By SHERIDAN CYR
The 14th annual-Italian American Festival went off without a hitch—and even avoided the rain—last weekend. Hundreds visited the center of town to enjoy a taste of Italian-American tradition. Over a dozen vendors dotted lower Center Street as entertainers took the main stage and transported visitors to the streets of Italy with music and dancing.
Officials explained that, years ago, Italian immigrants flourished to Center Street and surrounding neighborhoods, taking up jobs in the nearby factories and mostly keeping to themselves. They were not welcomed at first, so they stuck together, went to work, and did what they needed to do to make a life and provide for their families.
“I feel it is my obligation to keep our culture alive and pass it on year after year,” said Sons of Italy president, Tony Cusano. “I’m now the next generation of this festival. The founders retired, and handed it down the line. We are proud of our Italian heritage, and proud to be Italian-Americans.”
Co-chair of the festival, Dave Zoni, said the Sons of Italy was founded on Center Street in 1910.
“This area was completely occupied by Italians back then, and the Sons of Italy would help them find housing, jobs and more. This is where they would get their future started,” Zoni said. “They stuck together, as many didn’t speak English, and they helped each other navigate the new world.”
Friday night kicked off the weekend-long festival with Italian music performed by Marcello Sparagna and Tio Ricciardella as folks began to stroll the streets. Locals enjoyed tasty bites including fried dough, sausage and pepper grinders, gelato and Italian ice, pasta fagiole, soffritto, Italian pastries, pies and paninis and much more.
“The sausage and peppers are a must. We’ve been waiting for this dish for weeks,” said Southington resident Amy Provencal. “We love this festival, because it’s sort of on the small side, the food is amazing, and the music is great. You can’t get this anywhere else around here.”
Members of Sons of Italy, Southington UNICO, Sorelle d’Italia and all who took part in planning this year’s festival took the main stage Friday evening and welcomed everyone to the event. Both the American and the Italian national anthem were performed, commemorating the unity formed in Southington years ago that continues to live on today.
Town Manager Mark Sciota, who is a lifelong resident of Southington, proclaimed himself as Southington’s “first Italian-American Town Manager” and painted a picture for the audience of what it was like growing up in town.
“Those of you my age will remember the three factories that were here: Pexto, Southington Hardware, and Ideal Forging,” he said, pointing to each location, each rich with history. He recalled the time when parents would come home from their days at the factory and share their stories with their children. “Congratulations to all three organizations who work year-round on this festival to make this happen.”
Alongside delicious foods and traditional Italian entertainment, locals enjoyed a fireworks display Friday night, face painting for children, an outdoor mass followed by the Madonna della Strada procession and Tarantella folk dancing performed by Sorelle d’Italia.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.
Photos by JANELLE MORELLI
Photos by JOHN GORALSKI