History of Festa Italiana Portland
A HISTORY OF FESTA ITALIANA IN PORTLAND, OREGON
The Italian community was very visible in Portland in the first half of the 1900s. The Church of St. Michael the Archangel was built by Italian immigrants and located in the heart of what was Portland's "Little Italy." Other areas where Italian-Americans predominated were The Ladd Addition and a large portion of SE Portland from the Willamette River east to Mt. Tabor. Large numbers of Italians attended St. Philip Neri and St. Stephens Catholic Churches. During World War II, Italian-Americans were disparaged and looked down upon. There were situations of evacuation and internment of Italian-Americans, especially on the West Coast. Therefore, after 1938 and up until 1991, the Italian-American culture in the city was scattered and unrecognized throughout the Portland Metropolitan area and there was a total lack of unity among Italian-Americans.
In 1991, several Italian-American organizations in the community recognized this situation and began seeking a means of unifying and returning their culture and sharing their traditions with the entire Portland community. The Festa Italiana Association was incorporated as a non-profit organization with a mission statement, constitution and by-laws. These were carefully designed to fulfill a primary objective: to promote Italian culture throughout the Greater Portland Community, to provide an opportunity for people, Italian-American and non Italian-American alike, to come together to celebrate the unique and profound contributions of Italy and her sons and daughters to the thought, art, and science of the Western World throughout the centuries. A focus of the association is to promote and coordinate a cultural celebration annually as a gift to the people of Portland so that they may share the beauty of the Italian culture.
The celebration is held in the later part of August beginning, like all Italian festivals, with a celebratory Mass.. The mass is celebrated in Italian on the Saturday night preceding the week of activities in Pioneer Courthouse Square. A reception with authentic Italian desserts follows in the church hall. The next day, Sunday, is the Invitational Bocce Tournament, located at Cedarville Park (home of Club Paesano) 3800 W Powell Loop in Gresham, Oregon. Bocce is played in the authentic Italian way with all its color and excitement. Admission is free with food and beverages available for purchase on the grounds. Bocce has been around since the Roman Empire and conjures visions of old Italian men whiling away the Mediterranean afternoons discussing politics and drinking red wine. Bocce is closely related to lawn bowling, but of course, much older and with different rules. The biggest difference is that bocce is played on a hard-surfaced walled-in court, while lawn bowling is played on grass with a relatively free-form "court." Other events may follow during the early part of "Festa" week, such as: "Festa night at the Flicks" featuring a well known and popular Italian film, a cooking demonstration in downtown Portland, or a "Celebration of Italian Heritage" to include lectures, Italian readings, piano and musical interludes and Italian art displays.
On Thursday, Pioneer Courthouse Square becomes "Piazza Italia" throughout the weekend and culminating on Saturday evening. A piazza is the focus of every Italian village, and such will be the case at Festa Italiana. "A Concert in the Piazza" comes alive on Thursday night with local opera musicians performing arias and ensembles from Italian operas. The food court and wine gardens are open 11:00 am-11:00 pm. Opening ceremonies are at Friday noon followed by a grape stomp competition and pizza toss. An array of Italian entertainment from the United States, Canada and sometimes Italy perform non-stop for the three day event. Providing Italian food at modest prices are several fine Portland Italian restaurants, along with a wine garden featuring Italian wines, beer and San Pellegrino Waters. Several participating Italian-American organizations, which make up the Festa Italiana Association, have merchandise booths featuring an assortment of Italian products. A raffle for valuable prizes, may include a trip to Italy, will take place on Saturday evening. Admissions to all Festa events are free.
Festa Italiana celebrates Italian culture and heritage of Italian-Americans in the Portland Metropolitan area. Local Italian-American organizations have united their efforts to produce this unique event with a special invitation to friends of Italy (wannabes) of the local community to share in this celebration. Nearly 300 volunteers, along with several generous sponsors, provide this "labor of love" and contribute to the success of this outstanding celebration.
The Festa Italiana week is generally held in the 3rd or 4th week of August. There are proposals of promoting individual events throughout the year leading up to the big celebration in August. Festa Italiana also is the Host of the Columbus Day dinner in October.
Some of the information above is subject to change. FOR A COMPLETE SCHEDULE OF EVENTS AND LOCATIONS SEE THE HOME PAGE