By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Faced with mounting criticsm, a Bensonhurst ice cream pedler on Wednesday afternoon pulled from YouTube a music video that ridicules older Asian women who rummage through garbage cans collecting redeemable cans and bottles.
Maria “The Ice Cream Girl” Campanella, an ice cream saleswoman known for her charitable endeavors and her quest for fame, wrote, directed, and co-stars in the video called “Yo Granny’s In My Garbage.”
"I love Asian people. They’re my neighbors," she told the Brookyn Eagle.
In the video, a woman on a conical straw hat wearing yellowish makeup on her face and what appears to be pajama bottoms is seen diving into garbage cans on private property and retrieving cans of Red Bull while Campanella stands in her doorway shrugging her shoulders and looking puzzled.
The soundtrack is an original song Campanella wrote called “Yo Granny’s In My Garbage.”
Campanella posted the video on You Tube and promoted it on her Facebook page. “Yo Granny’s In My Garbage — moving up rapidly each day — 1,686 views in only one week — and still going. Thank you,” she wrote on Facebook on Wednesday.
But some Asian-American leaders in the formerly predominantly Italian-American community are criticizing the music video, which they charged unfairly makes fun of Asians.
“I don't find it funny as many other viewers do,” said Steven Chung, president of the United Chinese Association of Brooklyn. “First of all, recyclables collectors come from all different backgrounds, ages, ethnic groups and male and female too,” he told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Instead of poking fun at the can collectors, Chung said people should take a kinder view of them. “They should be treated with respect as their works benefit the ecosystem by reducing, reusing and recycling litter as well as fuel the recycling industry. They can also earn money to support their living instead of depending on our welfare system,” he said.
“I do agree the recyclables collectors need to be educated, such as avoid trespassing resident private property and maintain the garbage container tidily,” he added.
“If I could talk to Ms. Campanella, I would praise her for her music talent but encourage her to be compassionate and welcome the recyclables collectors like meeting a new friend, as their value and contribution to our community should be respected but not tarnished,” Chung said.
Both Chung and Campanella are members of Community Board 11 representing the neighborhoods of Bensonhurst and Bath Beach. Board 11 Chairman Bill Guarinello said he has not seen the video and did not want to comment on the controversy. “Our board represents all of the members of our community. I would just hope we respect one another,” he said.
The storm created by the You Tube video is playing out against a backdrop of a rapidly changing community. Bensonhurst, which was for generations predominantly Italian-American, is now a melting pot with residents from many different cultures, including Asians, Russian, Poles, and people from the Middle East. Italians have moved out of the neighborhood in large numbers.
Eighteenth Avenue, the community’s main shopping strip, used to be dominated by pizzerias and Italian pastry shops. They have now given way to Chinese restaurants and Asian-owned 99-cent stores.
The changing demographics were picked up in the 2010 US Census. A study of the census figures by the City University of New York’s Center for Urban Research found that the Asian population in Bensonhurst increased by 57 percent between 2000 and 2010.
Campanella, who drives an ice cream truck and sells ice cream and candy outside schools at dismissal time, has lived in Bensonhurst her entire life.
Campanella is well known in Bensonhurst for her charitable endeavors, such as holiday toy drives, and ice cream eating contests to raise money for wounded soldiers. She is equally known as a woman who would love to be famous beyond her beloved Bensonhurst. She has written an autobiography and a children’s book, the latter of which she has promoted on her Facebook page.
Campanella said she doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about. “It’s just a music video. It has nothing to do with any nationality,” she said. The hat worn by the woman in the video is meant to look like a fisherman’s hat, Campanella said. “The hat is just a hat,” she added.
“I tried to use my imagination to come up with the way I think a person would look when they are going through people’s garbage. It’s not meant to hurt anyone. And I don’t see that it is hurtful. If I made a video with a girl who is heavy does that mean all of the heavy people have a right to get mad?” Campanella asked.
Campanella said she’s puzzled by the outcry against her video by Asian leaders. “I have a lot of Asian friends; Chinese people, Japanese people, people from all over. I showed the video to a lot of my friends before I put it on You Tube. Nobody had a problem with it,” she said.
“Grannies shouldn’t be in garbage at one o’clock in the morning. And they shouldn’t be on other people’s property,” Campanella said, likening her video to a public service announcement. “It’s bringing attention to the problem,” she said.
Within minutes of her interview with the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, however, Campanella apparently changed her mind.
She called a reporter with news that she intended to remove the video from You Tube.
"I'm taking it down tonight as soon as I get home from work,” she said. The uproar the video caused led to her change of heart, she said.
"I live in this community. I love Asian people. They’re my neighbors. I see the faces of Asian kids when they come to the window of my truck to buy ice cream. I can't stand to think that Asians think I was making fun of them," she said.