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Jersey’s Italian American heritage celebrated at annual festival

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The annual Mercer County Italian American Festival ran from Sept. 22-24 and featured entertainment, food, games and amusement rides. The weekend was extremely hot day for September but people still came out in droves. This was the 18 annual celebration and the festival has been name one of “New Jersey’s Best Fall Festivals” by CBS

People gathered to watch pizza chefs throw their dough high in the air. Sizzling sausages and traditional Italian cooking provided a rich aroma of garlic and onions in the air.

Italian roots go deep in New Jersey, as can be seen in movies and in television shows like The Sopranos and Jersey Shore. But those versions often present stereotypes rather than showing the reality of Jersey Italian culture.

On thing new this year at the Festival, that helped get past the stereotyped version of Italian life, was the organizers used their website to college stories about Growing Up Italian. Locals were encouraged to send in photos and short stories about their memories of their Italian heritage and more than a hundred people did.

One person who submitted to the Growing Up Italian collection was Steven Chell, a police officers from Trenton, who wrote “I remember when I was 5 maybe younger going to the feast of lights. My entire neighborhood was Italian descent and my grandmother (who spoke Italian to me) would bake hundreds of Italian cookies for the event. We always enjoyed getting Italian hot dogs and the feel of the entire block shut down in celebration of our ancestry.”

Another participant, Linda Calandra, described her youth in the Chambersburg section of Trenton with her father who had his own shoe store and mother who worked in a factory. She described her memories saying, “As I walked through the Burg on Sundays to church, I could smell the aroma of fresh tomato sauce (gravy!) cooking for the Sunday dinner.”

The VOICE interviewed a variety of people who attended the festival. Most said they had  been going for years, even though many were not of Italian heritage but just came because the food and festivities are so good.

Festival highlights include a wine and beer garden, a tribute to your WWII military, an Italian car show, the football Eagles/Giants game displayed on three giant screens, a Catholic mass and fireworks at the end of the festival. There was even a 50/50 raffle and the winner received $15,692!

To read more Growing Up Italian stories visit: italianamericanfestival.com/stories.cfm

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