Italians earned their place in America, speaker says
By Ed Runyan
Who better to kick off the Warren Italian-American Heritage Festival than a man born in Italy who has traveled there more than 250 times.
“To me, Italy is and will always be the most beautiful country in the world, and Italians are the most beautiful people,” Peter D’Attoma, who runs a Munroe Falls travel agency that makes trips to Italy, told a filled banquet room Friday morning at the Hippodrome downtown. The breakfast opened the 33rd annual festival in downtown Warren.
D’Attoma, who came to the United States with his family when he was 9 in 1956, urged those present to “realize the importance of preserving our heritage and our traditions because they form an essential part of who we are.”
Italian immigrants “have long played a vital role in shaping of America,” he said. “It’s a country that was built by the hands. sweat, blood and tears of immigrants, especially Italians.”
He said Italians hid their ethnicity in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s “for fear of discrimination. We battled stigmas and prejudice. Immigrants in the 1930s and ’40s often changed their names ... to avoid the anti-Italianism that was pervasive in those days.”
For that reason, Italians “settled in the U.S. in clusters, building their new homes near relatives and friends who migrated here from the same towns.” It provided a “safe haven,” he added.
When young Peter started school in Akron, he couldn’t speak English, so educators placed him back in first grade and advanced him every few months to a higher grade until he was with the age group where he belonged.
“Like many Italian-Americans in those days, my siblings and I suffered from ridicule and bullying. We were made fun of because we didn’t speak English. We were outcasts outside of our Italian-American community,” he recalled.
But the key to our survival and ultimate success was our pride and our work ethic,” he said. “We earned everything we got – and still do. We were and are proud Italian-Americans. And we rose beyond the expectations of many around us,” he said.
“It’s pride born in our love of family, in our love of God, in unshakable devotion to the friendships we develop and the burning memory of where we come from as a people.”
He said he hopes Italian-Americans will continue to embrace their heritage, even as they move out of their close-knit neighborhoods to a more diverse culture.
He said to teach your children about the great scientist Enrico Fermi, the great baseball player Joe DiMaggio, director Francis Ford Coppola, New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, entertainer Frank Sinatra and Chrysler Chairman Lee Ioccoca.
D’Attoma praised the organizers of the festival and their commitment to Italian culture and history.
Carol Ficeti, festival president, said she’s been to a lot of Italian-American festivals, and this is the only one with a culture tent.
Many of those attending the breakfast were elected officials, including a large number of Italian-American elected county officials, including the three county commissioners, Frank Fuda, Mauro Cantalamessa and Dan Polivka, county Auditor Adrian Biviano and Clerk of Courts Karen Infante Allen.
The festival committee also awarded $1,000 scholarships to 12 area college students. The festival continues through Sunday on Courthouse Square. Admission is $3.