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Little Italy gets a direct link to the homeland in Niagara Falls

NIAGARA FALLS – In Niagara Falls there is one place every local can steer you to – Little Italy, which proudly displays its heritage on signage that spans across Pine Avenue.

That pride in community and heritage was recently expanded when the honorary Italian vice consulate moved its office from Delaware Avenue in Buffalo to Pine Avenue in the Niagara Arts & Cultural Center.

But unlike those large, big-city consulates and Washington embassies, filled with marble and gold, that spring to mind, the vice consulate at 1201 Pine Ave. is a much smaller affair with one room, filled with plants and two ordinary desks that sit back to back.

Occupying the office is Honorary Italian Vice Consulate Lucia Caracci Ederer, a native of Italy who moved to Western New York with her family at age 10 and graduated from Lackawanna High School and SUNY Buffalo State. Her husband, Martin Ederer, is both a violinist and a history professor at Buffalo State. Her assistant at the vice consulate is Dr. Elisa Ridolfi Wareham, also a native of Italy, who additionally works as an Italian language instructor at D’Youville College. She had previously taught at the University at Buffalo for 22 years.

They provide translation services and legal referrals, as well as answer inquiries regarding visa regulations and passport requirements.

The office is one of 37 Italian vice consulates in the United States.

Ederer and Wareham moved into their new digs in April and recently invited the community to a welcoming party. Nearly 125 people attended.

Ederer said they also are reaching out to the community by offering Italian language classes. A 10-week session is set to begin at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Offices are open for regular business from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays as well as by appointment at viceconsolatoBuffalo@gmail.com or 856-3626.

How did you become vice consulate?

Vice consulate is not a nomination or an election. You are appointed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and after you go through all the channels and security checks, it is approved by the U.S.

You live here, but do you also maintain a home in Italy?

Yes. We try to go back there every year. I have family here, a sister here and a sister in Rome. I was born in Italy, but I have lived here in Western New York for a long time – since the 1960s.

What was your job before becoming vice consulate?

I was a caseworker for National Institute on Delaware Avenue. That’s where (Wareham and I) met. It’s an agency that works with immigrants and refugees.

How does your new office compare to where you were in Buffalo?

It’s the same size. But the building here is very interesting. It’s a nice community of artists and teachers and performers. I haven’t even met them all yet. We were limited in Buffalo and obviously Niagara Falls has a very active Italian community and is a historically Italian place.

Is that why you moved here?

That’s part of it and obviously we are close to the border with Canada. It’s a tourist attraction. There are tourists from all over the world. Italians are all over the world. I cover the eight counties of Western New York, so my clientele isn’t specifically in Buffalo. Anywhere in the eight counties I will provide services as needed and allowed.

It feels like you picked the right spot on Pine Avenue, in the Italian-American center of the city.

Because this building has such an interesting history, many people have told me, “I came to high school here.” At one time the school had thousands. It was huge. Obviously the population shifted in Western New York, but the older people who are still here have a direct connection. There are (Italians) who built the area. The Italians are builders. They may not have had a formal education, but they had the skills.

Is the job exciting?

It’s not the same every day. You never know what kind of problem you are going to face. People come to me for information, translations, documents, anything that relates to their lives in Italy. You have things like my boyfriend knocked my passport into the Niagara River or someone in their family has died, was married or lived in Italy and all of these things that connect you. Also some Italians arrived here from other countries and worked (in various countries) before they ended up here and may have benefits coming from all of these places.

Has there always been a vice consulate in this area?

The eight counties of Western New York started with a representative in 1897 because there were a lot of Italians coming to the United States and this area. This was one of the major industrial areas.

With email and the internet so prevalent, do people still need a vice consulate?

There’s a lot they cannot do and there’s a lot they need to appear in person and they need to have original documents.

When I heard about the consulate, I thought of a much larger location.

The embassies are in Washington and then the Consulate Generals are in major cities like New York and Boston, Chicago. Vice consulates, like ours, are in smaller areas where there is a concentration of people from that particular country or if the foreign country has some business ties.

Does being here in Little Italy make this a nice spot for you?

It’s very nice. The building here is a national landmark on the National Registry. It’s beautiful style building. Being Italian, we are interested in style and culture and in buildings. Inside the building you build community and good will, as well as a desire for travel, for food, for commerce and for our products.

Will you be promoting Italy in this location?

Whatever we can do we will – Italian classes for the serious students and then more light fun things that people want to know. We consider our culture our calling card. That’s our business card. Once in a while we will find people who did not enjoy their Italian trip – but that’s rare. Tourism is a major, major industry in Italy.

Should I stop in here before a trip to Italy?

It would be a good place to start.

email: nfischer@buffnews.com Know a Niagara County resident who would make an interesting question-and-answer column? Write to: Niagara Weekend Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or email niagaranews@buffnews.com.