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Festa Italiana

Festa Italiana

Immigrants to the United States have always experienced a duality, fervently embracing their new homeland while attempting to maintain traditions of their cultural heritage. Nowhere in Chicago is this more evident than in Little Italy. Despite growing urbanization, assimilation and suburban draw, a strong sense of Italian community still exists, still beating with an Italian heart. And at no time does that heart beat stronger than during the Taylor Street Festa Italiana.

Festa Italiana was established to celebrate the strong traditions brought to the Italian-American community with the first influx of immigrants in the mid-1800s. Since that time, the neighborhood has shifted in many directions, and the once poor area has become revitalized by the expansion around it. Taylor Street has seen its own revitalization, with tree-lined streets creating a nostalgic neighborhood ambiance that welcomes visitors. Despite changes, many establishments on Taylor Street welcome the Festa as the chance to share their unique delights.

The Festa began about 20 years ago, but area demolition and construction, including a complete makeover of Taylor Street, caused the event to be put on hold for 15 years. In 2003, Chris Provenzano became the new Executive Director of the University Village Association and saw the importance of such a celebration. Finally, in 2007, the Festa returned with a loud “bravo,” filling the air with the sounds of celebration. According to Provenzano, the Festa has continued to grow in size and popularity each year.

Businesses along Taylor Street dove into the spirit, taking an active part in the event with vendor sites and special products. One such business is Beviamo. Owner Josh Fessett credits the Festa for bringing in people to see what the neighborhood has to offer. “It definitely has been a hit for our neighborhood, and it gets bigger and bigger every year,” he says.

Once again, along with great food, the Festa presents traditional Italian entertainment as well as mainstream bands. Entertainment includes local performers along with nationally recognized talent.

In addition, Provenzano is especially excited about new child-friendly activities that will appeal to families. “We plan to add such things as face painting and educational activities, along with more interactive sporting events,” he says, adding that organizers are also looking to possibly add an art tent to display the work of local artists.

This year’s event will see the return of bocce, also known as lawn bowling; an activity that has been a big hit each year.

Provenzano points out festivals are vital to help people remember their roots as well as let others experience the cultural and historical significance of Italian Americans and their contribution to the city. Festa Italiana offers a way for people who grew up in the area and moved away to come back and remember for a while that sense of “home.”

“The history is here, and the identity is here,” he says. “Festa Italiana is a celebration of that history.”

Taylor Street Festa Italiana is held annually in the month of August. For more information, please visit www.festaitalianachicago.com

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