Alessandria, Italy -- Even if Italian-Americans aren't rare in Milwaukee, ones with roots in the Piemonte region of northwest Italy are fairly hard to come by. Other than some who arrived here via other cities -- like me -- there is only a group of the descendants of emigrants from the Canavese area near Turin that arrived a century ago to work in the Bay View rolling mill and a few modern migrants living here for work reasons.
So, when people outside of Brew City see that I've got a Web site about the region and do a lot of work to promote the Piemontese culture, they are perhaps rightfully surprised. Because, here, I'm part of a very small club.
Over the weekend, at the Third International Conference of the Piemontesi in the World, held in Alessandria, Italy, I met like-minded people from pretty much everywhere. There were Piemontesi from South Africa, China, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, England, France, Russia and seemingly everywhere in between; 19 countries in all. Besides me, representing the U.S. were folks from New York, San Francisco and San Diego.
This tower of Babel was united in most cases by the Italian language -- which was the language of the conference -- but in almost every case by the Piemontese language, in all its glorious dialects, from the "official" Turin-based tongue, to the dialects from provinces like Alessandria, Asti and Novara.
At the closing dinner on Saturday, I brought along three friends from the group Ariondassa, which has played twice in Milwaukee -- at Festa Italiana 2005 and 2006 -- and the event was transformed from a nice dinner to a rousing sing-along and dance in the style of the region's traditional "piola" or taverns, where music always was served alongside a bottle of Barbera.
For two short days we were all home together, in the land of our ancestors and our contemporary cousins, and we showed the Piemontesi in Piemonte that although we've moved away, we haven't forgotten our history.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.