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Brooklyn Week: Italians Try to Leave Mark on Transforming Bensonhurst

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As we wrap up Brooklyn Week, we head to Bensonhurst, where Italians are trying to leave their mark on a neighborhood that's transformed into a Chinatown. NY1's Jeanine Ramirez filed the following report.

A five-story building opening in Bensonhurst this fall will be called "Il Centro," which means "the center" in Italian.

"Italians in Italy congregate in a piazza," said Carlo Scissura, president of the Federation of Italian American Organization. "So here, we don't have land, but we have a center."

The Federation of Italian American Organization has been planning this facility for 10 years now, but during that time, Bensonhurst has transformed into Brooklyn's second Chinatown.

Warren Chan has opened three Asian senior centers in the neighborhood over the last several years.

"One of the great things here is that you don't need to speak English to survive in Bensonhurst," Chan said.

On 18th Avenue, also known as Christoforo Colombo Boulevard, there are all kinds of Chinese businesses, from banks to pharmacies. Caffe Italia now has one storefront when it used to have two.

"Only Villabate, the bakery. That's the only place left. And this place over here, Caffe Italia," said one person in the neighborhood. "But other than that, that's it."

The CUNY Center for Urban Research put together a map showing the racial makeup of neighborhoods in 2000, where blue represents the white population and pink, Asian.

There was a dramatic change in Bensonhurst by 2010.

According to City Planning, Bensonhurst has the second-highest number of immigrants, after Washington Heights.

Now, the Asian community is looking for more political clout. Lieutenant governor candidate Tim Wu visited Bensonhurst Thursday.

"I'm a big supporter of making New York a magnet for immigrants," Wu said.

So as Chinese make Bensonhurst home, where are the Italians going?

"I moved to Staten Island because my family is there," said one person in the neighborhood. "Not because I don't like. I love Brooklyn."

The Italians' love for Brooklyn will be symbolized here.

"Non-Italians are going to love it just as much because we're going to have food classes and cultural programming and opera," Scissura said. "Embracing all new cultures, but we're saying Italians were here for 70, 80 years. This is something in their honor and something that will last forever."

As Italians leave their mark, Chinese say they plan to do the same.

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