NORTH HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – During Italian in Connecticut week, we have done a lot of looking back, at the history of Italian Americans. For our final day in North Haven, we’re trying to look forward, at how the culture will continue.
It’s continuing in the schools, definitely. North Haven High School has an Italian class and Italian club to help keep the language and culture alive.
“It’s just a little bit of history that I think shouldn’t die down yet,” said 19 year-old Francesca Liuzzi.
Francesca did her part when she was in high school, and still does at her family’s North Haven shop, Liuzzi Cheese.
“My uncle came here in the 1950s with $5 in his pocket,” remembers Marcello De Pascale, a cousin of the Liuzzi family. “From a single person coming here, he brought over about 60 people.”
Anthony Riccio, author of “The Italian American Experience in New Haven,” says that is exactly how most Italians ended up in Connecticut.
“Loved ones are sending letters back saying, ‘Listen, I found a job here. I can get you one, too. Why don’t you come? Give it a chance,'” Riccio said. “They were convincing letters, and so you had chain migrations.”
A lot of that migration went through New Haven harbor and the big factories like Sargent.
“My Grandfather worked for American Steel and Wire, which is just over the Ferry Street bridge,” remembers Nick Mastroianni. “My other grandfather came on a boat that came from Sargent’s.”More Italian in Connecticut:
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New immigrants stayed in enclaves like Wooster Street to be with others who spoke the language, until things started changing.
“In certain areas – especially when you talk about the area of Wooster Street – a lot of people moved out with the building of the highway,” according to Joanna Leone, author of “Slices of Life: Italian American Stories.”
Italian Americans moved to suburbs like North Haven because of urban renewal and lots of other reasons. Plenty of signs around town still show those Italian roots, and the Sons and Daughters of Italy do their best to keep traditions alive.
“Oh, we have a lot of events,” said President Len Ricciadelli. “You must have heard of our Italian Festival.”
For years, the Italian festival brought thousands to the North Haven Green, but the festival has taken a break in recent years.
“We’ve had up to 300 members in our group. We’re down to 136 now,” according to Ricciadelli. “That’s one reason it got harder to do the festival. We’re trying to get younger members, reach some younger people, think of younger ideas.”
“If we don’t get new blood and if we don’t get our stories down on paper to pass on to the next generation, they’ll get lost,” warns author Joanna Leone.
New technology helps track down relatives and connect with Italy. However, it’s up to young people like Francesca to keep in mind the roots of those family trees.
“We all have kind of the same traditions like eating together on Sundays with your family and doing whatever afterwards,” said Liuzzi. “I think it’s really important to keep that tradition going because I’ve done it my whole life and I’ll definitely carry it on to my children when I have children.”
Talking to students in a North Haven Middle School Italian class, it’s clear that interest continues even among younger kids.