8/19/2011 3:12:00 PM Social clubs promote Italian culture
Italian Businessman’s Club photo
Roger Cherry and his son, Alex, prepare a roast pig at a Portland Italian Businessman’s Club party, while Guy LaCesa and John Tirabasso (left) watch.
Clarice Keating Of the Catholic Sentinel
Every time they hear a comment like, “I remember eating this at my grandmother’s house 50 years ago,” organizers of the Festa Italiana know they’re doing something right.
The festival, which aims to promote Italian culture in Portland, is organized by a committee, and each committee seat is represented by one of the Italian social clubs in the area. There are a half-dozen organizations in the area that unite people who are of Italian heritage or have an interest in the culture, and those clubs have created a strong network of collaboration.
Club Paesano, an Italian men’s club for socializing and recreation, encourages a spirit of comradeship, friendship and community service through its various projects and bocce ball tournaments out at Cedarville Park in Gresham.
Joe Castellano, president of Festa Italiana and a member of Club Paesano, has witnessed a surge in membership over the past few years.
“People are wanting to reconnect with their families again and relive those experiences,” he said.
Castellano is first generation American. His parents came here from Italy in the early 1950s, meeting each other while enrolled in English language courses in Portland. He was among the core group of Italian-American community leaders approached by Pioneer Courthouse Square 20 years ago when they were trying to turn an Italian-style street painting event into a bigger festival.
Portland is also home to the Northwest chapter of Unico National, the largest Italian-American service organization. They focus on service and outreach, but also blend Italian language and culture into their meetings and activities.
Amici d’Italia, a group established in 1979, is a collective of local Italians-Americans and Italians with a goal to preserve their heritage and culture. They meet monthly at St. Michael the Archangel Church.
Azzurri Club of Portland is a non-profit that is also dedicated to preserving and promoting Italian heritage and culture, through closer economic, political and cultural ties to Italy.
The Italian Businessman’s Club, a cultural, social, service and commercial association, has also seen a rise in participation in recent years.
“We’ve tried to attract younger Italian-Americans, with whatever link they have, and we’ve been successful,” said Bob Iannacone, club secretary.
The businessmen are a small group, and they try to keep their projects Italian-centric, providing and annual scholarship to a Portland State University student for Italian studies and supporting the Scuola Italiana di Portland, or the Portland Italian School.
The Sons of Italy are another group, based out of Vancouver, Wash., and the Portland Bologna Sister City Association was founded in 2003 to establish a formal relationship between the two cities.