Festa Italiana is here!
The Milwaukee food, music and fireworks tradition where "everyone is Italian" kicked off Friday July 18. I had the opportunity to dive deeper into what Festa means for Italian-American culture when I asked Joseph Emanuele, president of The Order Sons of Italy in America: Filippo Mazzei Greater Milwaukee Lodge #2763, to discuss his organization and his favorite Festa moments.
Lindsay Garric: Please tell me about The Order Sons of Italy in America. What role does OSIA play in Festa Italiana?
Joseph Emanuele: The Order Sons of Italy in America (OSIA) is the oldest and largest Italian-American Fraternal Organization in the Country. It was founded in 1905 as a mutual aid group for immigrants. Today it consists of thousands of members throughout the nation and includes men, women and children, as we are a family-oriented organization.
OSIA's charitable causes are supported through volunteer endeavors. All benefits are given without regard to ethnic or racial group status. OSIA donates to foundations for the cure and prevention of Alzheimer's disease, Autism and Cooley's anemia.
The OSIA: Filippo Mazzei Greater Milwaukee Lodge #2763 was chartered in November of 2000, and became Milwaukee’s first lodge under the national organization. In 2008 Filippo Mazzei merged with the Grand Lodge of Illinois and became the Grand Lodge of Illinois / Wisconsin.
OSIA takes part in Festa Italiana as do many other local societies, volunteering its time to help the Italian Community Center with its festival activities. This year as in years past, OSIA members will be volunteering their time working a booth at Festa for the Italian Community Center.
LG: What do Festa Italiana and OSIA represent and mean to you as an Italian-American living in Milwaukee?
JE: OSIA represents and supports the preservation of the Italian heritage and culture, as does the Italian Community Center. Many Italians migrated to Milwaukee in the early 1900's, and a great deal of them did not speak English, yet were hard working, family oriented people who learned the language and educated their children to grow up to be proud Americans. Our heritage, as wells as the structure and history of our culture runs very deep and is very precious.
Speaking from the heart, it is about capturing and nurturing the ways of our fathers and more-so it is very important that we pass those traditions along to our children. Our heritage cannot be lost; it can be however, intertwined with today’s youth. I do not believe in letting the history of our great families and our customs fade away. My grandparents raised 12 children in Milwaukee and were very proud of their accomplishments. They displayed five stars in their front window representing their five sons who served in the U.S. military during WWII.
LG: When were you elected president of the organization? What does that entail? Why did you want a leadership role?
JE: I was sworn in as president on Feb. 20, 2013. I preside over and direct all regular and special meetings and events of the lodge and of the council. I also direct the officers of the council to the fulfillment of their duties. One of my goals as president was to rebuild the membership and to introduce new technology to the organization. I felt that a change of direction was needed in order to secure the lodge's future and as a leader of the organization I could implement change and bring excitement back to the members.
Many fraternal organizations across the country are declining in membership due to the lack of interest with today’s generation. The Filippo Mazzei lodge was no different. In order to get our youth interested we need to observe and make appropriate changes that will draw their attention. This will always be a work in progress.
As of today, we are working on rebuilding. We have signed up new members and are gathering fresh ideas. We have created a website, a Facebook page and we do more communicating through e-mail than ever before. We are tapping into social media so that we can become more visible to the younger generation. We also have made joining and renewing yearly memberships easier and more convenient for everyone. I am always seeking input from our youth and encourage them to become members so we can continue to preserve our heritage. We need our youth to support the future of our Italian culture.
LG: What do you personally look most forward to at Festa each year?
JE: For me personally, I enjoy sampling the food, walking the grounds and watching people having a good time. Festa Italiana also brings families together. It is about tradition and represents what was celebrated back in the early years when our parents and grandparents were here. I reunite with family and friends every year. We sit and reminisce for hours right up to the spectacular fireworks show. There is nothing like them.
LG: On July 20, 2014 at 11am, OSIA will participate in the Festa Italiana Sunday mass. What makes it special? What meaning does it hold for your organization?
JE: The Mass is the culmination of the entire Festa experience held in the Marcus Amphitheater. The Mass fields 5- 7,000 attendees with multiple societies and "vara"(vehicles for carrying sacred images). At the conclusion of the mass, there is a procession throughout the 74-acre grounds ending with the benediction of all the societies. Thereafter, everyone is free to have fellowship with family and friends including good food, entertainment and fun. OSIA participates in the procession and proudly marches through the grounds with many if its members wearing their purple colors. This year OSIA is proud to announce that marching with them will be the Milwaukee Police Band and the United States Navy Honor Guard.
LG: Obviously Festa is a time of year for your organization to shine, but what happens the other 51 weekends of the year? What does your organization do to make Milwaukee a better place?
JE: Festa Italiana is a local event that the Order Sons of Italy in America participates in. Throughout the year OSIA hosts many other events and fundraisers. One in which we award two scholarships to students entering into college. We send out applications to high schools in the six surrounding counties of Milwaukee. Once they are returned, we have a team of professors from UWM who review the applications, score them and select the two highest scoring students to be awarded the scholarships.
We are a nonprofit organization, so to raise funds we all have to take part in volunteering our time to make contributions to the community successful. Also, The Filippo Mazzei Greater Milwaukee Lodge assists the Grand Lodge of Illinois with fundraisers such as candy sales for Autism and a coin drop drive for Alzheimer's disease. I believe embracing the youth by getting them involved in constructive activities helps bring us one step closer to a better and safer Milwaukee.
Filippo Mazzei Greater Milwaukee Lodge general membership meetings are held every other month on the third Wednesday of that month. (Aug. 20, Oct. 15 and Dec. 17). Spuntino (refreshments) is at 6 p.m. and the meeting starts promptly at 6:30 p.m. at the Italian Community Center located at 631 E. Chicago St. New members are encouraged and always welcome to attend.
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