In his annual State of the City address delivered on Tuesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio waxed on about his grandmother, Anna Briganti, who emigrated to the Big Apple from Grassano, Italy, and opened an embroidery factory with her sister in a house on East 17th Street:
Anna's new home offered her something that her old one did not: profound possibilities to create a better life … for herself … and for her children…She did not stumble upon success through luck or charm; she forged it with hard work and raw grit. And she lived in a place that rewarded those things in unique and powerful ways.
By searching The New York Times' online archive, Seth Barron, who blogs at City Council Watch, uncovered more details about Briganti's business that don't fit as neatly into the mayor's clichéd retelling:
…the Mayor omitted the part of the story where his grandmother and her sisters turned their house at 205 East 17th Street into a factory where no fewer than 34 people were working by 1915.
Moreover, he neglected to mention that his grandmother's sister Imperior was arrested, according to The New York Times (12/4/1915) on charges of "violating regulations relating to smoking and safety appliances." The arrest came "as a result of an extensive campaign against fire hazards in the factories of the city."
Sure, the Briganti sisters probably weren't doing anything wrong, and the mayor can't be held accountable for the sins of his grandmother. (Incidentally, using The New York Times newspaper archive, I discovered several years ago that my very own great-grandfather, who ran a used clothing store on the Bowery, was arrested in 1936 on accusations that he participated in a scheme "to defraud homeless men of part of their clothing vouchers.")
But as Barron notes, the mayor "is at fault for prominently foregrounding his insipid version of a story of immigrant striving, when the truth is much more complex and interesting."