For the last fifteen years, the U.S. president has been making an annual, official proclamation, nominating the month of October, as “National Italian American Heritage Month”. In coincidence with the festivities surrounding Columbus Day (October 12), the designation acknowledges the numerous achievements, contributions, and successes of Italian-Americans, as well as Italians transplanted to the States.
For the first time ever, during the current month, Santa Monica celebrates Italian culture with Ciao Italia Santa Monica, a citywide festival in honor of the Italian Heritage Month.
Evergreen trademarks of Italy, such as food, wine, fashion, but also music and cinema are going to liven up several venues, not exclusively in Santa Monica. Ciao Italia Santa Monica is committed also to raise funds for several nonprofit organizations in Southern California.
I’ve had the chance to talk with Shoshana Puccia, Senior Marketing Manager, at the three level, open-air shopping center, Santa Monica Place, one of the festival’s headquarters.
Is there any personal tie between you and the Italian-American community?
My father was from Sicily. I grew up in an Italian speaking household. We went to church at St. Peter’s Italian Church located near China Town. It is still there. I also attended Italian school there. Since the beginning of this event, I have found myself to become more connected, once again, recently with my company’s involvement in Ciao Italia.
Where did the idea to celebrate the Italian Heritage for the whole month of October come from? Why did you choose Santa Monica?
The idea to dedicate the whole month of October to the Italian Heritage in the L.A. area – which, believe it or not, has the largest Italian-American community - came from a discussion between John Salamone, former executive director and founder of the Washington-based non-profit, National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), and Arthur M. Coppola (aka Art), CEO of The Macerich Company, the third-largest owner and operator of shopping centers in the U.S., including Santa Monica Place, one of Ciao Italia’s headquarters.
Santa Monica Place has distinguished itself on the sustainability front. Please, tell us more about that.
In June 2012, Santa Monica Place earned the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold environmental designation from the U.S. Green Building Council.
By recycling 80 % of the pre-existing material, the shopping center was reopened in August 2010.
What are the criteria behind the choice to screen Moonstruck, among so many films featuring the Italian-American community?
We have chosen the multiple Academy award-winner movie, Moonstruck (1987), mainly because of its family-friendly quality. Besides, it stars several Italian-American actors, the likes of Danny Aiello, Nicolas Cage (whose real name is Nicolas Kim Coppola), plus the late Vincent Gardenia and Julie Bovasso.
Scott Tallal of the Malibu Film Society will host the event and will be the moderator for a Q&A with Associate Producer of the film, Bonnie Palef. We are very excited to have her as our special guest, as she will share fun stories about the making of the film and answer audience questions.
What’s the biggest challenge you faced so far in the organization of Ciao Italia?
Our biggest challenge was to form new relationships, without leaving out any of the precious organizations – the Italian Consulate, the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce West, Fondazione Italia, Italian American Museum Los Angeles – which supported us in putting together this month of events.
What’s the biggest satisfaction you experienced so far?
Our main fundraiser, the Ambassador’s Ball – held in the opening night at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel – was a real success, reaching about $200,000. This money will benefit the Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA.
Please, tell us more about the upcoming Frank Sinatra’s 100th Birthday Tribute Concert?
The musical legend, Frank Sinatra, is the biggest icon for Italian-Americans. At the Broad Stage, on October 17th, the stand-up comedian and personal friend of Sinatra, Tom Dreesen will host a tribute evening, which celebrates Sinatra’s 100th birthday. The celebration will be chaired by Hollywood studio mogul, Frank Mancuso, Sr. and his wife, Fay.