By Lisa Capobianco
Broccoli rabe, gelato, a tribute to Elvis Presley and a saint procession brought a crowd to Southington’s ninth annual Italian American Festival last weekend. But the festival also brought a crowd to relive the memories of Italian heritage and traditions.
Eating a bowl of sufrite under the UNICO tent, Bill Della Vecchia, co-chair of the event, recalled how the festival is a reminder of the traditions and customs his grandparents brought with them to America from the Naples area of Italy in the early 1900s.
“It’s tradition to keep up Italian heritage and the events that our ancestors had done many years ago,” Della Vecchia said.
Richard Landino, a Southington resident, said his family also came to America in the 1900s. Growing up in an all-Italian neighborhood in New Haven, Landino reminisced about speaking Italian to his relatives before moving out of the Elm city in the 1960s.
“This brings you back for a few days,” he said. “I used to be very fluent in Italian, but over the years…when all the relatives were gone, I’m not as fluent anymore.”
Managed by the Sons of Italy and the Southington chapter of UNICO, the three-day festival had 25 food vendors, a wine tasting competition, an Elvis tribute and a variety of Italian themed singers and bands. Some musical guests, like Aaron Caruso, The Southington Stars group and Robert Pavarotto returned to the festival again this year. Other musicians included Vincent Riccardi, Emily Wright and Marty Roche.
Joe LaPorte is in charge of the festival’s entertainment, and the music is one of his favorite parts of the festival, which is a symbol of his family’s past.
“It’s the revival of tradition that my father started in Italy,” LaPorte said.
Besides live music, a special outside church mass took place Sunday morning, followed by a blessed saint procession throughout the neighborhood. Della Vecchia said this is the highlight of the festival, which used to take place behind St. Thomas Church in the 1960s. Della Vecchia, along with his co-chairs, wanted to bring back the festival nine years ago.
“I remember the festival that was behind St. Thomas Church back in the ‘60s. My parents were involved in it,” Della Vecchia said.
Della Vecchia also remembers the time he went back to Italy six years ago when he tracked down his grandfather’s birth certificate. To his surprise, Della Vechia then located a cousin whom his father used to write to in the 1960s. With the help of the town, Della Vecchia was able to track down both the son and grandson of this long-lost cousin. He said the Italian heritage is all about working together.
“Once [everyone] found out what I was trying to do, everybody got together,” he said. “They all got together to try and help me, around the streets over there—it was phenomenal.”