Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Oh, Philadelphia!

Yesterday was close day – an adrenaline-spiking rush to edit, lay out, proof, finish and upload pages before press time.

Sometime around 4 p.m., Barb, one of the CS&T designers (and a person whose forthright and informed commentary on life keeps me on my toes and highly amused) flung a question my way.

“Did you watch the Mummer’s parade this year?” she asked.

Pure non-sequitur, by the way – none of us had been discussing this curious Philadelphia tradition, in which every New Year’s Day thousands of rank-and-file Philadelphians strut through the streets of the city in a parade that seems half Mardi-Gras, half Rose Bowl.

“No,” I answered cautiously. “Why?”

“When I saw one of the groups performing I thought about you,” she answered.

“Yeah?” I said, while mentally reviewing whether I had recently worn anything extravagant enough to merit this mnemonic. I am rather fond of intensely colored clothing and big jewelry – but, no, I don’t think I had ever turned up at work with feathers or a headdress.

Pete – another designer – nodded. ”I wondered if you were watching,” he added.

Okay, scary.

“There was float and people dressed like illegal immigrants. With border patrol and a fence and everything,” Barb informed me.

I think I probably sputtered a lot as they described it to me. Within seconds, Joanna (the sports editor) who actually sits a whole room away (so my imprecations had to have been loud) sent me a link to an article about the B. Love Strutters Brigade’s “Aliens of an illegal kind” performance on New Year’s Day.

As soon as I got home, I searched YouTube for a video of the full performance (

Sigh. Beyond the clueless inanities muttered by the TV announcers (“It looks like a celebration of diversity”) there was Philadelphia’s cheesesteak maven – Joey Vento, riding on the float behind a version of his notorious “When ordering, speak English” sign. Sort of like those “No Irish need apply” or "whites only" signs we learned about in history class. Vento has made a name for himself with that sign, and the fight to keep it posted at his eatery.

But before you dismiss his presence in the parade as just another harmless clown from the Mummer’s comic division, or his sign’s advocacy as a simple assertion of the primacy of English, check this out: That’s Vento spewing anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant venom at a Voices of the People rally in Harrisburg in September of 2007.

Is this who we want to represent us – in middle of our city’s most iconic public gathering? Is this really our voice? Does he represent?

I hope not.

The Philadelphia Foundation recently commissioned a study titled “Recent Immigration to Philadelphia: Regional Change and Response” which was presented to the public Nov. 13, 2008. Here is some of what the study found:

  • The mix of immigrants and refugees in Philadelphia is diverse, with 39 percent coming from Asia, 28 percent from Latin America and the Caribbean, 23 percent from Europe and 8 percent from Africa.

  • The country providing the largest number of immigrants to Philadelphia is India.

  • A significant number of immigrants to the city have higher education degrees and professional and small business development skills.

According to Michael Katz, co-writer of the study, “The future labor force growth of Philadelphia depends on immigration. Metropolitan Philadelphia needs to attract immigrants, and it has to be an immigrant-friendly region.”


Eat crow, Joey Vento. Wid 'wiz, even.


  1. As a Latino, as an American, I'm deeply offended by the B. Love Strutters Brigade performance. How is it any different than the minstrel shows of the early 20th century? Those were supposedly comedic too.

  2. My family loves cheesesteaks and we felt that Geno's was the best in South Philly, until we heard Joey Vento on the radio and read all the trash that he was babbling about "illegal aliens". Please.....have you heard him speak??? He does not even speak English correctly, he is embarrassing himself, Italian Americans and Philadelphia itself. Does he no that "aliens" come from outer space...he should know, he is an "alien himself, a guttural one at best!!! I do not watch the Mummer's and now I have a better reason not to. Are they so desperate that they would allow something like this undignified display of the condition of many of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters to be displayed. All Hispanics should write or protest to the mummer's association for allowing it. Needless to say our relatives, friends and visitors are warned about going to Geno's ... Pat's is a better place!!


Comment on this post: