By SHERIDAN CYR
For 14 years, the Italian American Festival in downtown Southington has revived many traditions of Italy, enticing locals with Italian foods and music, entertainment and excitement for all, whether Italian in heritage or not.
Three Italian civic organizations in town—UNICO, Sons of Italy and Sorelle d’Italia—commemorate Southington’s rich Italian-influenced history year round, but at the end of July, their heritage truly shines when the festival comes around.
“All three of these organizations, especially the Sons of Italy, preserve Italian history. Our mission statement is, ‘preserving Italian-American traditions, culture, history and heritage,’” said Sons of Italy vice president Bob Triano. “We all are charitable organizations, too, so the festival fits right in with what we do.”
Each year, two local organizations are selected to benefit from funds raised at the festival. This year, those two organizations are the Southington Community Services, and the Southington Police Cadet program (formerly “Police Explorers”).
As years have gone on, the festival has continued to grow, always looking to expand its variety of offerings. In its early days, the festival was organized by UNICO, Sons of Italy and the Chamber of Commerce. A few years later, the Chamber backed out and the Sorelle d’Italia (sisters of Italy) joined in.
“As new people have come on board, new ideas have been introduced,” said Triano. This year, a fireworks display has been added to the agenda for Friday evening. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the Sorelle d’Italia are proud to perform a traditional Italian dance, the taranatella. Many new vendors will line Center Street with offerings.
“We make sure no two vendors are serving the same thing, so there’s a wide variety and no conflicts,” Triano said. Each of the three Italian organizations have a booth of their own. Sons of Italy will sell soffritto and pasta fagioli. Sorelle d’Italia will dish up panini sandwiches. UNICO will serve sausage and pepper sandwiches.
Sorelle d’Italia president, Antoinetta Barbato, said that years ago, St. Thomas Church hosted an Italian American festival of their own in hopes of reviving Italian heritage and tradition. It was later revived in 2004 by Joe LaPorte, Tom Del Santo and Art Secondo, and located on Center Street where the Italian culture was rich as many immigrants settled in that area.
“The festival today is a group effort between the three organizations,” said Barbato. One of the events she is most excited for is the traditional Sunday mass, performed in Italian, followed by a procession in which the statue of Madonna Della Strada is marched through the streets. “You just get goosebumps. The feeling is just nostalgic. It’s truly a beautiful feeling.”
This year, the planning committee was able to book an Italian singer from Naples, Italy, Savio DeMartino who will perform on Friday and Saturday. Saturday will also feature the Sam Vinci Quintet and a performance by Italian-American comedian, Bob Luparello. On Sunday, Antonio Venditti and the Ambrosiani Band will play.
“This festival can’t happen without our three organizations working together,” said Barbato. “We have planned a truly special weekend for the community.”
This year’s festival will take place July 27, 28 and 29 from 7 to 11 p.m. on Friday, 1 to 11 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday with the mass beginning at 10. The mass will also be broadcasted on 990 AM or 96.1 FM (WNTY).
For more information about this year’s festival, visit the “Southington Italian-American Festival” Facebook page (www.facebook.com/SouthingtonItalianFestival).
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.