aggression in the Chinese community, but I've only seen it in terms of business, I haven't seen it in terms of families. Families have been very warm, the same kinds of values, for the most part. They seem stricter. My daughter's Chinese friends, almost all of them, will say to me at one time or another, "I wish you were my father." And I don't take it as a great compliment, because we talk and 80:00I understand what it's all about, and their fathers are strict, their families are must stricter. But that comes with being the newest immigrant group. You have to be stricter because you don't know what's out there. And their fathers are at work longer hours than I am. I'm home playing with the kids. And the children recognize this; they know that their fathers are working a second job or a very long job, and that they won't be home until ten. There's poverty within the families, but it's very similar to the experiences that my family went through, where you saw a way out. It's not the destitution that I've seen, the hopelessness that I've seen, in Brownsville or East New York, where there is no way out, there's no light at the end of the tunnel. Tomorrow is like yesterday. So it's a happier community. Many of the people in the neighborhood were really thrilled when they started to become aware of the Chinese or the 81:00Asians coming to the community. And there's this blurriness, just like the Puerto Ricans were referred to as the Hispanics, or the Latinos now, there's this thing where it's the Asians, you say "Chinese" and it means everybody, whether they came from Malaysia, whether they came from India, or Korea, Vietnam, it all sort of just hazes over. The same thing that happened with the Scandinavians where that just covered everybody: the Norwegians, the Swedes, the Finns. But, like, I meet people and you start to realize the serious consequences of blurring over. People have very strong ethnic identities.
RUF: When you talk about the aggressive competition among the merchants, what inparticular do you refer to?
GIORDANO: I've seen approaches to violence. I've seen aggressiveness to the82:00point of people running at each other threatening. The first incident I ever saw was a few years back. I was sitting in my car waiting for my kids to come out of a restaurant, and a Black man had delivered some supplies to an A&P, or some chain supermarket, and there was an Asian who was running the store. And he felt that he was being abused by the Black, in terms of the merchandise, the material, whatever it was he didn't want it for some reason. The box had been dropped or something and the Black guy just turned around in a real casual American kind of thing, and I was watching this whole thing happen--it was a real casual, kind "hey" look. You know, the boxes are here, I'm getting back on my truck, and I'm gone. And this Asian guy picked up a stick, something used to 83:00keep a door open, he was very handy, and he ran at the guy and he started cursing him in English. This guy was cowering. He really had this big brute of a guy cowering. To the extent that the guy ran to a phone, made a quick phone call and everything, and took the box back. And like, I was astounded. I had never seen such a rapid kind of thing happen like this, the potential for violence and everything, But I've learned, there's this "Don't tread on me" kind of Asian attitude. It was rough getting here, it's rough to eke out a living, I put in long hours, I'm not taking any crap from anybody. And it's even to the point of violence. I saw a car accident; I didn't see the actual accident. I surmised what happened was, again it happened to be a Black this time, a Haitian. His truck 84:00was coming down the block, another truck that some Asians had double parked, was hit, the mirror was hit. One mirror, on the truck belonging to the Asians, was broken. They stopped the guy, they made him get out of the truck, and they kept him there, and they kept insisting that he was in trouble with the police, and the guy's going, "It's a mirror, I'll give you a couple of bucks, let's forget it, it's an accident." It went through various stages. First, "It's an accident, what can I tell you? You're double parked; I'm coming down the block." It didn't work out like that. Then it was, "Look, I'll give you a couple of bucks for it." "No, no, no, I want full price." Then, the Black guy finally said, "Enough of this, let's get the cops over here," and the cops never showed up, but it was frightening to me to observe, because it was about four or five Asians together, 85:00with this one Haitian guy, and they really had him surrounded at all times. Verbally, physically, and here in this neighborhood the Haitian was out of his element, and the Chinese were in theirs, because as people walked up the street they would ask in Chinese questions, I assumed they were asking, "What's going on?" And it was like some agreeable kind of things. He must have really felt awkward. It all ended peacefully, but this kind of thing over and over again. But they have been good neighbors. Puerto Ricans are really worried now, especially Puerto Rican leadership in the neighborhood, they're extremely worried.
RUF: Why is that?
GIORDANO: Sunset Park is a neighborhood of immigrants. We've gone through stageby stage, everybody's had their day here in Sunset Park, they've moved on to terrific lives all over the place. And I'm in a position to know about this 86:00because I helped start the historical society here, so I get a lot of mail from different sources, old timers and stuff, and they like to share little things about how their children are all married, and successful here, and successful there, and all. There's so many good stories that have come out of Sunset Park, people that have left here, and it was now the day of the Puerto Rican. It was their day, and their day was cut short just a little bit early. And I can appreciate it. They needed another ten years. They needed ten years to grow in this neighborhood, they needed to stand up and flap their wings and say, "This is my neighborhood, this is my turf, this is my son in college, this is my daughter whose house is going to be right next door." They needed to see their kids come here in their Maximas and other cars and park on a Sunday and eat supper with them on the holidays, and stuff, all the things that we've watched the other groups do. And they got cut short by maybe ten years--that their day 87:00is just, all of a sudden, in terms of schools. The schools are now putting in bilingual requests in Chinese, bilingual Mandarin, bilingual Cantonese. The schools are proud of their Chinese students. You watch the awards ceremony, and 90% -it's not an exaggeration --of the award-winners are Chinese. You watch the funding agencies, and the funds are going now for Chinese-oriented programs. You see the news, and the news is, around the corner 12 Chinese are found in a basement and released. And they're seeing all this, and it's really like their day has suddenly passed and at the same moment, it's like a one-two punch, being Hispanic is not being Puerto Rican, being Hispanic can mean being Mexican, being 88:00Dominican, being Ecuadorian, they lost a real big moment in history here. Dominicans, even though they're not American citizens, have jumped into the American electoral process in a greater way than the Puerto Ricans. And maybe even more successfully. And Ecuadoreans are making leaps in terms of employment and are moving up, sometimes it seems, even better than the Puerto Ricans have. The Puerto Ricans got locked at the bodega level, and their day has been cut short suddenly. Not that all is woe, because their children are in college, their children are professionals, our assemblyman is Puerto Rican, he's an architect. And I know other Puerto Ricans, numerous Puerto Ricans, who are professionals, in the neighborhood. But they still didn't have the moment of 89:00their day in Sunset Park. Their stamp on Sunset Park, sadly, is still the standpoint of the bodega, the poverty, and elements like that. I'm worried to think that that will be their remembrance in the history of Sunset Park 40 years from now, 50 years from now.
RUF: Tony, how did you get involved in civic affairs? You went on to CityCollege from Staten Island University, and continued at City College, you also majored in electrical?
GIORDANO: No, at City I became an education major.
RUF: There's the education.
GIORDANO: Basically, what happened, I think people are born into their lives. Idon't think there's predestination so much, but I really think at birth we're pretty much set on the course, and I can be the greatest civic leader on earth, I'm only going to get the people who are civic by nature on this block to come 90:00out and join me to do things. Everybody's got their own desires, their own lifestyles, and everything. I was born to do this, I know I was. I'm trapped, I've got no choice. As a kid, I was the youngest civil defense air raid warden in the city, unbeknownst to the government. I always had an ability to write, and as a little kid I had access to stamps, and that combination is dangerous. And I dreamed, I'd find out things, and before long I was in charge of putting up civil defense signs pointing people to shelters and stuff. Nobody ever bothered to come and check if I was an adult or anything like that. So fortunately we never needed the defenses that I was in charge of, it would have been terrible. But I had that kind of interest and curiosity, and Kennedy was 91:00very appealing to me when I was a little kid, and I bought into that and everything as a child, and was active in running around putting up his posters and things. In high schools, junior achievement, where kids start their own businesses, held out a great attraction to me, although I didn't get involved. And then a major thing happened in my life, on 48th Street. I was in the basement with a couple of friends and my cousin, and we heard what sounded like an explosion, and we ran outside to see that post office truck, a U.S. postal truck had flipped over on its side. We ran up to look, and the worker had been thrown from the car, and his head was trapped by the top of the truck, so his scalp was on the outside and you could see his face on the inside, and he was still alive, and a group of men were there, and I said, "We have to get this truck off him, we have to use a jack." And they're going, "We can't, we don't 92:00have a jack." said, "We'll stop a car. This is an emergency, we'll stop a car, we'll get a jack out, we can't lift the truck." So they ignored me because they were grownups, and I was a kid, I was about 14 years old. And I ran into the middle of 6th Avenue, I stopped a car, and as I was getting the jack from the car I could see the men on the block, the grownups, doing a heave-he, heave-he, crushing the guy's skull. And it was all over at that point, and I walked back and there was just a stream of blood from this man's head, and he was dead. When the police came they used the jack to life the truck and get the body out from there. And it impacted me in terms of, adults are so damn stupid. They think they're so smart; they can't listen to anybody else. And it gave a bitterness in me, but it gave me a resolve, also, and so I determined that I was going to have 93:00a traffic light put on that corner. That was my introduction, this poor man's death, to civic affairs. I made a phone call, you call up the traffic light people and you say, "I need a traffic light, you better get it there right away." Real naive. And I started to find out that I was getting a run-around. Nobody was in charge, everybody else was in charge. So I got a pad and I just started writing down who I spoke to and what their phone number was. And when I got sent back to the same person I would say, "Wait a second, I was sent to him already, I've spoken to him, he's not the right guy. Give me somebody else, otherwise you answer my question." And they kept giving me somebody else, somebody else, until I started making headway, and finding out more about what the system's all about. I found out about the precinct community council, and I went there. Just started getting more and more involved. Throughout the whole thing, there was this driving thing in me of, why are adults so stupid? It 94:00really just kept coming down to me, that adults are so stupid. It bothered me so much I wrote a series of letters to my children. At 16 years old. And I saved then and I've read them, a few years back, kids are pretty stupid, too. But it was just so frustrating to be alive at a time when the formulas were breaking down. Ten years previous to 1964, in 1955 everything was pat. The church was right, and if you had a problem you went to the priest. The corner druggist knew everything, and if he didn't know the doctor knew, and the doctor always was honest and true. If he told you, "Take your blouse off, and he felt your breasts, he was really looking for an illness, he wasn't feeling you up." We 95:00believe in everything, and we would never imagine the need of a lemon law. If something was wrong with the car, it wasn't engineering. Everything was right. The school was right. If the teacher said that you were a stupid kid, you were a stupid kid, and they did say things like that. That ten-year span during which I was growing up, all of that was thrown out and a big part of that was Vietnam, also. And here I was working within the system, and I was now in college at City College, and I went over to the student center, because they were telling us that there was a soldier there, an AWOL soldier. He wasn't going back to Vietnam, he was refusing to go back, and the U.S. marshals were going to arrest him that day. And out of curiosity, I went to look. I was a member of an 96:00organization, the student education-- [Interview interrupted.]
GIORDANO: So, through my aggressiveness in City College, I ended up becoming thefirst student allowed to sit in on the faculty senate of City College. And in fact, Renee accompanied me. She had to stay outside, and then the next time I got her to be able to accompany me. We couldn't speak, we couldn't vote. And I became the first student that was allowed to sit on faculty Committees, and it drove them nuts, because it was their domain. To suddenly have a kid sitting on a committee on tenure, maybe on the physical plant of the school, and asking them questions, drove them nuts. My son Anthony now is the executive director of the CUNY student senate, so he has all sorts of power and stuff, and fun and 97:00things, and we get into this whole give and take about how he wouldn't be there if it wasn't for me. That's a whole other story. So anyway, I was active in the college and everything, and suddenly here I was at the moment, going off into the student union building, and I see this young guy who looked like any young guy standing there, and a group of kids, and a sort of communications system that was pretty sophisticated. I didn't know how it was working, but word was raced across the campus right to our room, from person to person, by runners, that the U.S. marshals were here, and exactly what was going to happen and everything, they knew everything. And the only defense was for everybody to pile around this private. So at that moment I was sort of torn, I had all my books and my tie, and I just made a decision to toss my books aside and jump into the 98:00pile, and become part of that mass protecting him from the U.S. marshals. Some girl turned to me, and she said, "Get rid of the tie," and I thought it was just a statement about clothing, but she gave me a quick education, she was telling other people, too, she said, "The marshals will grab you by the tie, they'll chock you by it. Girls, if you have pierced ears, take out your earrings and everything, put them in your pocket. Watches, jewelry, put them in your pockets because you'll get cut by them," and everything. How to cover up. What constitutes resisting arrest, the whole thing. There we were, shaking scared, a bunch of kids and everything, suddenly this wasn't an academic exercise in protected walls of ivy. This was for real, suddenly. The cops were coming. And it was the U.S. marshals with the New York City police. They came, the marshal took about two steps into humanity and realized, even if he got in the middle, he wasn't getting back out again, and they backed off and we went nuts. We were 99:00so thrilled. We succeeded; we beat the establishment, whatever that was. We beat the bad guys, basically. And I was militarized very quickly. My education, I just was like, leaps and bounds, I was like a sponge just soaking up all this stuff that I had never known about before. I didn't know about the inequities, I didn't know about what had been done to Black people all these years, and everything. There was so much I didn't understand about. And I was learning it right there, first hand from people. It was just so terrific. I ended up being involved in the takeover of the campus. I had a major role in the takeover of the School of Education facilities. I actually opened the facilities on a Sunday morning to the community of Harlem. We had little Black kids coming in, using the college building for themselves. We wasted supplies like crazy. I still have 100:00to send them a check someday for that. Sleeping in a school at night, walking through Harlem in the middle of the night, walking down in front of the Apollo on 125th Street, a young guy with all these Black people around and not being scared or anything. It was just so fantastic. And then the unifying factor of the war in Vietnam, the terror of the war, the inequity of the war, the realization that the adults did not have their act together. They were lying. The sadness of knowing that Richard Nixon had a secret plan, which--it was no secret, basically he was going to accept what had been offered years before, but he wasn't going to wait until 10,000 more Americans had died. Walking down the subways every day and there used to be these little red stickers, I remember in the beginning it was like, "20,000 dead in Vietnam," and then some little information. And then, not long later it was like 30,000 dead. Just to watch the 101:00numbers going up and everything. And losing friends there. Seeing all that was happening, and understanding it. Because the professors at college were pretty good. They were willing to sit with you quietly and talk. I had professors that were old stick-in-the-mud types, you picture them, in any movie about college you could have them play the role. In front of classes, they would battle with me and everything, but they would be first to grab me and drag me into their office and ask for an update on the war, what was going on. And they would encourage me, and they would be the first to give me money if we were trying to raise cash for something. I remember walking into a course, the first day, it was one of the early psych courses, and the professor said, "This is the book, this is this," and everything. And I said, "I'm not buying a book." So the 102:00professor says, "Well, if you don't buy the book, how do you expect to pass the final exam?" I said, "Well, I'm not taking the final exam." The professor looked at me and said, "Why are you taking this course?" I said, "A bunch of old people are telling me I have to take this course if I want to get my degree, and I have to get my degree if I want to get a job, so I have to take this course. You're stuck with me and I'm stuck with you." He says, "Well, how do you expect me to pass you?" I said, "I'd keep a journal of what I learn in this class, from today right through to the last day, I'll write down a diary, a journal, an understanding of what growth I get out of this, if I get anything out of this course." And it turned out my professor was pretty cool about the whole thing. She said, "We'll see, maybe that will work." As long as everybody else in the class doesn't opt for the same thing. I didn't buy the book, I couldn't really afford the book, and I was tired of books and I'd made a whole argument about how all this stuff was outdated and it really didn't mean much, it takes 20 103:00years to research a book, 2 years to get it to print, and then by the time you get it in the school nobody cares about it anyway. So she ended up hiring me to work for her, that professor, as an assistant. I was working part time in a place, this was a good experience, too, consumer information. They would interview people on preferences and stuff, from all over the United States, and it gave me like a hook-up to the whole U.S., finding out what newspapers people read, and attitudes and things like that. It was called "Attitude Research," on 57th Street, down from Carnegie Hall. So they were paying me a little bit more than what the school would pay me, so she actually reached in her pocket and made up the difference, so that I would work for her. And she had me actually grade the final exam, which, as an agreement with her, I took the final exam, even though I didn't know what the heck any of it was all about. But she passed 104:00me with a C in the course, I failed the test, but it was a great learning experience for me and for her and for a lot of people in the class. During the takeover, when the campus was closed down, it was interesting, too, because being in charge of a big building, being in charge of defenses, establishing a government in exile, which it basically was, was incredible. I was with so many knowledgeable people, people who knew how to take charge and how to make things happen. There was no time for playing games, except late at night. But earlier in the day, we had to work, and work hard. So our days would be spent in getting tape, any kind of tape possible and taping up windows and protection for when the police start breaking in, so you won't have shattered glass come in. Getting stuff to use to carry bricks to the roof, breaking bricks in half to make them 105:00easy to handle and double your number of projectiles, soaring up window poles, drilling them and putting strings, turning them into Billy clubs, establishing a hospital on the upper floors, establishing a method for getting into the building for people we legitimately wanted to talk to, whether they were good guys or bad guys, because they would be allowed in. And just thinking, to realize that people have to think these things out. You can't just have a door that opens, because they can bum rush in, they can all come in at the same time. So you have to have this circuitous route in and out, through one door, down a hall, back out onto a fire escape, in again, and making a dean go through this, or making the lieutenant or the captain go through this, and they have to take you serious and everything. Interviewing them, making them wait and everything. It was just such a growth experience. And it did lead to open admissions for the first time in the history of the City University system. I used a lot of the 106:00things I learned there back here in the community. I had a storefront; I was involved in a couple of election campaigns, for assembly candidates and such. And usually we would get a storefront out of this. And we had a storefront over on 45th Street, I think it was 810 45th Street, it was two store fronts. We had them both, they connected. And one day, while I was gone, some older guys had come in and taken over the storefront. Because we were using it basically as a hangout most of the time. And I got a phone call; we had like dozens of phones, because in an election campaign, the first thing you do is you get lots of phones because you have all this calling of voters and stuff like that. So I got a phone call that these guys had come in and everything, and they were talking about killing cops and all sorts of things like this. So I came over to the place and I sat down, they didn't know that I was basically the leader of the operation, I was just another guy, sat in a circle with them, and I believe the issue was that Nixon had sent bombers into Laos, no, into Cambodia, I think it 107:00was at the time. And these guys were saying, "We have to make a dramatic stand, we have to kill some pigs. That's the way we gotta do it, that's all. We're going to go up against the police." And my kids that were there, that were a couple of years younger than me, were buying into it because we were really upset. It's hard to feel what it was like, then. But it was a war, it was really a war then, and we were in the military here and there was another military for our government over there. But we were definitely in an army over here. And we had to take some kind of action. And what I did was I slowly worked the conversation into a realization that we didn't have enough weapons. "Great, good, we'll do it. Do we have the guns? What do you got?" And it wasn't much of weaponry that we could put together. So then I said, "Well, let's do something else. Let's take a dramatic action, let's do something serious. Let's tie up 108:00traffic in this neighborhood like it's never been tied up before. Let's do it Mother's Day, let's do it this Sunday. We're going to close this neighborhood down." So I was able to convert everybody into this action, and we ended up, we selected 36th Street and 5th Avenue, because it was a key double way traffic intersection, but unbeknownst to everybody else I called the hospitals, I called the fire department, and let them know that there was going to be a demonstration at that intersection and that they should reroute around that intersection. I went to the police, and I didn't want to tell them the exactly location at that point because that would have ruined our fun, and I just wanted them to know that I will let them know when the time is right and everything, and they wouldn't take it serious. They're saying, "Any pretty girls going to be there? If there's girls, we'll be there." So it was that kind of garbage. They wouldn't let me talk to the captain. The captains of the police, the higher up brass are usually intelligent. Everybody else usually, in those days, were 109:00slugs. They really, they were criminals, there's no other way--They were criminals in uniforms. So we shut traffic down. We did it in a real smart way; we sat down in front of buses because we knew civil servants wouldn't run us over. And we shut down traffic, we had leaflets prepared so we could tell the people what was going on, they would understand. I invited my mother to join me that day, but she didn't. We sang a couple of songs. I was supposed to be the symbolic arrest, but nobody ended up getting arrested, and after a little while we broke up, made the front page of the Home Reporter and stuff like that. But it led to local people complaining that we had burnt an American flag, which we didn't. We were patriots. We really saw ourselves as American patriots. We saw ourselves as putting the country back on track again. We went to Washington en masse, which was a moving experience, a tremendous experience. Just leaving 110:00early, early in the morning, going over that dreadful Verrazano Bridge that I hated a few years before. And being a single bus. And it was almost like the experience back at City College, where suddenly me, one person, was a part of a hundred people. This one bus, all of a sudden as we were going down the turnpike and everything, we were being joined by more and more buses, it was just so incredible to see, suddenly at one point you realized that the entire Jersey Turnpike is filled with your compatriots. We're all in buses together, we're all heading down to do the same thing together, and you get to Washington and you find the White House surrounded by their buses, they took all the city buses, and they ringed the White House with the city buses. They had automatic weapons; they had sandbags with machine guns on the steps of the Capitol Building. The town had been established as if we Americans were going there to attack or 111:00something. We were going there to petition our government, to say that something was dreadfully wrong. I remember taking a back in a fountain outside of the Supreme Court building. We had a great day. At those demonstrations, I usually didn't stay with the crowd. Usually whoever I was hanging with that day, we would visit the neighborhoods nearby, and we did that in Washington that October. We went down and visited the Black section of Washington, which was all of Washington, the real people. And we ate in some of the local places and stuff, counter service kinds of places, while the demonstration--It was strange, you could look out the window and you could see the tip top of the Washington monument there, and you know there's a mass of people out there, and here's a Black neighborhood untouched by it all. They weren't part of the anti-war thing, life was going to be the same for them after we left town, just like everybody 112:00else. Back here in the neighborhood, things were still going on in various ways. We took over the police station, after it was emptied. The 68th precinct, which is on 43rd and 4th, which is now a city landmark, was left by the police. They moved to a new building on 65th Street. I take pride in saying that in the mail one day I got an invitation from the mayor to attend the opening ceremony, and I also got a Christmas card from a group of Black Panthers. And it was something to the effect of "Merry Christmas, motherfucker." Something like that. To be involved in such a diverse kind of mailing list situation was incredible. So they left the building, the precinct building empty, and I went down there with a couple of friends and a hammer and a dime. We took the hammer and we broke the 113:00lock on the building, we took the dime and the green book, which is the New York City directory of everything, and we called up the housing people, and I believe the guy's name was Commissioner Duchack or Duchen, and I said, "You know, there's a building here, it's an abandoned building, there's no lock on it, we're going to put a lock on the building and we're going to leave the key with the pizzeria next door." And here was this guy who was so appreciative of it. "Great, I really appreciate it," and everything. Meanwhile, we kept a copy of the key also. We went in and we started thinking about what we could do with the building. I was about, I guess 21 or 22 years old, around then, and most of the kids with me were between, we went down to eight years old, to my age. It was a kids' army. And we went in and we decided we were going to hold a health fair in the building. We were going to turn in into basically a hospital for three days. One girl got us a directory of physicians that's broken up by hospitals. I 114:00didn't even know such a thing existed. And we established that, a couple of people just sat down all day calling up all the doctors affiliated with Maimonides, with Lutheran, and we had a big chart with all the hours of the day for these three days, and we would just fill them in for the different blanks where we had time. We got commitments from Red Cross, Brooklyn Lung Disease Organization, all sorts of different groups. A radio station sent down a guy who was popular a few years before that, in the role of Zachary of TV, and now he's on, I think WXRK again. But he came down with a crew and in preparing the building, we slotted all this time, we had to repair the building, and we didn't have much money. But Lutheran medical center, we were able to beg some supplies out of them, things like toilet paper and soap and brooms and ladders and paint. Some of the city agencies, the Mayor's office and all, and then our greatest 115:00good fortune, Jimmy Breslin's book, "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight" I think it was, was being filmed here in the neighborhood. And they needed a police station, and we were able to loan them our police station. In return for all sorts of repairs on the building and all. So we managed that, plus we got a lot more supplies from them. We let them have the building for a little while. All our telephoning was done illegally. The main bank for telephone I'm going to go to jail for this, there's got to be a statute of limitations on this the telephone company has these boxes where all the telephone connections are made for three blocks, four blocks. But what safer place to have that than in a police station? So it was in there and we broke it open, and we made all our phone calls through there. We had all the phones hooked up; we had a whole bank of phones going. We had all these beautiful--The whole building is like these little cubbyholes, little rooms everything. Not very good from a modem point of 116:00view, but great for our purposes. We had workshops established, TB testing, height and weight, counseling, lead poisoning, just screening. All sorts of things going on throughout; films, slides, the whole place was being set it and terrific. The only problem was heat. It was cold and the building was freezing. We got a girl whose father was an engineer to come. He cheeked the system out, and it cost too much to get it up and running again. So finally this one guy comes in with basically what's a jet engine, a portable jet engine that you fire up, and within like 30 seconds it's a huge space heater, it just heats the whole thing with the roar of an engine, just "Whoooaaa," and the whole place just gets heated immediately. And then you shut it down. Everything was going great, we had put together a committee with a lot of adults working with us, I was an 117:00adult then, but older adults. And then came the final straw, the final victory. It was night time, we'd been working around the clock shifts, constant around the clock shifts. We had a system where people had different colored armbands signifying which floors they worked on, and it also signified their rank in terms of ability to order other people around. And people moved up the ranks very rapidly, people were keen on that. We had an attitude that if something needs to be done you start doing it, and you're going to be surrounded by volunteers in minutes. And it always happened. So we drew people from the neighborhood, and then, that night, it must have been about 10 o'clock at night, I was exhausted, it was cold, we didn't have the heater then. I was fully dressed, combat boots, big military jacket, black jacket kind of stuff that everybody was wearing, and we had one cot in the captain's old room, where he used to sleep. It was his old bed. And I laid down on there, and there was a 118:00girl laying down there, a good friend of mine. Her name is Mary and we're still friends today. And she was fully dressed, in the same kind of outfit, in fact. She was laying down on there. And the cops, in those days there were beat cops, still. And this beat cop walked in, and they generally were coming in every day, they were familiar with the station, it was their old station. And warming up inside. They'd stand by the desk and just rub their hands and stuff, hang out and stuff. So this one old-time cop he looks over at me and he says, "Get off the bed." "What?" He says, "Get the hell off the bed. There's a girl on the bed with you. You can't do that, she's underage." I said, "Buddy, I'm tired, I've been working without sleep. This is my bed, this isn't your bed. This is my building; it's not your building." He says, "I'll arrest you," and a few other fine nice words and stuff, he's threatening me. With that, everybody who was in the building came down and piled up on top of that rickety bed. I imagine we had 119:0030 people. It's impossible, but to me I recall 30 people on there. This cop was so frustrated he didn't know what to do. So I'll tell him, in fact I was the only one not on the bed at this point, because I'm dealing with him, going, "If you're going to arrest anybody, you're going to arrest all of us. So you better get a pretty big wagon here. And you know what; you better talk to a sergeant before you do anything else." So he walked out, and as he walked out this kid Bobby, we used to call him "Bobby Baba," he grabbed this lock, he ran outside behind the cop, closed the door and locked it front the outside, which was the only way you could lock it. Ran over to the stables, that was next to it, that had an upper door, we pulled him through the supper door, locked the upper door from the inside with a latch, and we now claimed the building. We had captured the building from the cops. We were ecstatic. A sergeant came, he asked me to step outside, I came outside, I spoke to him and everything. He realized he couldn't do anything, we weren't doing anything wrong. We marched through the building that night singing patriotic songs. There's a turret on the building 120:00that goes up, it's like a big castle. I remember marching up, singing all sorts of great patriot songs and everything. It was a real moment of glory. It was terrific. The health fair opened the next day. The place was painted, it was beautiful. We serviced 1,776 (I remember because it's 1776) people in three days. We were pretty much sanctioned by everybody, including the police, who had brought a special van that day. Pages of newspaper stories and stuff like that. The captain grabbed me on the side and said, "Tony, why do you give my guys such a hard time?" and everything. But it was a tremendous victory.
RUF: When was this? Can you date this?
GIORDANO: I think like 1969.
RUF: Is the building still standing?
GIORDANO: Yeah, the building's there, it's a landmark. It's now being convertedinto the Sunset Park School of Music. In fact, in a lapse of intelligence, I was 121:00on the community board back in '74, I think it was. I made a motion to have the building torn down. And fortunately it failed. I remember Ed Wade's second motion. To think I almost had that building torn down. But the people on the block wanted it torn down, because there were homeless and all sorts of problems in it at the time.
RUF: What's the address?
GIORDANO: 43rd and 4th. It was a terrific building back then.
RUF: Moving from this, coming a little bit more towards the present day, tell meabout your involvement in the block association.
GIORDANO: First of all, I had stopped doing community work for about 13 years,14 years. Part of it was, I didn't have anything to give to anybody. I only had enough to give to myself and my family. And so basically it was all 122:00family-oriented for all those years. And it was a lot of fun, Renee and I got to do all the normal things that normal people do, spend three days shopping for the silliest knick knack or something. Nowadays you say, "I don't care, spend $2 extra, who cares?" Back then, you'd shop for a week to buy a little silly thing. We had a lot of fun, we went cross country, did all the things you're supposed to do. And then we found we were at a point where the kids were reaching an age where we had to make a decision: stay in the city or get out of here. And what we did was we subscribed to three newspapers, Sunday papers, in other cities where we were interested in moving. One was White City, New Mexico, just outside of Carlsbad, another was up around Flagstaff, and the other was Houston. And we 123:00got to know those cities pretty good through the papers, and we were considering moving to anyone of those three locations, with probably Flagstaff being number one. And we decided that we couldn't do that because we both had ageing family here, and we wouldn't be making enough money to fly back and forth repeatedly, so we probably would have to save to just come back to bury our relatives. And that wasn't a very appealing thought. So then we took a compass and we drew a 500-mile radius around New York City, and we decided, "That's a one-day drive, that we can handle, Now let's look for something in there." And being that I'm trapped in these logical kinds of sequences, it's part of what I've been born to do, so we went through census tracks of all sorts of places, went through temperature maps, we looked for ideal zones where we wanted to live, we learned to eliminate certain places because even though all the demographics sounded 124:00good we suddenly realized it's a college town, it's not for real, it's a special kind of environment. We wanted a balanced, real place, with all age groups, some poverty but not overwhelming poverty, all these things. And we found a couple of great places; Roanoke, VA, Resting, VA, a few other places. Most moving down towards the South. We had great plans of farming, small 5 - 15 acre farms and stuff like that. And we went through all of this. And we kept coming back to one fact. And that was that, we figured that our kids would be pretty exceptional kids, that they would be high achievers, and that if we lived in a small town the most that they could aspire to be would be the gosh darnedest general manager of Burger Balls, or something like that. Otherwise, they're going to be 125:00attracted to the big cities. And if we send them back to the big cities then, then they're going to be vulnerable, they're going to be the casualties, because they're not going to be city-wise. So if we think our kids are going to be all that, we better stay here in the city and we better orient then to being with every kind of person you could be with, but at the same time, we have to make the city better. And we have a real egotistical problem here. We think we can make the city better. We think we can have an impact. So we sat down, I remember we were sitting on the floor, Renee and I, and we made a pact, and we said, "Okay, we're going to stay, and we're going to make this city better," and everything. And Renee looked at me and she says, "You realize what this mean, you know. We're going to bring back block association. We're going to bring back civic things in Sunset Park," and all of this. I said, "I know, it means total involvement." We made a pledge that it be only two meetings a week, out of the house. We later found that we could fudge on that by having the meeting in the house. Renee has fed half the assembly and half the state senators that have 126:00ever represented this area. Senator Mager raves about her cooking and everything. Everything's family oriented. Our kids know politics, politicians; they know civic leaders and stuff. They know how to tease with them, they know meetings, and stuff. We decided that we would stay here and make a difference. And from that, the first thing was to start going to meeting again. So I went to a meeting of the community board. A guy that I had last sat with 20 years ago came running up and hugged me. He said, "Tony, next week you have to be with me here, here and here." I went to those meetings, started getting immersed in the politics and the dirty deals, finding out who's the bad guys, who's the good guys. Got into a terrible battle, a lot of physical stuff and everything, because there were people who were doing a lot of nasty deeds in the neighborhood. I'm sorry if this sounds like bragging, but there aren't a lot of 127:00very intelligent civic people available in Sunset Park. People who are more aware gravitate towards the more happening neighborhoods. This was my neighborhood, so I was here already. Renee and I have some amount of intelligence. We're not better people than other people, we wouldn't make that kind of basis of comparison, but we have certain intellectual gifts. I can put together a newspaper and get it out on a regular basis; she can make phone calls and talk to people. We're a good bad-cop-good-cop team and everything, and we have led the change of what's happened in this neighborhood in the last three or four years. And it hasn't come without repercussions, it hasn't come without threats. It hasn't come without the first year being, "Who's this Tony Giordano 128:00who dropped out of nowhere and is suddenly in every organization in the neighborhood?" I became a sort of commonality in a way, of all the groups, because everything I went to I joined, and I was the only one who knew what was happening in all the camps. But at the same time, it started making people suspicious. Some accused me of being a Moonie. Somebody must have known a little bit about my religious background and now made a leap to discredit me. Some people associate me with some group, some intellectual group that was coming into neighborhoods and buying up property and doing some deeds and everything. There was a whole bunch of accusations at the time. People just couldn't understand how I would devote so much time, or what they saw as energy, to projects. But it was easy for me. It was just a question of; I'd get up at 5:30 in the morning and knock off an RFP that other people wanted to spend $15,000 to 129:00have a professional write. Request for Proposal. I just knew, would get three copies of successful ones, steal from all three, combine them, mix them up with stuff from your own area, and you've got it. It's done, it's a formula, it's a recipe. It didn't take much; it just meant getting up a couple of hours early one morning. I was a computer teacher at the time, I taught myself computers, I taught myself programming and everything. I even learned how to rewire computers and stuff like that, so make them do all sorts of great tricks. I taught a computer Hebrew once, and not only that, but I painted over all the keys and wrote all the Hebrew characters on them so you could actually type backwards in Hebrew style on the computer, which was a thrill to Renee's side of the family and everything. But I was really good with computers, it was a passion, and so I was able to bring that in, and that -- other organizations were still licking 130:00and typing, and I was like beep, beep, beep and everything was all printed out. I could maximize the effort. So eventually what happened was, people saw me as taking over Restoration. And to some degree I did take over Restoration. But that was only done because the people who were in charge of Restoration were raping the neighborhood at the time. Restoration very sadly, as I found out as I went around the neighborhood, was identified as the number one racist organization in the community. That's not my description. That's an accusation that was tossed at me as I went to the people who I was naturally comfortable with, the ethnic people of the neighborhood. And to hear a guy point at me in half English and half Spanish, and say that, was a cause of concern. But I found out that Restoration was basically put together by well-meaning people, they weren't racist in heart, they were well-meaning, they were new to the community, 131:00they were yuppie types that wanted to make a life for themselves, but they were ignoring what was already here. And they wanted to remake the neighborhood; they didn't want to work with the neighborhood. That's their only fault. They were intelligent people, some of them are still here, most of them moved away. Most of them got themselves real estate license, which bothered me because they wanted to buy and sell the neighborhood. They were more concerned with how we seemed to other people, rather than what was really happening. They were more interested in kite-flying events in Sunset Park than the drug addicts or the goofball kids who jump into the pool in the middle of the night and get fished out dead in the morning. So you know, I'm being hard on them, but they were hard on me when I was coming into Restoration. And they made it a battle. In fact, a lot came down to a single night where--we had $125,000 grant offered to us by the New York State Senate, to do a comprehensive plan of the waterfront. State 132:00Senator Mager arranged this. Restoration was thinking about rejecting the money, they didn't want to take it. Some people, I believe very strongly, wanted to spend the money on hiring themselves to do the study. When I came along and I was willing to do everything for free and not take anything for it, I became suspect. Money is not all that important to me. I've learned to live without money for years. Now that I have some amount of money, it's more than enough. My kids won't say that, but I would say that. But there are people that for $50 or $1,000 will sell you out. Somebody once said that you can buy an honest politician in this neighborhood for $50; this was a number of years ago. And I mentioned that once to a group of college students, and one of them yelled, "How 133:00much does a dishonest one cost?" But people will do a lot of things for small amounts of money. And I remember Ed Wade once, getting up, he's a local civic leader, and he yelled at someone from the Mayor's office, he said, "You know, I'm not complaining at you for selling out. I just can't believe you sold out so cheap." Some kind of a statement. But he was right. People sell out so cheap in this neighborhood. I basically had to keep that waterfront study alive, and it came down to a night that Anthony was graduating. He was living with his mother, he was graduating high school, and I had to skip his high school graduation. I had to make a decision whether to be there or to be at this crucial meeting. And I went to the meeting, Anthony understood, I don't understand all that well. But it was the turning point, and we got it back on track, we finished the waterfront study, we received awards from groups like the City Club, one of the 134:00oldest civic groups in the city, for good land use. The landmarks conservancy gave us an award for it, and everything. The only thing was, local politics just put it on a shelf, and we're now getting it dusted off and we may have some success with it. But it worried people that I had risen so quick in this neighborhood. But it's just that this is a small pond. Like, anybody with average intelligence and the desire to work can really move up rapidly in this neighborhood. This is a lesson that I brought in to Restoration, in that now, what we do is, instead of making somebody prove themselves as a member, which means you have to come to a year's worth of meetings, maybe six meetings out of the year, and you have to be buddy-buddy and stuff, and then maybe you can run for election if somebody retires from the board of something like that. We've done away with that whole process. Now basically what happens is, if you've got an issue that you care about, in fact if you get up in a meeting and you talk about something, Dan Natal, the president, or myself or someone else is going to 135:00say, "Excuse me, would like to join the Board of Directors and head up the action on that?" That person may not even be a member of the organization, but they're now on the board of directors. The board of directors selects the officers of Restoration. They just leap frogged right into leadership, and it maximized Restoration's effort, because we get people in there ready to act, not when they're burnt out or say, "I'm part of the club now. I did my work already; I'm not going to work now." So that's been our strength. That's been our overwhelming strength. We also make a strong effort to reflect the demographics and the gender and the geography of the neighborhood, and we're right on target. Dan, who's the president, he's the first president of Restoration to live in an apartment. Again, Restoration was a group--A lot of people hear the word "restoration," and they think of yuppies, homeowners, brownstones, things like that. Dan brought a lot of problems into Restoration that we wouldn't have considered, in terms of landlord-tenant problems, and stuff. He had to go to 136:00court and stuff like that. So it makes a difference. We represent, for the first time, the whole neighborhood. Restoration used to only go from 65th to 39th Street. We go all the way to 17th Street now; half our officers come from that part of the neighborhood. It wasn't easy, we had to move our meeting place around the neighborhood, and it caused a lot of sleepless nights trying to find a place, trying to get information, postcards out in time. Sometimes it took our own finances and everything. Money's been an interesting telling thing too, though. Because money has come to us. Like, we got a phone call, and we were invited to a meeting at the Empire State Building, on one of the higher floors, and we were offered $15,000 a year, no strings attached, from a foundation. And Dan and I sat there and we discussed it, and we thought about it, should we or should we not, because we don't want to change what Restoration is. We like the idea that nobody is paid, because the minute somebody is paid, everybody else is 137:00going to say, "Let George do it. He's paid; let him take care of it. Why should I give up my free time? That's why he gets a check." The other thing is; it starts to create fake civic leaders. None of us are available to go to all meeting, day and night. But a hired person can go during the day on paid time, get comp time at night, come in late the next day. They now become civic leaders when they're nothing more than employees. The real civic leadership, we're at work. We can't do it. So because we can't do it like that, we have to spread it out. So Dan will hit a lot of the Manhattan things, because he works in Manhattan. I'll hit some of the afternoon stuff, because I'm home early as a teacher. Different people divvy up the stuff according to when they're available. It's another great strength of Restoration. We took the money and we took it again a second year, and then the other day, I was actually laying down on this couch and I got a phone call from someone else offering us $12,000, and 138:00again, no strings attached. Money comes to legitimate organizations that have a real track record. There's money out there for groups, but the people giving the money have to know that the money will be spent, and spent properly within the constraints of budget year. They don't want to turn around and find out you've been buying gas for your personal car or something questionable like that. They don't want to see the same color paint in here as on the park bench or something. So we have that legitimacy, that reputation, so we can function. We have four phone lines, which is more than almost any CBO (Community-Based Organization) funded in the community. For a while, we even had a 24-hour phone service, which we've now put aside for a while. We hope to reactivate it. But it really is volunteer effort, and it's the whole idea of understanding the 139:00dynamics of volunteering. The difference between being paid to do something, and doing it because you desire to do something. And with that comes a warning always that we don't pick on each other to too great an extent, because we're all just volunteers. I was called into an important person's office once, and he was really giving it to me, "How dare you this, how dare you that." And I got up and I said, "How dare you, you're pissed off at me because I'm doing your job and I'm doing it better than you and I don't get paid for it. I'm a threat to you." And it's been that kind of thing. It has been uncomfortable for me and for Restoration because of existing powers within the community, small powers. Powers that haven't been powerful enough to help the neighborhood. Because if they had there would be no problems for us to resolve.
RUF: What's the relationship between Restoration and the Sunset Park HistoricalSociety, if there is one?
GIORDANO: Yes, there is. Restoration was getting too big. A couple of years back140:00we started to realize that we had too big a range. We were involved in everything, whether it was potholes, broken streetlights, gay rights, lead screening, lead contamination, historical events, we were involved in everything. And in a way, that became a limiting factor, because, for example, historical people, for the most part, and I know--anybody who listens to this is going to want to come after me and shoot peas at me or something. But historical people are calmer people. They're more studious people. There's a meekness of character. It doesn't mean they're afraid, but there's that general air or quietness about them. We scared a lot of those people away, even though we had bona fide historical events going on, because they didn't care about some of the other stuff we were doing. "I'm not going to join Restoration and get involved 141:00in all of that just to do my little historical end of it." And we didn't give a path in how you could do that. So what we decided was to take two elements out of Restoration. One was historical, the other was environmental. And we created two new New York State corporations, not-for-profit corporations. And what we agreed to do was to finance these organizations until they could get on their own feet. The Historical Society, I'm very happy to say, did that within about three months. They paid back Restoration for their incorporation, for printing costs, mailing, everything. It took off like wildfire. We included information in a Restoration mailing, so we were going to the same public, basically, and suddenly, we just--I was starting to say to Renee, "I'm getting annoyed with this money coming in, because I have fire up the computer and type in the information and send out a membership card, and stuff like that. We've got enough members already; it's a bona fide group. The other group didn't turn out 142:00as well. It's still on the boards, it's a real organization but it hasn't functioned. That's Sunset Park EARTH, standing for, I don't even remember, "Environmental Analysis and Research Testing Habitat." And what we did, in that group we wanted to add some of our things like the lead contamination testing. We had an independent lab come in and do testing for lead in the neighborhood, the only neighborhood that has even done that in Brooklyn. We shared that information with the city; we were able to get some changes in some of their sandblasting down on Third Avenue due to that. We do a bird census every Thursday morning on the waterfront. We share that with Manomet Bird Observatory in Massachusetts, and they share that with governmental agencies looking into pollution, which would impact the food that those birds each, and that way we know what pollution is going on. And a whole bunch of things like that we 143:00designated to go into Sunset Park EARTH. Our archives, and our living archives, we put aside for the Sunset Park Historical Society. We built their own schedule, they own leadership. In fact, the president of the board of directors, who we're a little bit upset with right now because he announced his candidacy for the assembly and mentioned his leadership of the Historical Society at the same time, when he was new to the group. But we wanted somebody who had no Restoration ties, that he would move it into a different direction. He hasn't been all that active right now, so it's fallen back on people like me and Dan again. But it's a real organization; it's got its own membership. The people who come to that for the most part don't come to Restoration meetings. And it's well-established. Restoration has reneged a little bit on the agreement to turn over our [Interview interrupted.] 144:00
GIORDANO: --very, very proud of. Some organizations, what they do is, theydevelop ties or contacts in different agencies, and they hold onto their mailing list, and their telephone list, as if it's the secret to the hydrogen bomb on something. And rightfully so, because it gets things done for them. But it means that everybody must go through them to get things done. It's not a formula for democracy. So what we decided, the board of directors of Restoration, which we have about 25 members and usually close to 20 or more show up for our monthly meetings. We decided to take our contacts, type it all up, put it into a directory, and give it to the people who want it. So what we did, we had a training session on a Saturday morning in the middle of the summer, in the middle of July, 127 people showed up for it. That's pretty incredible. You can say hello to my son Anthony. Anthony who's--This is Greg. [Redacted for 145:00privacy.] Thanks.
RUF: I'll try not to keep you much longer, because it's family time.
GIORDANO: So we had all these people turn out, it was incredible. We ran such asophisticated training session. We game people, we took down serial numbers of the booklets we gave out, we developed a new system called "Block Trustees." What we decided was, from our experience, block associations don't really work all that well, because they are not profiles in democracy, they are dictatorships. They're benevolent dictatorships in most cases. They do do good things for the block, but we don't want to replicate something that basically isn't democratic. We want something that gets more people involved. And it 146:00really doesn't sit well to have a block that might be 80% Hispanic, and the leader is Irish, of the block association. The person could be terrific, but there are certain things. Just like with Dan being president as a tenant, there are things that come to the forefront for him that wouldn't come to the forefront for me. And it's the same way along ethnic lines, too. Nothing racial about it, or bigotry about it, it's just natural. So we came up with this block trustees idea, where any person who wants to step forward, from 1 to 5 people per block, can just step forward and say, "I want to be a block trustee." And at periods we do mailings and we advertise this. And what they agree to do is two things: one, they agree they'll never stand up and say, "I represent this block," because they don't represent the block. They're not elected by their block. Number two is that they'll just receive regular mail and information from Restoration. We don't ask them to put it on lamp posts, or duplicate it, but we know from experience that they end up doing that after a while, because you 147:00can't get the stuff without getting a desire to give it to other people. And it works like that. So we signed up all these people that morning, did the training session, gave out these booklets, told them to return the booklets if they don't want to use it anymore. So far two people have returned their booklets out of all those numbers. We followed up that meeting about three weeks later with a thing called "Sunset Park '92," which was a steal from a group called "Environment '92," which comes out with a political platform for the environment of New York City. We came out with an agenda for change for Sunset Park for the year 1992. We invited our trustees to come in convention format, to put together the document, which they did. We're getting ready for Sunset Park '93 now, and we'll update the document. There's been some successes, some failures. But that's basically how the trustee program works. 148:00
RUF: I want to ask you, by way of wrapping up, because I realize we're goingmuch over, a few brief questions. How do you define Sunset Park spatially?
GIORDANO: There's so many different ways to define an area. We basically justwent by the boundaries that we decided on back around 1966, which are 17th Street to 65th Street, which are natural cutoffs, because 65th Street had a wide expanse there, with the roadway above and below. Historically, the people in Bay Ridge always refer to this side as "Lower Bay Ridge," so they didn't mind us having a different name. Over on 17th Street there's another highway, this one below grade, so again there's that big separation, and then we go from the waterfront to 8th Avenue. 8th Avenue had always historically been predominantly Jewish, with its own community dynamics, so 17th Street to 65th, the waterfront 149:00to 8th Avenue.
RUF: Have you had any involvement of members of the Chinese community, or theAsian community, in your organizations?
GIORDANO: Limited. And it's to be expected, because I've seen this through theprogressions of the different ethnic groups in Sunset Park. When you're the newcomer, you're just so outnumbered in an organization that you're uncomfortable. Renee and I, when we were the only non-Norwegians in a Norwegian church, you just stick out like a sore thumb. And even though on the Strawberry Wednesday event, they all wanted to be nice to us, that over-nice was like deadly. Everybody was bringing us a plate of strawberries. Leave me alone. Here's our Italian family, the Giordanos. It rubs on you. And especially if you're not well-established in the language and all that. So we've made offers 150:00periodically to, not just the Chinese but also the Latino neighborhood, if they want a page or a column in our newsletter, and we'd allow them to write it in their own language, and we would print it unedited, but there hasn't been much.
RUF: Very briefly, you mentioned some of the changes that have taken place inthe community over the last three or four years in particular. Could you summarize them briefly for me, as you see them? What do you see as the concerns for the future, or the most important issues facing the community?
GIORDANO: We were stabilizing in terms of our people, which is anybody who liveswithin those borders. Our people in need of social service assistance, whether it be welfare or SSI or food stamps, had actually gone down, we were seeing an improvement in that. And it wasn't that they were being pushed out of the neighborhood. Now we've seen a dramatic change. There's a lot more poverty, 151:00suddenly. And a lot of that relates to the newest Latino immigrants, the Mexicans and the Dominicans. We have a lot of new people rapidly coming in in that population. We also have a number of Polish people that have come in recently, and many of them have come in requesting social services immediately upon getting here. Our outreach system has improved to some degree. There's a real strong Polish community right on 8th Avenue, right on the edge of the Asian area, and even within the Asian community, which is really self-sufficient to a great degree, we're starting to find out now that self-sufficient, if I can make the comparison--no comparison is ever really valid, but to me this is as close a 152:00comparison to the Italian community when they came over, many people might have thought of us as a self-sufficient anarchist little neighborhood of bomb throwers and things like that, who took care of themselves and had the Black Hand, and all these terrible connotations and everything. But the fact of the matter was our community, the Italian community, was being abused from within, the same way the Asian community is being abused from within. And that's just another measure, when you consider the abuse you get from outside, too, just because you don't know the language and everything, and your customs are different. So there's a real serious concern about the overcrowding. At night if you look through the backyard windows you'll see stacks of beds in many of the homes owned by Asians. But at the same time you meet a lot of Asians who are working so hard and so quickly that they are moving out into other areas. People who don't mind, like the Finns at the turn of the century in Sunset Park, they 153:00don't mind pooling their resources together. In that case, with the Finns, it was that they built the first co-ops in America, here, cooperatively. In terms of the Asians, they'll live together, several families within a building, contribute their money to the common good, have their own private savings, and then move out and buy their own building. So there's a similarity there, too. For a quick analysis of Sunset Park today, we are unfortunately poorer than we were 10 years ago, possibly, but it's new people who are poor, who have brought their poverty with them, and we will work on that now and help them. We're richer than we were a while back, because many of the Asian businesses are very strong. We now have restaurants of name that we can see four-star Daily News restaurants, which we never had before, advertising in major papers. We're more 154:00diverse than we've ever been in history. Our housing is the most stable that it's ever been. We have the fewest empty buildings in our history, three major housing organizations; not-for-profits have recently come here, more than willing to help us, so it's amazing the interest here. And most importantly, I think, we're a peaceful neighborhood. We all get along well. We have a growing Black population, too, which is a very positive thing; because some people say we've been peaceful because it hasn't been a Black/White ethnic kind of thing, or a racial thing. We have a growing Black population. And then, if I could throw in a little thing for the future, I think what we'll see in the next ten years of Sunset Park is that the Asian community will start to deplete. I think we'll see a quick evolution, turnover. I don't think we'll see a third Chinatown 155:00become well and firmly-established. They'll always be a significant presence, but just like some of our Chinese friends told us that they came here merely because the N train stopped here, and that they basically just got on in Chinatown and got off at every station until they found a neighborhood that they could afford, I think they will have stepped beyond that so rapidly. I hope they don't take this the wrong way, but they've Americanized by taking some of the best elements of this country, they've adapted to it so rapidly that I think we'll see them move out quicker than any ethnic has done in Sunset Park. And I think, at the same time, that people working on civic affairs and everything will help the poorest people in our neighborhood, to get us back on that road again. I think we're going to see a very healthy Hispanic community, because of 156:00the new diversity of the Hispanic community. Once the Puerto Ricans become more comfortable with that, and they start to realize that here in America it's not going to be like the Caribbean, it's different here; we all get a different kind of shake here.
RUF: Very good. Thank you for everything.
GIORDANO: You're welcome.
Oral History Interview with Tony Giordano
Born in 1948, Tony Giordano spent his pre-adolescent years in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn. He grew up surrounded by a family of Italian heritage with three siblings as well as Italian American and Irish American friends and neighbors. In 1961, the family moved to Sunset Park, Brooklyn, a neighborhood with a strong Puerto Rican heritage and an influx of Irish and Italian Americans. Giordano attended Brooklyn Technical High School and Staten Island Community College. After a brief foray into engineering work with the New York City Transit Authority, he became a teacher. His civic-minded upbringing led to a role as a neighborhood leader in Sunset Park.
By outlining the experiences of the two prior generations, Tony Giordano explains in the interview how his family of Italian heritage came to be in Brooklyn. He focuses in on his father's occupations; ultimately one as a bus driver. Giordano describes his upbringing in terms of his family's apartment housing, Brooklyn neighborhoods, vacations on Long Island, education from first grade through college, and his Roman Catholic religious experience. The interview is in depth on his experience of losing faith in organized religion and later discovering a devotion to God. Contributing to this struggle with religion, Giordano talks about a failed first marriage, custody challenges over his son, a rekindled relationship, and a happy, interfaith marriage and family. He focuses on the ethnic heritage and late twentieth century makeup of the Sunset Park community and his role as a civic leader. The influx of large numbers of Chinese into Sunset Park in the late 1980s has created what Giordano calls the "Third Chinatown." Interview conducted by Gregory Ruf.
Brooklyn Historical Society collaborated with the Chinatown History Museum (now the Museum of Chinese in America) in order to conduct a series of oral histories with residents of the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. The Cantonese, Mandarin, and English language interviews focused on what was then a new presence of Chinese and Asian immigrants concentrated along Eighth Avenue. Among the topics that are explored in the interviews are tensions between different groups of Chinese immigrants, crime and safety in the neighborhood, Sunset Park's relationship to Manhattan's Chinatown, and how long-term residents of Sunset Park had adjusted to the area's "newcomers."
CitationGiordano, Tony, Oral history interview conducted by Gregory Ruf, June 29, 1993, New Neighbors: Sunset Park's Chinese Community records, 1994.007.12; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Giordano, Tony
- Apartment houses
- Civic leaders
- Emigration and immigration
- Ethnic neighborhoods
- Interracial marriage
- Italian Americans
- Religious education of children
- Religious life and customs
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Chinatown (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
- Sunset Park (New York, N.Y.)
Finding AidNew Neighbors: Sunset Park's Chinese Community records