New Orleans and Italy are two regions of the world whose communities are devastated by the coronavirus pandemic and, although worlds apart, New Orleans and Italy are historically intertwined and similar in many ways. New Orleans and Italy are both tourist destinations, vibrant, hospitable, merry making and partying communities that love to indulge in good food and spirits. Considering the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on New Orleans and Italy, their history, their intermingled cultures and the concurrence of events unfolding, I reflected on the sense of history repeating itself today.
St. Josephs' Day is a tradition that began in the late 1800's when Sicilian immigrants from Italy settled in New Orleans. Catholics have celebrated St. Josephs' Day on March 19th every year to honor relief St. Joseph gave during the famine in Sicily, Italy. A famine is a major crisis, a severe food shortage caused by several factors including war and leads to hunger, starvation and high death rates.
This St. Josephs' Day it is not famine that plagues Italy but instead a healthcare care resources and supplies shortage as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic which, is devastating Italy and New Orleans simultaneously, as their coronavirus cases and death tolls continue to soar. As of today, St. Josephs' Day, Italy has 41,000 cases, 4,105 deaths. Yesterday Italy had 475 coronavirus deaths in one single day. New Orleans went from having 0 positive coronavirus cases to having 100 positive coronavirus cases in 3 days (72 hours). As of today, St. Josephs' Day, New Orleans is 9 days into coronavirus testing, has 392 positive cases and 10 deaths. Like Italy, New Orleans is in social distancing and quarantine modes as preventive measures to reduce the spread of this incurable disease. Italy, New Orleans and the world is in need of relief today St. Joseph.
In the midst of this global crisis there was a morale booster. For me, it was the viral Youtube video of Italians on lock down, quarantined and singing from their windows and balconies, just days before the religious holiday "St. Joseph Day" that is synonymous with granting the Italians ancestors relief during the famine. For me, the viral Youtube video was a time of reflection on New Orleans and Italys' linkage in past and present times, their communal spirits, their use of music as a healing agent and use of music as ties that bind the community.
It is tradition in New Orleans on St. Josephs’ Day for the Black Masking Indians and the community to convene at sundown Uptown to pay homage to ancestry, culture, heritage, history and art. Although St. Josephs Day festivities were cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, I am hopeful the Black Masking Indian culture will find creative alternatives to honor and keep the tradition alive this year. It is important to document this historic time in world history, in our communities, in our cultures and in our lives.
I'm grateful for the Italians humanity, collectivism and spirit of the people conveyed in the Youtube video. I'm grateful for their courage to sing out loud, proud, across borders and across cultures infusing hope. I remain hopeful that St. Joseph will soon grant relief.
Preghiere per l'Italia, New Orleans e il mondo.
19th of March 2020
St. Joseph Day