The aroma of cheese-steaks overstuffed with beef and charred onions filled the air. Opera music drifted from a nearby tent. The rumble of carnival rides and children screaming with joy and too much sugar could be heard in the background.
The fourteenth annual Mercer County Italian American Festival was held September 27-29 in Mercer County.
John Scarpati, the president of the Mercer County Italian-American Festival says of why he founded the festival 14 years ago: “Everybody is proud of their culture. I am just very proud of mine and wanted to celebrate.”
According to Scarpati the festival at Mercer County park is “… the biggest cultural festival in the state.”
There are no hard figures, but the increase in the number of cultural festivals is giving Scarpati some competition. The Irish, Greeks, Scandinavians and Indo-Americans all have large heritage groups in the state and sponsor similar festivals.
However, the Italian American festival is one of New Jersey’s oldest and certainly most popular. Each year the event covers five and a quarter acres and one hundred and twenty five volunteer staffers are on hand.
A percentage of the money collected from vendors who pay for spots at the event and from admission fees is donated to the catholic fraternal benefits organization Knights of Columbus.
The festival employs an internal security and maintenance team to supplement the regular police force.
Among the attractions are carnival rides, a cultural theater, bocce courts, dance tents, live music, dining tents and food vendors.
Aaron Risoldi, owner of Risoldi’s Market in Mercerville New Jersey, says “We let the customers try Italian food made from scratch”. His most popular item is his cannolis which he says are such a hit because of the forty year old recipe he uses to make them.
Among the volunteers is Wayne Deangelo, New Jersey fourteenth district general assemblyman, who volunteers at the event to help park cars. Deangelo says “It is a great way to get in touch with the community. This is a great community. Other politicians should do the same.”
Seventy year old Ewing resident Sandy Johnson came to the event for the second year this year, saying “I like to pick on some of the italian things like italian sausages. It is hard to get everywhere… it reminds me of home food.”
When asked about why he believed that the content of the fair was worth the cost, Mercer County Community College second year Film and TV student Thomas Clark stated, “The Italian American festival is a place for Mercer students to relax and enjoy themselves in a relaxed environment. For only $5, you get access to the whole space and you’re not forced to buy anything. That’s worth it.”
Nicholas Signora contributed reporting.