Report by Paula Antolini, October 19, 2020, 8:58AM EDT
After two rain date delays, the Italian Heritage Day celebration and proclamation event had a perfect (“perfetto”) fall weather day, warmer than predicted, the sun shining as brightly as the pride felt by Italians on this day, October 18, 2020. The event was held on the Bethel CJH Municipal Center lawn between 1-3pm.
The event began with Bethel’s famous showman and musician extraordinaire, Billy Michael, who was also the Master of Ceremonies this day. Clad in his best top hat, he lead the festivities with his expertise.
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Michael then introduced Bethel Selectman Richard Straiton who read and presented the Proclamation, designating October 12th as Italian Heritage Day. The Proclamatiion reads:
The Town of Bethel, Connecticut
In Honor Of
Italian Heritage Day
“WHEREAS, we gather on this noteworthy occasion to celebrate Italian Heritage Day, a celebration of Italians and Italian-Americans, past and present, and;
“WHEREAS, Americans of Italian ancestry are the nation’s fifth largest ethnic group, and;
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“WHEREAS, Italian Americans enjoy this day to celebrate their heritage and the contributions to the United States and the world.
“NOW THEREFORE, on behalf of the People of Bethel, we do hereby recognize.
ItaIian Heritage Day
Signed this day of October 12, 2020
In the Clifford J. Hurgin Municipal Center
Mathew S. Knickerbocker, First Selectman
Richard Straiton, Selectman
Paul Szatkowski, Selectman)
A color guard of the Knights of Columbus proudly presented the Italian flag that was then raised on the Bethel Municipal Center flagpole and they gave a sword salute as the American anthem was played then the Italian anthem.
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VIEW video of ITALIAN FLAG RAISING ceremony below (Video by Francesco Mastracchio):
Speeches were made by local politicians including: Former CT State Senator Toni Boucher (R), CT State Senator Julie Kushner (D) incumbent for reelection 2020 District 24, CT State Senator Will Haskell (D) incumbent for reelection 2020 District 26, and Dan Carter (R) candidate for CT State Representative 2020 District 2, all keeping the theme to Italian-related topics instead of politics, as was requested. Additional speeches were made by Grand Knight Tom Ryan of the Knights of Columbus, and Fourth Degree Sir Knight Francesco Antonio Anselmo Mastraccio of the Knights of Columbus. The day was all about Italians!
Also spotted at the event were CT State Representative Stephen Harding (R) incumbent candidate for reelection 2020 District 107, and Kim Healy (R), Candidate for CT State Representative 2020 District 26.
All of the words spoken by participants on stage at the event were much appreciated, and we thank them all for keeping the theme to Italians/Italy, especially right before an election!
We are publishing Former CT State Senator Toni Boucher’s speech in its entirety due to the amazing amount of educational facts included in it and because it captured the spirit of the day. Thank you Ms. Boucher!
Remarks by Toni Boucher-
“Ciao a Tutti e benvenuti
“I would like to thank Paula Antolini for her enormous effort and work in making the celebration of the Italian American people and culture a reality. Like many other ethnic and indigenous groups, Italians helped to build this country and so many of the towns across the state like Bethel.
“In fact, CT has the most Italian Americans per capita in the US next to RI. At approx. 26 million, Italian Americans comprise the 4th largest ethnic group in the US. It is estimated that 5.5 million Italians immigrated to the U.S. between 1820 and 2004, most coming in between 1880 and 1920.
“Italians have made significant contributions to America’s prosperity and continue to have lasting influences in every aspect of its life, particularly the religious, culinary, and cultural heritage of their new country.
“Although much has been said of Christopher Columbus of late there were others of significance in America’s development.
It was an Italian, John Cabot, or Giovanni Caboto, who first gave England title to the new world. Another Italian explorer, Giovanni Verrazzano, discovered New York Harbor and has a bridge named after him.
“Thomas Jefferson’s close Italian friend wrote the words “All men are, by nature, free and independent” which greatly influenced him when writing the Declaration of Independence.
Another Italian, Constantino Brumidi, was responsible for the exquisite fresco inside the US capitol.
“While most of the Italian immigrants made their home in the northeast there were settlements of Italian Americans throughout the colonies. These immigrants served in both the Revolutionary and Civil wars.
“Many faced extreme prejudice after they arrived to their newly adopted country. Most people are unaware that the largest lynching in US history was of 11 innocent Italians by a bigoted mob in New Orleans in 1891.
“As a result, “Little Italies” began to spring up. Italian Americans helped each other and shared their Italian customs within these communities. Little Italies increasingly became important cultural and culinary centers of many major cities.
“Italian entrepreneur, Amadeo Giannini, established a bank in San Francisco for the Italian population there. It eventually grew to become Bank of America, one of the largest banks in the country.
“Over time, Italian Americans became more involved in public service. Thousands became police officers and firemen, others went into politics such as Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, Mario and Andrew Cuomo, Vincent Impellitteri , Fiorella La Guardia, Geraldine Ferraro, Nancy Pelosi, Ella Grasso and Rosa DeLauro to name a few.
“Sports legends such as Mary Lou Retton, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Joe Dimaggio, Yogi Berra, Joe Paterno, Vince Lombardi, and Rocky Marciano became household names.
“The entertainment world is filled Italian American celebrities such Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Perry Como, Sylvester Stallone, Frank Capra, Francis Ford Coppola, Nicolas Cage, John Travolta, Tony Danza, and Rene Russo.
“Today, one cannot pick up a newspaper or a TV broadcast without reading or hearing the name of another Italian American Dr. Anthony Fauci.
“While Americans of Italian descent have also made advances in medicine, engineering, science, and business, one of the most enjoyable contributions Italians have made to America is with their cuisine. Italian food , especially pizza, is wildly popular with Americans and many Italians have made successful businesses from it, establishing restaurants or food companies such as Chef Boyardee and Ronzoni. Scalfani Foods is a national brand that started right here in CT.
“For me this day is deeply personal, Our story is like millions of Italian immigrants. I clearly remember the cold winter day that, after weeks at sea, my family and I arrived in New York harbor from Ponte, outside of Benevento, Italy. I was wrapped in a blanket, seasick, cold and awestruck as we climbed up from steerage to view the dramatic city skyline. I squeezed my mother’s hand tightly.
“Knowing only open fields of a small country farm I was frightened and bewildered at the blur of unfamiliar faces, strange voices and tall buildings. We were whisked away to CT by uncles who had immigrated before the WW II which separated them from their wives and children left behind until the war was over. Their families were reunited after having suffered the horrors of bombings and the German army that ransacked and laid waste to their small rural farms as they made their way north to the deadly battles of Cassino and Anzia. It was the US infantry and medics that saved them and left an enduring impression of the innate goodness of the American GI.
“As with so many others, we came to this country- a country that held so much promise- poor, uneducated and not speaking one word of English. Thou the hardships were many I was proud to raise my right hand at the age of ten in a New Haven Courthouse to become a United States citizen.
“Public schools and a father with a fierce determination that his children would know and do better than him allowed us to achieve the American dream. My brother became an astrophysicist, artist, classical musician, and President of the company he founded.
“Most of you already know me and some of my background. The countless barriers and obstacles my parents faced daily gave my brother and me the inspiration to not ever give up, if not for myself but for them. It was what compelled me later in life to become an advocate for those that could not advocate for themselves through the many public service and private sector positions I have been blessed with.
“Professor Cannato writes “ The Italian love for America began over a century ago with unskilled Italian labor fueling booming industrial economies in Northern cities and small industrial towns of Pennsylvania and Ohio.“
“Each immigrant group possesses its own strategies for survival and success. For Italians, theirs rested upon two pillars: work and family. Italian immigrants helped provide the labor for American factories and mines and helped build roads, dams, tunnels, and other infrastructure. Their work provided them a small economic foothold in American society and allowed them to provide for their families, which stood at the core of Italian-American life.“
“Many Italians become naturalized in the years 1939 to 1941 as war erupted in Europe. The Second World War would find the United States in conflict with Italy.. Non-naturalized Italian immigrants would find themselves briefly branded “enemy aliens.”
“Presidential Proclamation no. 2527 which applied to Italians 14 years and older ordered 600,000 Italian Americans to register and carry cards identifying themselves as “enemy aliens.” It further forbade them from traveling more than five miles from their homes without written authority and forced the surrender of such “contraband” as firearms, radios, cameras, and flashlights that might be used as signaling devices. A mandatory daily curfew was imposed from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., thus restricting their freedom of movement, and means of employment. Italians were evacuated from “prohibited” zones, forced from their homes, and others were imprisoned.
“Authorities arrested more than 1,600 Italian Americans, from December 1941 through June 1942. Most arrests were short-termed; however, over 300 were confined in Oklahoma, Montana, Tennessee, and Texas internment camps. Fearing retribution and rejection, families stopped speaking Italian. Some “Americanized” their names, and children were urged to “assimilate”, to avoid suspicion and harassment. (Much of this was kept secret until the late 1990’s when legislation was passed that brought this to light.)
“In spite of all of this, and although Italy was not an ally, Italian Americans joined the Armed Services in record numbers. Over a half of them served in the American military during World War II. Fourteen including John Basilone, won the Congressional Medical of Honor and became national heroes.
Italian physicist and immigrant, Enrico Fermi, established the world’s first nuclear reactor. Interestingly, Rosie the Riveter was actually based on an Italian American named Rose Bonavita.
Italians, however, continued to experience prejudice and encountered negative stereotypes well after the war was over. Much of it was related to organized crime. Italian Americans condemn those cultural stereotypes that still permeate media depictions of Italian Americans today.
Professor Cannato observes, “ As the older generation aged and the younger generations moved out of the tight knit neighborhoods many of our traditions weakened. Assimilation means not just giving up the one’s native language but also learning to live in a pluralistic society. One reason why many of our ancestors did not spend time dwelling on the past was that they understood there was little future for them in Italy. The process of immigration thrust an insular people deeply rooted in family and place into the modern world.”
“As Italian Americans rediscover Italy and their immigrant ancestors, new immigrants from across the globe are continually arriving in America. They are making their own lives and navigating the complicated process of adapting to a new world while not completely surrendering the past.”
It is great to see Bethel has not completely surrendered the past. Thank you, Paula, for keeping our Italian Heritage alive and well. Grazie mille!
Exciting parts of the event were the dance performances and also the fabulous new and vintage Italian sports car show.
Or maybe attendees loved the food and drinks free treats too! (Who doesn’t love Biscotti, Milano and other Italian cookies fresh baked from Bethel’s local Varano Bakery, also donated by Portofino Restaurant and Wine Bar, and chocolate flavored Frappacchino coffee and other drinks, compliments of one of the event sponsors, Caraluzzi Markets). YUM!
Read more below…
The performance by the Fred Astaire Dance Studio dancers, of Brookfield, CT, lead by the incredibly talented world-renowned dancer Marcel Helms, was sensational. We were fortunate to have a glimpse of Helms and his incredible talent as attendees watched him perform.
“Marcel began ballroom dancing in Germany at the age of 8. Taking place in many Regional, National and International Competitions in Europe, he is a four‐time German Master, European Champion and World Champion in Boogie Woogie and Swing. Marcel became certified as instructor at Fred Astaire Dance Studios in 2009, and added the duties of Studio Supervisor in 2011.”
View one of the Fred Astaire Dance Studio dance performances in the video below. (Video ©2020 BETHEL ADVOCATE News Media / Paula Antolini):
A performance of the Italian dance, the Tarantella, by Helms and three dance instructors in full Italian dance costume, was a proud moment to behold for the Italians in attendance as the dance group performed on the sidewalks in front of the CJH Municipal Center. The lively dances really caught the attention of all.
The professionals performed several more dances that were equally impressive. Many people commented afterwards that it was a pleasure and treat to see classical dances that you hardly see locally anymore, and that they might consider taking lessons at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio which is offering in-studio and virtual lessons presently.
The Italian Sports Cars Exhibit, which was displayed across the front part of the Bethel town hall lawn, was a feast for the eyes. Cars were: a 1974 Alfa Romeo GTV (Black Coupe), Alfa Romeo 4C, FIAT X1/9 (white) and a FIAT 850 Coupe, all brought by Dino Gualtieri, and a 1974 FIAT 124 Spider displayed by Tim Beeble. Other cars at the event were Alfa Romeo Spiders, one from 1987.
It was hard to choose a favorite as the cars were all amazing. Thank you to Alfa Romeo of Danbury, Bruce Bennett, and all the private owners of the vintage cars. Thank you to Tim Beeble and Dino Gualtieri for helping to organize an outstanding display and for bringing so many beautiful new and vintage Italian sports cars to Bethel, a delightful flash from the past, and something we can dream about owning one day.
BETHEL ADVOCATE News Media organized, sponsored and hosted the event. Join the Bethel Advocate Facebook page here. We want to also thank other supporters who donated food and drinks: Caraluzzi’s Markets, Portofino Restaurant and Wine Bar, and Varano Bakery all located in Bethel, CT.
We want to thank Bethel Selectman Richard Straiton for the proclamation presentation, the Knights of Columbus for providing the color guard and sword salute, Fred Astaire Dance Studio / Brookfield, for an impressive dance performance and Master of Ceremonies and musician Billy Michael for the entertainment. We could not have done the event without them.
Bethel Middle School student Victoria Mastraccio created an artful historical poster by hand, showing many of the important Italian figures in history and their contributions and accomplishments. Thank you Victoria! You are an artist! The Mastracchio family generously provided a table full of free CDs of Italian recordings for attendees. Thank you so much!
Congratulations to Diane Mastracchio who was the winner of 72 pieces of Italian Torrone candy (4 boxes!) after she guessed the correct amount of candy in the jar, in a lively “shout out your guess” activity.
Editor note: The event was held on the CJH Municipal Center lawn between 1-3pm, shortened by one hour (supposed to be 1-4pm) due to three unforeseen circumstances in three different family tragedies of the participants, causing the Bethel Fire Department, a second Master of Ceremonies, and an Italian singer to not attend as planned. Unusual, yes. We wish a speedy recovery and condolences to the families. Our apologies to anyone missing the event who arrived later.
VIEW MORE PHOTOS and VIDEOS below.