October marks Italian-American Heritage Month: Is the university celebrating?

October is Italian-American Heritage Month and honors the achievements, contributions and success of Italian immigrants and their descendants in the U.S. During this month, Italians are recognized for their influence in medicine, literature, theatre, fashion, cuisine, art and more.

Italian immigrants came to the U.S. as tradesmen, stonemasons, marble workers, shoemakers, dressmakers, artists and artists, which helped build our nation into what it is today.

With the many attributions Italians have made to our nation, the month should be better highlighted.

Italian immigrants began arriving in the late 1800s and were used as labor workers for American factories and mines as they helped boom the industrial economy by building roads, dams, tunnels and other infrastructure. Italians helped build the Brooklyn Bridge and carved the Lincoln Memorial.

During World War II, around 2 million Italian-Americans served in the U.S military. Fourteen of them earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.

As of 2017, there were about 17 million Americans of Italian descent, which explains why so many Italian words and terminology have made their way into the American language.

You will find Italian enclaves in cities and neighborhoods across the U.S., including Little Italy’s in San Diego, Chicago, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, Boston and New Haven. The New England Historical Society said, “Roughly half the populations of East Haven, West Haven and North Haven are descended from Italian immigrants.” In these cities with large populations of Italian-Americans, every year one can find cultural celebrations going on in honor of this special month.

New Haven’s Wooster Square Park will host the traditional wreath-laying ceremony, where the local Italian-American organizations gather. Unfortunately, because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, North Haven will not host its annual parade this year.

Italian-American Bart Giamatti is the former president of Yale University, which is not surprising as Italian-Americans make up around 22 percent of New Haven’s population.

A majority of New Haven’s population originates from Naples–which explains the superiority of the local pizza at Zuppardi’s Apizza, Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana: Coal Fired Pizza and Sally’s Apizza.

With a great deal of tradition and culture, the University has ample opportunity to share the significance of this month with its students–but why don’t they?

Our students have the opportunity to experience first-hand Italian heritage by studying at the Tuscany Campus in Prato, Italy. During this month of celebration, the university should take advantage of its connections. Having guest speakers from the Prato campus, even remote or virtually, could allow growth of interest in study abroad along with giving the student body an opportunity to learn more about the significance of Italian culture.

Alpha Phi Delta (ΑΦΔ), an Italian heritage fraternity, is part of the interfraternity council at the university. Being the only Italian organization on campus, one of their honorary brothers is the iconic singer Frank Sinatra.

Amiel Perez-Wilson, criminal justice senior and member of ΑΦΔ said, “Italian American Heritage Month is important because like so, so many other cultures and backgrounds, Italian Americans brought with them unique cultural, lingual, and many other types of differences.”

Perez-Wilson said the university could do more to celebrate the month.

“Honestly, I think it could be highlighted a little bit better and not just Italian American heritage but all heritage,” Perez-Wilson said. “I think the school should do more for each heritage each month, they talk [a] big game but sometimes that effort and recognition fall flat and I think especially for those who it means the most to.

“I just think it is important to recognize and appreciate the diversity in our country and taking the time to appreciate the contributions everyone brings is vital to improving our global and cultural awareness and giving everyone their own month is a great way to do that.”

Anthony Graziano, homeland security and emergency management junior and head of philanthropy in ΑΦΔ, said that this month is a time to acknowledge the contributions made by those before him.

Juan Dominguez, general manager of dining services at the University of New Haven, met with dining staff and the school’s dietitian Samantha Zajac to create a menu for October highlighting Italian Heritage Month. The menu includes specialty pasta dishes, desserts, pizzas and sandwiches. “We are very dedicated to international students at the University of New Haven,” said Dominguez.