By Joe Cannavo
Every year the president signs an executive order designating the month of October as National Italian American Heritage Month. Coinciding with the festivities surrounding Columbus Day, the proclamation is recognition of the many achievements, contributions and successes of Americans of Italian descent as well as Italians in America.
Over 5.4 million Italians immigrated to the United States between 1820 and 1992. Today there are over 26 million Americans of Italian descent in the United States, making us the fifth-largest ethnic group. The country was even named after an Italian, the explorer and geographer Amerigo Vespucci. Thus we have much to be proud of and good reason to celebrate.
Yet, over and over again, I have heard the lament of our children and grandchildren who ask why did their parents and grandparents choose to detach from their ancestral heritage, that left today’s generation disconnected with their roots. Their voices have been heard and great strides have had some small success in reconnecting them, and to an extent ourselves, to our Italian roots. There’s still much to be done in what in many cases continues to be an uphill struggle.
However, looking back to last month and its designation as National Italian American Heritage month, I am asking myself, “How many Italian Americans, who are among those who lament what we had lost in the past and are striving to revive today, took the opportunity to participate in one of the numerous Italian-themed events that took place in the around the Delaware Valley?”
Of course, I don’t have answers, but I am of the personal opinion that there were probably a number of these individuals or families that for whatever reason did not get involved in celebrating our heritage language and culture. If any of my readers are among those who didn’t or couldn’t go the extra measure in October, it’s not necessary to wait until next October to celebrate our language and heritage. All year long there are activities and events that promote our culture and expose us to the Italian language. Movie lovers can enjoy the best in Italian cinema every last Wednesday of the Month at Widener University presented by the Italian Department, and in Wilmington the Delaware Italian American Education Association presents its annual Italian Film Series. Many organizations in the region hold Italian themed events all year long. Membership is not required to attend, and in addition to celebrate our heritage, much of the funds raised at these events go to various charities and scholarships.
Most important, we need to be sure that part of a yearlong celebration has to include our children and grandchildren who are the future generations that will decide if Italian heritage will still be vibrant in America or will future generations not even understand they got “saddled down” with some strange sounding surname.
Each month the Italian-American Herald features “Per i bambini,” which children should be encouraged to read.
I close this month’s thoughts urging those of you who feel strongly about preserving and celebrating our heritage to read carefully the message of this month’s editorial. You’ll understand that being Italian American one month a year is not going to keep our heritage preserve for the future. Finally if it’s somehow possible for you to learn even a little Italian, give it a try, and be sure to include your children! It’s never too early to learn a foreign language, whether it’s a nursery rhyme, a counting exercise, or a children’s song.