As the color guard walks in carrying the majestic Italian, American, and Californian flags, the audience who attended the “Celebrate Italy Event” bonded in a moment of silence in commemoration of their shared cultures across generations, creating a shared sense of community. Following this, is the beautiful performance of both the Italian and the American national anthems by Elisabetta Russo, a soprano from Calabria.
The 2015 annual Columbus Day celebration, hosted by the chair of the event, the Commendatore Frank J. De Santis, was an opportunity to recognize the distinguished figures within the Italian American community and their efforts in preserving their heritage over generations.
Carrying on his family’s tradition, John Russo (distinguished member award) – an honorary member of the Renaissance Lodge of the Order Sons of Italy in America -- was commended for his positive contributions to his community in Southern California.
He has been very active in the Italian American community—especially in fundraising and providing scholarship opportunities for Italian programs in higher education institutions, such as Cal State University, Long Beach (The George L. Graziadio Center for Italian Studies) and Chapman University (The Italian Studies Council). Another example of Russo’s contributions to the maintenance of Italian American culture is his constant commitment to organizing a cinema program in which Italian films are screened every third Sunday of the month at the Bowers Museum.
Regarding the cinematic heritage of Italy, there is another generous contributor who works to keep the culture alive: Vicky Colarossi in Carabini, ambassador to San Juan Capistrano – sister city to Capestrano, Italy.
Both Vicky Carabini -- an energetic and personable powerhouse – and Joseph Ferrucci – an esteemed and illustrious lawyer and member of the Italian American Lawyers Association -- were awarded the Columbus Heritage Award; moving the audience to tears with their genuine and moving acceptance speeches.
The event was also honored by the presence of Antonio Verde, Consul General of Italy in Los Angeles. This year the Consul General underlined the importance of getting together to celebrate Columbus Day and “look back at the contributions to this Country’s development and progress that Americans of Italian heritage have made and continue to make.”
In front of an audience of Italian Americans of all ages, the Consul General Verde acknowledged the affinity between Italy and the United States by saying that, “Of all months, of all days Columbus Day is your time to shine and be proud of yourself and of your heritage!! But it is also the time that Italy takes pride in you.”
Being such a significant moment to remember, Consul General Verde also highlighted that on Columbus Day high representatives of the Italian government such as the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, encourage to go “beyond the historical commemoration, to embrace friendship and cooperation between the two countries.”
Following the award and honoring ceremony the event took a pleasant turn with traditional live Italian music and a shared lunch, a perfect occasion to demonstrate the power of family and togetherness. This event was a successful social gathering appreciated from all perspectives, whether it be of an Italian nostalgic of their motherland or that of an American who considers Italy their second home.
Everything about the lunch exemplary of the typical collaboration and care that goes into making a traditional Italian meal from homemade meatballs to artisanal gelato served from a typical little stand in the courtyard.
In the background, the atmosphere was made even more intimate by classic Italian songs transcendent of time and space with the power to evoke memories.
As members of Cal State Long Beach’s Club Italia, we felt a strong sense of welcoming and hospitality from all participants-- be it the important figures honored that day or simply their family members and their warming dispositions. They were all so inviting in having us participate in the organizations as a younger generation of Italians and Americans, sharing the same desire and responsibility of nurturing the Italian cultural heritage in the United States.
We were welcome to collaborate with them on their projects, in which they constantly express their effort in seizing the opportunity to further spread and continue Italian traditions.
There is no better example of a holiday well appreciated than the Celebrate Italy event held at the Bowers Museum, which was truly exemplary of a characteristic Italian lifestyle that We would all like to preserve here in Southern California for generations to come.