September 10, 2012

Enjoying the 2012 Sagra di Fusilli (Festival of Fusilli) with The Societá Gioventú Quagliettana of Queens, New York

Grillmaster Gerardo Avena preparing delicious Italian sausages.
By Niccolò Graffio

To those who are regular readers of this blog it is already known we are promoters of Southern Italian culture. One of the things we like to do to promote our people’s culture is announce upcoming festivals and if possible, cover them.

To most of today’s vapid Americans of European descent ethnic festivals are archaisms best left to those from “the old country”.  If they show any interest in them at all it’s only to go to the largest and most heavily advertised street festivals.  Sadly, these street festivals have often been so heavily sanitized by corporatists and promoters of ‘political correctness’ they usually wind up showing little signs of the culture from which they originated.

Vice-treasurer (and great-grandfather
to four!) Rocco Fasano.
Early European immigrants to this country founded social clubs, or societies to help them and those who came after them get settled in the new land.  In addition, these societies enabled the recently arrived immigrants (and their children) to maintain contact with the motherland and the parent culture.  Our people were no exception to this.  In many if not most cases the societies founded by Southern Italians were organized along provincial and sometimes communal lines.  You could not join the society unless you or your parents came from a particular town or village!

This requirement for membership reflected the Southern Italian attitude of resistance to and mistrust of centralization of authority.  In that Southern Italians shared a similar attitude with the Anglo founders of these United States, who took great pains when preparing its government to insure a large amount of state power remained out of federal hands.

To maintain interest in these local societies among the membership the heads initiated the keeping of festivals.  In most cases these festivals were similar if not identical to those observed back in Southern Italy.  Though mistrustful of centralized authority, Southern Italians were nonetheless deeply religious people, and most (but not all) of these festivals had strong religious overtones.

The society's first president
Antonio Gentilella still
watches over his legacy.
Sadly, as time passed and our people became more assimilated into the American way of life, most of these local societies melted away.  Those that have survived are currently struggling to survive and pass the baton to the next generation. Thus, we at the Il Regno blog feel it is our duty to our fellows to help by calling attention to these surviving bastions of Southern Italian culture.  We do this in the hopes that many among the younger generations will come to feel, as we do, these societies and the festivals they promote are worth saving.

It was therefore with great pleasure when I was asked to cover The Societá Gioventú Quagliettana's annual Sagra di Fusilli. This festival is strictly a local phenomenon, but it shows the determination among the society’s members to maintain contact with the parent culture of our people.

Vincenzo Carpinelli, the current president of the society, was kind enough to explain to me the origin of the festival.  Though created in modern times for people living in an urban area, it has the unmistakable ring of Europe’s many old harvest festivals.  The ladies of the society created and cooked the pasta (fusilli and cavatelli) and sauce themselves.  Trust me when I say it was all delicious!  A barbecue was set up in the backyard of the society were tasty Italian sausages (of both the hot and sweet varieties) were grilled.  Hamburgers were also grilled for those desiring an American staple.  Of course, what Italian festival is complete without wine?

Sitting there listening to many of the members speaking to each other in Italian reminded me once again how deficient I am in the language. Time to break out those tapes!
A history in photos. (Photos by Niccolò Graffio)
Inclement weather at one point forced most indoors.  It turns out that earlier Brooklyn and Queens each experienced a tornado!  Fortunately no one was hurt and all we experienced was heavy rain.  Eventually calmer skies returned.

I am grateful to the members of The Societá Gioventú Quagliettana for allowing me to share in their festivities. There are those who would think it trite if not quaint.  I am not one of them.  These societies performed an important function for our people and they still can if we only let them!  2012 marks the 101st anniversary of this particular one.  I can only hope and pray there are at least another 101 years of life left in it.  God bless them!

Also see:
• A Look at the 2012 Festa di San Rocco in Queens
• Fiaccolata di San Rocco, 2011