This year the Richmond Italian Street festival took place at the historic 17tth Street Farmers Market on Sept. 24-25. I had attended once before, but I suppose my memory was failing me. I had high hopes, cleared my schedule, invited people, talked about it on social media and overall I was very excited.
I went Saturday afternoon, upon arriving the very first thing I noticed was the size of the street festival. It was significantly smaller, as if more vendors drop out every year. The second thing I noticed was how the founders of this festival were not really Italian. They were the “my great-great paternal grandparents came to Ellis Island on the boat, late 19th century” kind of Italians.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely that individual who believes that no matter where you were born, if you go to Italy or love it and learn about the culture of today you can totally call yourself Italian.
The fact is, Italy isn’t what it was 100 years ago when their families came here. Modern Italian culture was missing from the festival entirely. If you’re going to set up a cultural festival, I believe it should appeal to all generations.
Also, something that greatly bothered me was how they handled the national anthem. I am in no way saying the American national anthem should not have been performed on stage, but I’m going to point out that they should have done the same for the Italian national anthem. I mean, at the least they should have played the awkward recording loud enough for everyone to hear it. The American national anthem was performed beautifully by the way, but after the performer finished and it was time for the Italian one, we could barely hear it. It was an instrumental version, and due to the fact that the volume was so low everyone talked and went about their business during the entire anthem.
It wasn’t a cultural festival, it was an awkward display of how Italians came to this country 100+ years ago and were discriminated against and hated, so they had to assimilate to American culture and fast. So now that Italians are loved, the culture is constantly brought up in conversation, people adore the food, and love bringing up how “cool” the mafia is (one of my personal pet peeves). People are trying to grab what little pieces of the past they have left, which if represented correctly, isn’t a bad thing. This festival felt like a street full of stereotypes, from the random saint procession and horrible mozzarella sticks (which Italians don’t eat by the way) all the way to Napolitano folk music being the only thing I could hear when the band wasn’t playing their unrelated music.
The vendors charged an absurd amount of money, and the only saving grace was that it raised money for the victims of the devastating earthquake that killed nearly 300 in Amatrice, Italy about a month ago, and for scholarships for Italian Studies students. I want to make it clear, that despite my feelings towards this uncomfortable display of the Italian culture, most of the people I met here were very nice. They definitely mean well, they just really need some Italian millennials, or people familiar to today’s Italian culture to help out the set up. Unfortunately, as it is right now, I really don’t see the festival being something that will continue annually.