Italian Festa makes its way to downtown San Jose on Aug. 27, 28
Originally published by the San Jose Mercury News Aug. 25, 2011.
By Mary Gottschalk
Italian Americans and those who love Italian food, wine and culture will gather Aug. 27 and 28 in Guadalupe River Park for the 31st Italian Family Festa.
Organized by the Italian American Heritage Foundation, the Festa is admission-free and is spread out in the park along the river from Julian to Santa Clara streets in the area that’s being transformed into Little Italy.
Banners listing the contributions and accomplishments of local Italian Americans from the past and present, were unveiled on Aug. 21 and will be in place for the Festa.
Attendees can feast on such favorites as ravioli, spaghetti and meatballs, polenta, cannoli, eggplant Parmesan and calamari. Those with a sweet tooth will find satisfaction with sfingi, a deep-fried dough dessert, as well as pizzelle, gelato and biscotti.
There will be wines made by local Italian American vintners as well as wines imported from Italy, along with beers and soft drinks.
Shoppers will find a mix of goods, including imported Venetian masks, jewelry made from Murano glass and beads, marionettes and inlaid wooden music boxes from Sorrento.
Gourmands who find a treat they like can buy cookbooks and many of the needed ingredients to make their own. There will be olives and olive oils, mustards, sauces, vinegars and packaged biscotti.
Live entertainment is part of the festa draw, and Pasquale returns as the headliner, performing from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. on Aug. 27.
There will be continuous entertainment from 1:30 to 8:30 p.m. on the 27th and from noon to 6 p.m. on the 28th.
A bocce ball court will be set up for those who want to try playing the game and the always popular grape stomping is set for 3 p.m. on the 28th.
The Festa owes its existence to the late John De Vincenzi.
De Vincenzi, an artist and an art professor at San Jose State University, took his wife and daughter to Italy in 1974 when he was on sabbatical.
There he became interested in the village festas held all over and decided he wanted to re-create the feeling when he returned to San Jose.
One of the things De Vincenzi did was supervise the building of a cart like the colorful, ornate ones drawn by donkeys in Sicily in the 1920s. Models of the carts remain popular souvenirs for tourists even today.
The carts are boxy in shape and covered with carvings and brightly painted scenes of history. De Vincenzi painted scenes from the history of Santa Clara County for his cart, on view at every Festa.
De Vincenzi and his wife Lonnie, also deceased, chaired the first dozen festas and enlisted the help of other local Italian Americans. Many families remain volunteers to this day with some having as many as four generations participating.
The first festa was held in 1977, in conjunction with the city of San Jose’s Bicentennial.
It was the first ethnic festival to be held downtown, and over the years it grew into both the largest and oldest Italian American festival on the West Coast, attracting crowds of 50,000 to 100,000.
Locations changed as it moved to the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds and in 1996 it was held at Town & Country Village Shopping Center, now the site of Santana Row.
However attendance dropped to 10,000 in 2003 when the festa returned to downtown San Jose and Discovery Meadows.
There was no festa in 2004 and 2005, but in 2006 it was revived by Sal Caruso, past president of the Italian American Heritage Foundation. He approached Santana Row about staging it there, and it was a smashing success, attracting more than 30,000 people.
Unfortunately, parking turned out to be in short supply so after two years, the IAHF moved the festa to Willow Glen, where it was held in 2008 and 2009.
In 2010 it moved to its current location.
A fundraiser for the IAHF Youth Scholarship Program, the 31st Italian American Heritage Foundation Family Festa takes place Aug. 27 from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and Aug. 28 from noon to 6 p.m. at Guadalupe River Park, between Julian and Santa Clara streets. There is no admission charge.
For more information on the festa, visit http://festa.iahfsj.org.
Noon–Opening ceremony with dignitaries.
1:30 p.m.–Pasquale Esposito
3 p.m.–Fratello Marionettes
4 p.m.–West Bay Opera
5:15 p.m.–Trio Davide
7 p.m.–Bella Ciao
Noon–West Bay Opera
1:30 p.m.–Fratello Marionettes
2:30 p.m.–Chris Gardner as Dean Martin
3 p.m.–Grape Stomping
4 p.m. –The Don Giovannis