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Des Moines residents working to cement 'Little Italy' legacy

A Des Moines duo is working to get a few streets on the south side of the city designated as "Little Italy" to preserve the area's culture and history.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Little Italy DSM is working to get a business district on the south side of Des Moines designated as "Little Italy" to help preserve the community's history.

The area along the south bank of the Racoon River includes Southeast First Street and East Jackson Avenue.

Little Italy DSM co-founder Jenifer Caito-Ellingson said the neighborhood is rich with history and has notable cultural sites like Graziano Brothers and Tumea and Sons.

"Little Italy DSM is a portion of a neighborhood where all Italians came here to Des Moines and settled in, back in the 1800s and early 1900s," Caito-Ellingson said. 

Co-founder Pavla DeFrancisco currently lives in that neighborhood, in the house her husband's great grandfather lived in when he immigrated from Italy.  

Caito-Ellingson said the area's history helps her connect with her great grandmother who was an Italian immigrant and moved to Iowa. It's also something she wants to share with the newer people in the neighborhood.

"A lot of places you go, the history kind of dissolves and the newer generations don't know anything about where they're living," Caito-Ellingson said.

She and DeFrancisco want to change that and preserve the history and culture. 

"We want people to be able to understand the [Italian immigrants'] roots, the struggles their families went through in coming into the United States to start a new life from Italy… by designating this as Little Italy we are able to continue that," DeFrancisco said.

They started a petition to help make this a reality. Caito-Ellingson said the goal is to show city council the community is receptive to getting signage to identify that section of town.  

Local 5 reached out to the city about the process to create a designated area and received this reply from Al Setka, chief communications officer: "Until we know the specifics, it’s a bit challenging to respond. However, the City will be eager to review their proposal and listen to their ideas."

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