MONICA-MIKE / 543 Highland Ave
1. Where did you grow up?
Monica: Forest Hill community of Newark, NJ
Mike: Montville, NJ
2. Tell us a happy memory of your childhood.
Monica: Ice skating with my family on a pond in Branch Brook Park.
Mike: reading a book in my grandparents’ tree
3. What does a happy place look like to you?
Monica: Laying on a blanket in Branch Brook park looking at all the century-old trees and listening to the leaves make noise in the wind.
Mike: an easy Sunday with my son and wife, listening to old vinyls and having pancakes.
4. Name some (6-12) important objects from your personal/family life.
Monica: cherry blossoms trees, vegetable scale, bronze candle stick (grandpa spun metal at Newark’s
original Tiffany factory)
Mike: Rooster, ships, Portuguese tile
5. The objects can be both existing and from the past.
6. Tell us 2 favorite colors, one dominant and one complimentary.
7. Can you elaborate on the choice of these colors?
Purple (radiant orchid) is my favorite color and blue is my husband’s favorite color.
8. What color describes your home?
9. What color describes your immediate environment.
10. Are there any patterns that are important for you?
11. Do you have a favorite plant/flower that is important to you?
12. Are there any aspects of nature that connect to your own personal story?
The rebirth of spring reflects the stage of my life—post cancer treatment, new beginnings, fresh start.
13. Are there any animals that you associate with your personal / family history?
Two mini poodles (apricot color and black color)
14. Tell us of your favorite food/food preparations, fruit, vegetables, family staples etc?
Homemade pasta, bread, cheese, figs, grapes, rice, clams, cherries, strawberries
15. What can you tell us about your heritage that is important in your own personal history?
Monica: I’m a fourth generation homeowner in Newark. My family immigrated here and remained here to be part of the city and its future.
16. What is the best way to describe your attachment to Newark?
Monica: “All roads lead back to Newark” - I’ve lived elsewhere and there’s nothing like coming home. Seeing the twinkling lights of Newark’s port from the turnpike, or the grandeur of Sacred Heart Cathedral. This city gave my family its start, and I was to continue being part of what makes Newark so special.
Mike: my grandfather immigrated into Newark from Portugal and lived in the Ironbound. Despite moving out after marriage, the family would return to Newark for large family dinners and dances at Sol-Mar Restaurant.
17. Can you tell us a bit about your family's history and heritage?
Monica: Italian on both sides. Mother’s side is from southern Italy, Campania region, and my father’s side is from Northern Italy, Veneto region.
Mike: Half Portuguese (mothers side) and Half Italian/Sicilian. Maternal grandmother lived in Fall River, MA, then Lodi, NJ. Grandma was in a band with her sisters, called the Lodi Ramblers.
Paternal grandmother lived in Paterson, NJ.
18. Are there any specific traditions or cultural practices that are important to you or your family?
Sunday dinners, feast of the seven fishes (Christmas Eve), and, now, trips down to Florida to visit Mike’s parents.
19. Are there any significant events or experiences in your family's history that have had an impact
on who you are today?
Monica: my mother passed away from breast cancer in 2006, then I was diagnosed in 2022. Both taught me the importance of living life on your own terms and prioritizing your health.
20. How do you currently express or celebrate your heritage and culture?
Mostly through food, travel and entertainment. We are going to Italy this summer and hope to visit Portugal next year. We also attend the St. Gerard Feast at St. Lucy’s Church in Newark every year
21. Are there any local or community landmarks or sites that hold special significance to you or your family?
Audible! It’s where Mike and I met. Cherry blossoms in Branch Brook Park, St Lucy’s Church and the Cathedral.
22. Are there any aspects of your heritage or culture that you feel aren't represented or visible in the community?
I would love if Newark can bring back its little Italy. Prior to the Route 280 construction in the 1950s, Newark was a top destination for Italian food and culture. All of that was demolished, sadly, and displaced thousands of families.
23. Are there any future shared vision or heritage you would like to promote in the community?
Newark is everybody—it’s not one culture or a majority. There’s so much history and layers, if only we share these stories more.
Also, it’s a city to embrace, not to displace. So many people keep memories of Newark before the 60s and think it has never evolved since the rebellion. So much progress has been done. If you welcome change, Newark welcomes you.