With its efforts to ban Muslims from entering our country, it comes as no surprise that the Trump Administration has made many Muslim people feel unwelcome here. So when I was approached about hosting an Iftar dinner as mayor of our great city, it got me thinking about Hoboken’s history.
Hoboken’s largest influx of Italian immigrants arrived in the early 1920s, but it took two decades until Hoboken’s Italian-American community had any political representation in City Hall. The Johnson-Reed Act, also known as the Immigration Act of 1924, drastically limited the number of Italian immigrants that were allowed to enter the United States and caused immigration from Italy to rapidly decline. In fact, in the early 20th century, Italian-Americans faced so much discrimination in our region that Frank Sinatra’s own father, Anthony Martin Sinatra, had to change his name to Marty O’Brien in order to be able to compete as a professional boxer.
Just as the Trump Administration’s immigration policies cause Muslims to be excluded because of their identity, three generations ago, Italians faced very similar xenophobia. And as is the case today with Muslims seeking entry to our nation, the vast majority of Italian people came to the United States in pursuit of a better life for their families, or because they were fleeing persecution.
During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims end their daily fast at sunset with an Iftar dinner. Iftar dinners are often observed as a community. Given our long history as a city of immigrants, when Atif Qadir, a Muslim Hoboken resident, asked me about organizing an Iftar dinner in Hoboken, the Monte San Giacomo Club at 531 Adams St. was the first place that came to mind. I called one of the club’s members, Luigi Percontino and, without hesitating, the club graciously agreed to host this dinner to welcome Muslim residents in Hoboken.
It is a great honor to serve as the Mayor of a city where an older immigrant community would so warmly welcome a new one. At our gathering on Saturday June 30, a long table was blessed with a traditional Italian meal, residents of diverse backgrounds, and halal dishes. To quote our city’s favorite son, Frank Sinatra, “That’s America to me.”
Ravi S. Bhalla
Mayor, City of Hoboken