Opera and some Dean Martin music fill Vancouver council chamber for declaration of Italian Heritage Month

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      Normally when a proclamation is issued in the Vancouver council chamber, it's a fairly staid affair.

      But that wasn't the case on June 7 when Mayor Kennedy Stewart declared Italian Heritage Month in the city of Vancouver.

      That's because Italians have been doing things with style ever since Roman times.

      This was especially evident in the late 1400s and 1500s when the Medicis fostered the Italian Renaissance.

      They were helped, of course, by world-renowned artists Michelangelo, Raphael, and Boticelli, and all-around genius Leonardo da Vinci. 

      So on this occasion at Vancouver City Hall on Friday, there was heartfelt music, delicious food, some storytelling, and plenty of fashionably dressed people in attendance.

      After an introduction by Commercial Drive Business Society president Carmen D'Onofrio, Mayor Kennedy Stewart spoke about how Italy "blew his mind" during his two visits to the country.

      "Italian Heritage Month is an opportunity to honour the history, culture, and contributions of Italian Canadians to the city of Vancouver," Stewart said. "It involves a monthlong series of events presented by various partners, including the Italian Cultural Centre, the consulate of Italy, the Commercial Drive Business Society, and the Italian Day Festival Society.

      "It showcases food, performances, exhibitions, languages, cultural initiatives, community festivals, and other events," the mayor continued. "I mean, it's just one really big party, which is fantastic. The signature and largest event of Italian Heritage Month is Italian Day on the Drive, a vibrant cultural street festival which takes place on the second Sunday in June."

      Tomorrow (June 9), there will be more than 120 street participants offering food, services, and entertainment to more than 300,000 attendees who converge on Commercial Drive on Italian Day.

      Italian Canadian community leader Federico Fuoco, owner of Federico's Supper Club on Commercial Drive, spoke next, expressing his pride in the community's pioneers, including his father Gianni.

      "To those seniors and immigrants who have sacrificed for their children and for their families, I just want to say thank you so much," Fuoco said. "Thank you for all you've done for your families, for the city, [and for] the sacrifices that you made. God bless you."

      After Fuoco mentioned that Dean Martin was his all-time favourite singer, he and his father launched into a roaring rendition of Volare (Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu)

      The entire chamber, filled with about 100 invited guests, joined in, even when the Fuocos switched languages to serenade the audience in Italian.

      Mayor Kennedy Stewart was joined by Italian Canadian community leaders (left to right) Carmen D’Onofrio, Federico Fuoco, Michael Cuccione, Randy Rinaldo, Beppe De Lucio, and Brunella Gaudio. On the far right is Italian consul general Massimiliano Iacchini.
      Charlie Smith

      That wasn't the only offering of Italian culture.

      A little while later, two local opera stars, tenor Turgut Akmete and soprano Michelle Koebke, again evoked deep emotion with their performances of Italian classics.

      The storytelling came from the keynote speaker, Mario Miceli, who is writing a book on Italian Canadians who immigrated to Canada after the Second World War.

      He revealed that Ray Culos's first book on the history of Italian Canadians gave him a new understanding of his culture.

      "Italians create community wherever they go," Miceli said, noting that the theme for this year's Italian Day festival is communità.

      He quipped that when he grew up in South Vancouver, he thought that being Italian Canadian meant hiding your hockey stick when his father was preparing the garden.

      Or it was remembering smell of homemade tomato sauce because the truck carrying fresh tomatoes from Keremeos had arrived.

      Along similar lines, Miceli joked about the scent of homemade wine fermenting in the alley and the run on pork during prosciutto and sausage season.

      But then he adopted a more serious tone, pointing out that Italian heritage is so much more than that.

      "Being Italian is language, it's culture, it's heritage—but it's obligation," Miceli emphasized. "It's obligation to recognize the immigrants who came before us: the shoulders of their accomplishments that we now stand on.

      "Those are the ones that we must thank, celebrate, and honour," Miceli continued. "They paved the roadway for us, literally and figuratively."

      Among the dignitaries in attendance were the minister of agriculture for Italy's Emilia Romagna region, Simona Caelli, and Italy's consul general in Vancouver, Massimiliano Iacchini.

      To the great regret of many in the room, Iacchini announced that his posting in Vancouver will soon come to an end.