October is Italian-American Heritage Month in the United States– designated as such to coincide with the celebration of Columbus Day. Christopher Columbus is credited with the discovery of the New World in 1492 and was born in Genoa.
There are more than 15 million Americans who identify themselves as Italian-American, which makes our ethnic group one of the most robust nationally. When presenting about Italian-American history and culture, I always say that every one of us has at least some tie to Italy– either through bloodlines or perhaps a favorite food or piece of art. Italian life, art, culture and cuisine has touched us all in some way and the month of October pays tribute to the spirit that permeates through Italian blood.
As a proud Italian-American, I relish the thought of having an entire month dedicated to this important part of who I am… but I also know there are other Italian-Americans out there who might know they are of Italian origin, but who do not know much about their ancestral land. I also know there are many “amici d’Italia” out there who might not share our blood, but who love Italy as much as we do.
In celebration of Italian-American Heritage Month, I’d like to suggest a few ways we all can recognize the contributions Italians have made to this country’s landscape:
- Read a book by an Italian-American author. There are so many of us out there and we are represented in a variety of genres– there really is something for everyone. If you’re not sure where to begin, feel free to contact me!
- Attend an event celebrating Italian-American heritage. If you’re in New York City, check out the Calandra Institute’s calendar of events here. If you’re in Boston, head up to the North End and visit I AM BOOKS… they have a wide variety of events, including IDEA Boston in a few weeks! (I’m a guest speaker, too!) Or if you’re in Chicago, check out the Casa Italia. If you’re not in these areas, be sure to Google search events in your hometown– I’m sure you’ll find something. If not, check out Patrimonio Italiano TV, We the Italians or the Italian-American Podcast to discover more about our heritage online!
- Visit a museum. While there are actual museums dedicated to Italian-American heritage, like the Italian American Museums in Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles, try going to a museum in your hometown. With all of the contributions Italian-Americans have made to our nation’s cultural landscape, you’ll find something and, better yet, you’ll learn something new.
- Try a new flavor. I may be biased here, but Italian cuisine really is the world’s best! Why not try a new Italian restaurant you’ve never tried before and order a dish you’ve never tasted? Many Italian restaurants offer regional specialties based off of the region from where the owners hail or they offer unique twists on traditional Italian cuisine. You might discover a new favorite! Or, if hanging out in the kitchen is your style, why not try a recipe you’ve always wanted to try or, better yet, why not try a family recipe? Every time I make my late Aunt Jennie’s pizzelles, I am immediately transported back to when she taught me how to make them years ago in her kitchen!
- Put pen to paper. Ovunque Siamo is an online literary journal dedicated to Italian-American writers. Why not write a story based off of family lore and submit? By doing so, you’re sharing your story with others and preserving it for future generations, as well as meeting more people who share your heritage. If you’re not Italian, check out some of the writing– you’ll be introduced to writers you never would have discovered otherwise!
- Go to church. You don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate the contributions Italians have made to church architecture. Here in Scranton, we have St. Lucy’s Church— it was constructed with Italian marble by Italian workers so that Italian immigrants to our area would have a place to worship in their own language. The history of that church is incredible and a part of Italian-American history that is often overlooked!
- Get on Ancestry. Are you eager to learn more about your family tree? Sign up for Ancestry.com and start discovering your heritage… take it to the next level and get Ancestry DNA. You’ll find out exactly where in Italy your family came from (mine zoomed right in to Campania!) and you’ll discover stories about your family you never knew before… maybe you might even learn you qualify for dual citizenship!
- Tap “like.” There are a lot of wonderful Italian-American Instagram pages– @italianenclaves, @raffaellasara, @westcoastitalian, @upstate_ny_italian, @iawomenproject, @atthetablewithtony, @italianamwell, @fabrizia_limoncello, @italianamerican and @niafitalianamerican are all some of my favorites. Their pages give you a unique look at Italian-American life and, you know what they say… a picture is worth a thousand words!
- Ask questions. Stop by a senior citizen center or a nursing home and visit with the residents. Many senior citizens have no one to talk to and they are the keepers of our collective history! Go, talk to them and discover their lives. You’ll learn first-hand experiences about some pivotal moments in our nation’s history and make new friends. You may meet an Italian immigrant or a child of immigrants… or you might even meet someone from another ethnicity and discover that we really do have more in common than we think!
- Pass it on. Don’t be afraid to fly your Tricolore at home or wear an “Italia” T-shirt or (like me) wear your horn and hand or a boot necklace. Live your story proudly. Show the world you’re proud of your heritage. By showing our pride, we teach people that it is okay to embrace what makes us unique and share it with the world. Our stories create the unique patchwork that is this country– and that’s what Italian-American Heritage Month is all about!
How are you celebrating this October? Leave me a comment or shoot me an email!