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Festa Italiana brings together Italian American community

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This weekend marked the 25th annual Festa Italiana celebration of Italian heritage in Sacramento.

Sponsored by the Sacramento Italian Cultural Society, Italians, Italian Americans and beyond gathered at the Croatian American Cultural Center Saturday and Sunday for a festival resembling a two-day-long Italian wedding.

Under the hot Sacramento sun, shaded by large canopies, festival-goers enjoyed musical entertainment by the likes of Italica and Moreno Fruzzetti and dancing from the society’s Balliamo dance troupe.

Husband and wife Victor and Eva Musammam have been attending the festival for 20 years and are big fans of Fruzzetti.

“I have all of his CDs,” Eva said.

Eva was born in Bari, Italy, and moved to Hoboken,N.J. (birthplace of Frank Sinatra) at age 11. Victor, who was wearing a T-shirt that said “Pray for me, my wife is Italian,” has Italian grandparents, although he is from Palestine.

“We come here every year with these friends, family,” Eva said. “Actually, we look forward to it. I enjoy coming, seeing people and listening to the music.”

“Every year they add more to the festival,” Victor said. “I think this year is the best organized. They improve every year.

Throughout the day, the main stage outside held raffle prizes announcements, singers and dancers. The inside of the cultural center had vendors selling everything from Venetian glass jewelry, to olive oil.

Walking through the mercato, the smell of fried calamari and pasta was apparent as local businesses advertised their products. One booth sold varieties of mushrooms, while the booth next to it sold Italian license plate frames with phrases such as “Happiness is being Italian.”

Activities for children were also available, such as an arts and crafts booth, face-painting booth and rides. Applicants for the 2010 Festa Queen pageant helped out in the children’s area.

Toward the late afternoon on Saturday, Jennifer Caruso Stone invited former Festa Queens on stage from the last 25 years for the coronation of the 2010 Festa Queen.

Jacqueline Traverso Hamilton, a UC Davis graduate, won this year’s title.

“My favorite part about the festival is working with the kids — it’s my passion,” she said. “And of course, spreading the Italian spirit.”

Applicants are judged based on an essay, panel interview and participation in the festival.

Nora Biundo-Salazar was one of the first Festa Queens, crowned in 1987. She said they also had to write an essay, but the interview was done on stage and in Italian if possible.

“We were escorted by Italian Marines in uniform” she said. “And the cars that were on display, the owners let us ride into the festival on them. Mine was a red Fiat.”

Today, the queen receives a $1,000 scholarship, although in 1987 the sum was much smaller. Biundo-Salazar, who now has three children, said the society has grown in these last 25 years.

“I’m proud to be Italian and grateful to have been a part of the society since 1985,” she said. “I’m thankful that this opportunity still exists and hope that it continues for at least another 25 years.”

For more information on the Italian Cultural Society, visit italiancenter.net

Photos by David Alvarez.

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