NORTH HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — North Haven has plenty of Italian people and businesses, but it doesn’t have a Little Italy like Wooster Square in New Haven. Immigrants settled there fresh off the boat. Their children and grandchildren now live in suburbs like this. The one big exception? Some very recent immigrants who are burning up the bocce courts.
Italian immigrants brought lots of their culture to the United States. Bocce is one part of that culture that is still thriving today. It’s a game that sounds simple on the surface.
“It’s a four man team,” said Alphonse Buono of North Haven. “One guy tries to make a point, the other team then has to shoot the ball and they got to make a point.”
“And the court is 75 feet long, and you’ve got to hit that ball,” Vinnie Berecchia from North Haven said. “It looks like it’s easy, but it’s not easy.”
These players from North Haven make it look easy, though. They travel the country playing – and winning – tournaments.
“Rome, New York, we’ve played in Massachusetts, New York, all kinds of other states and we’ve been doing pretty good,” North Haven’s Giuseppe DeLucia said. “We’ve become champion a few times.”
While North Haven is the toast of the bocce world, The Wine Press is helping people raise a glass to another Italian tradition – winemaking, with a do-it-yourself twist.
“People come to us, we pick their grapes with them, then they come back and crush their grapes, press their grapes, rack, and then bottle,” Lori Iannucci from The Wine Press said.
The Iannucci family used to be in the construction business, and made wine on the side. Now the full-time business is winemaking.
“That’s what our heritage is: making wine together, have some good food and enjoy themselves,” Ray Iannucci said.More Italian in Connecticut:
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That heritage lives on in subtle ways in North Haven. There’s no “Little Italy” here. Many Italian Americans here trace their roots to people who crossed the Atlantic long ago.
When asked about his family roots, Neil Velleca said, “Well, the Velleca family came over from Italy from Scafati in the late 1880s.”
Like so many, they came to New Haven first.
“My grandmother ran the store,” Velleca said. “It was a little grocery store. My grandfather went out with the horse and wagon and peddled the vegetables and whatever.”
Children and grandchildren of those original immigrants then moved to suburbs like North Haven. It can be tough to hang on to that heritage here.
North Haven has a chapter of the Sons and Daughters of Italy. The group used to have its own building and 300 members. Now, it meets in a church and has less than half the membership it used to. Organizers are trying to appeal to the younger generation.
“I need to keep this Italian culture that I was brought up with alive,” Sharon Ricciardelli of North Haven said. “I feel like we’re going to lose it.”
Even recent immigrants like the bocce players worry their traditions are going to end with them.
“Even my kids, I want to try to teach them to play bocce, continue,” Berecchia said. “Because it’s a very nice game. We’re going to keep the tradition.”
“After our generation is gone, I don’t think anyone is going to play bocce anymore. That’s a shame,” Buono said.