Although geography tends not to be the most scintillation of subjects, plenty of the folks attending the Washington Italian Heritage Festival on Saturday spent quite a bit of time looking at map.
“This is the most popular thing, I think, of the whole festival,” Tina Calabro said before thinking twice and adding, “Besides the food.”
The South Strabane Township native stationed herself throughout the event at a table representing the Italian Heritage Collection at Citizens Library, stationed next to a sizable map of the national called Italia in its native language.
“We have push pins and a magnifying glass, and people of Italian heritage want to look and find that town. We have such a dedication to our roots,” Calabro explained. “So it’s something we bring back every year.”
The festival, which has been held annually since 2016 – except for last year, of course – took place at the Community Pavilion on South Main Street. In addition to tempting culinary offerings, the event featured music and dancing, vendors with Italian-themed merchandise, activities for children and a bocce tournament.
Also on the schedule was the honoring of local Italian-American health-care workers, including those who have been on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic. A cooking demonstration took place, followed by an Italian cooking competition with two local chefs.
Presented by Primo Italiano Lodge 2800 of the Sons and Daughters of Italy, a group that promotes social and cultural events, the festival started with a Friday-night concert and continued during the afternoon and into the evening on Saturday.
The heritage table served as a hub during the proceedings, drawing people who wanted to know more about their ancestry and offering digital scanning of historic photos and documents, courtesy of Citizens Library.
Materials from the library’s Hood Local History Center were on display, including “Remembering Their Lives: Stories of Italian Immigrants to Washington, Pennsylvania,” a book complied by Calabro featuring discussions with members of 17 families.
“About four or five years ago, it hit me that no one had ever collected the history of the Italians who settled in our town,” she said.
Calabro, who lives in Pittsburgh’s Highland Park neighborhood, is the granddaughter of four natives of Italy, a fact that piqued her curiosity about their country of origin.
“I always had that interest and I did a lot of traveling back to Italy to meet with my contemporaries, my cousins,” she reported. I’ve gone several times to do that and bring the family back together, which has been a lot of fun and a great hobby to have.”