If you prize your Italian heritage, and wish to meet others who feel likewise, there’s a new group in the Ithaca area for you.
The Italian-American Heritage Social Group has really taken off since its establishment in early 2005. This growth was highlighted by a picnic on Aug. 7 that drew 50 people to Stewart Park; more recently, a regular gathering on Oct. 23 attracted 25 participants.
“We were lucky enough that one of the ladies has a home with a big enough rec room,” Louise Matosich, group co-organizer, said of the Oct. 23 event. “We had refreshments, Italian cookies and goodies, espresso, all that neat stuff. We had some sheet music and recordings and just sort of sat around and talked, singing some of the old Italian songs. We just had a great time.”
Food and music were also highlights of the August picnic, which featured a dish-to-pass format (Italian items, of course) and was advertised in the Immaculate Conception Parish bulletin as being open to “anyone with any claims to Italia whatsoever.” The notice also stated that the picnic was to last “until the food is gone” — which, based on the Italians’ penchant for putting on big meals, could have incited the event to last for days.
Jemma Macera, the club’s other co-organizer, said people sang Italian songs at the picnic, sparking pleasant memories of her youth.
“My dad would bring out his guitar on Sundays,” she said.
Macera and Matosich, childhood friends from Ithaca, began the Italian-American Heritage Social Group by hosting events at their homes. They started out with just six people but now draw from an area that goes well beyond Ithaca’s city limits.
“Willard, Spencer, Newfield — word gets around,” Macera said.
Geographic diversity also pertains to club members’ Italian heritage, as evidenced by the Oct. 23 gathering during which people marked their ancestries on a map of Italy.
“We are a pretty good mixture. They’re from different areas of Italy — Sicily, Florence, all the different areas,” Matosich said. However, she added, “What’s interesting is we get new people every time, and it isn’t just people who are from Italy. Their grandparents might be from Italy, or they’re people who want to know more about the culture or the music or the language.”
Among the regulars are an older couple who recently moved to the area — “they didn’t known anyone, but they started coming and really have been having a great time,” Matosich said, as well as an Italian man and his Jewish wife who “is really into the Italian.”
In addition to cuisine and music, Macera and Matosich strive to play up through the club the other creative and artistic abilities of Italians.
“I think it’s important to pass that on to future generations. There are so many good aspects of the Italian culture,” Macera said.
Although the group is made up mostly of Catholics, Matosich and Macera emphasized that they do not make religious, political or other such distinctions.
“I didn’t want a club where people paid dues. I just wanted a fun thing,” Matosich said.
Regarding future events, Matosich said they would likely hold off through the holidays and then pick up again in January, perhaps with a cookie exchange or La Befana celebration. (According to legend, La Befana is a kindly witch who brings toys to children on the Feast of the Epiphany, Jan. 6.)
“There are some who want to go to Italy,” Matosich added, acknowledging with a laugh, “They’re thinking big.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Those wishing to find out more about the Italian-American Heritage Social Group may call Louise Matosich at 607/273-7906 or Jemma Macera at 607/273-6557.