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Residents Blast Group’s Charge: Street’s Italian Colors Promote Racism

March 10, 1990

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ A neighborhood that paints a street’s divider stripes red, white and green in tribute to the Italian flag is promoting ethnic bias and exacerbating racial tensions, a minority group charges.

″It causes racial unrest because it depicts territory,″ said Kathie Townsend-Hurk of the Martin Luther King Coalition Against Racism, a group formed after a December attack on a Hispanic family in Federal Hill. ″They claim the neighborhood to be theirs.″

Residents don’t buy that.

″This is an Italian neighborhood. We’re not racist. The line, it’s a tradition,″ said Angelo Quaranto as he stacked bags of macaroni in Anthony’s Fruit and Vegetables. ″They do something in their neighborhood, you think we’d protest?″

The stripes along Atwells Avenue were first painted in Italy’s national colors a decade ago for a Columbus Day parade and the annual St. Joseph’s Day Festival. The tradition continues, at city expense.

″They come in and want to take our colors off the street? That’s ridiculous, that’s bull,″ said Loretta Scivola. ″They come here and they want everything. I think they’re just looking for something to complain about.″

″You look at the stripes and you’re automatically intimidated,″ responded coalition member Holgar Streu. ″Why not put up flags on the day of the festival? Why do they have to leave the stripes all year?″

In a message to Mayor Joseph R. Paolino Jr. two weeks ago, the coalition demanded the divider stripes be scrubbed off.

But the mayor, a Federal Hill resident, says the stripe-painting tradition ″makes Providence the great city it is. They should realize the intent of the pride that the Italians have in the neighborhood.″

Paolino, a likely Democratic candidate for governor this year, said a cut in state aid to cities and towns forced him to cut Providence’s street- painting budget. He said the city was looking for a private group to finance a new paint job for the dividing line this May.

″I don’t think it causes any racial tension,″ said Jason Wong, a Chinese immigrant who manages Chef Ho’s Chinese Restaurant. ″This area is mostly Italian. It represents a tradition.″

The city hires a private company every two years to repaint the stripes for $2,000. Irene Testa, director of Providence’s Department of Engineering, said the Italian colors aren’t unique in the city.

Smith Street is decorated with a green stripe for St. Patrick’s Day; Laurel Hill and Union avenues in the Silver Lake area are painted with Italian colors for the St. Bartholomew’s Feast; the center lines on Branch Avenue and Charles Street are painted green, white and red for St. Ann’s festival; and the line on Wickendon Street in Fox Point once was painted blue and white to celebrate a Portuguese festival.

The dispute ″is just going to alienate people who want to help″ combat racism, said Joseph DeGiulio, president of the Federal Hill Merchants Association. ″It will cause unnecessary strife. This street belongs to everybody, but you’ve got to be proud of where you came from.″

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