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Now That's Italian!

Touch it. Experience it. Own it.

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MOST Omahans have been the happy beneficiaries of the city’s vibrant Italian heritage. You’ve experienced Italian hospitality if you have walked through the doors of the VENICE INN or MANGIA ITALIANA or tucked into a plate of mostaccoli at a SONS OF ITALY lunch or LA FIESTA ITALIANA celebration. You’ve sampled a little hometown culinary history when you serve Orsi’s or Rotella’s bread at your family meals. And if you were lucky enough to grill up some of Frank Marino’s hand-ground links before he closed up his S. 13th Street grocery store, you know the simple but sublime pleasure of a darned good sausage.

Many of the above are family businesses. The importance of food and family plays heavily in Italian culture, and so does faith. Every year, these three form the backbone of the SANTA LUCIA FESTIVAL, a longstanding tradition among Omaha’s Italian community. Omaha’s first Santa Lucia Festival was in 1925. Modeled after the 300 years old Santa Lucia Festival in Carlentini, Sicily, it was a reinstitution of homeland traditions in the “new world.” The originators of the event went door to door, raising funds to replicate the statue of Santa Lucia, or Saint Lucy, used in the Sicilian festival. The duplicate was shipped to Omaha and has been the focal point of the festival all these years.

Today, a group of Italian-Americans in Omaha are recording their ethnic heritage in film. The documentary uses the Santa Lucia Festival, says MIKE DIGIACOMO, producer, writer, and videographer of the project and Vice-President of the 2011-2012 Santa Lucia Festival, as a “vehicle to tell a much more important story. That story is: the traditions that Italian immigrants brought with them, and the ties that still exist today between the Omaha Italians and those Italians who never left Italy.”

Since its inception, the festival’s mission is to give back to the local community. This philanthropic spirit is the driving force behind the Santa Lucia Festival Committee which seeks to fund its charitable works through monies raised by the festival. The group provides coats to the needy, visits the sick, and supports programs and aid for the vision impaired. Saint Lucy is the patron saint of the blind.

DiGiacomo and his fellow producers are casting a wide distribution net and will pitch the film both locally and nationally once it is completed in 2012. “But more than anything, we want churches to show it to parishioners, community groups to show it to their members, and most importantly families to show it to their kids to preserve the history of Italian/Americans in Omaha,” states DiGiacomo.

LEWIS AND CLARK LANDING is the home of the five-day festival today. The area that once comprised “Little Italy” is no longer predominantly Italian. Though Omaha’s Italian population does not share physical proximity like it once did, its spirit remains intact. One guest equated the grassroots support of the documentary at its launch party on November 9 to a “new Italian Renaissance.”

Notes DiGiacomo: “So many Italians, from different Italian organizations, came together in one room to support one cause.”

For more information about the Santa Lucia documentary, visit www.santaluciadocumentary.com.




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