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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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1999 Italian Heritage Festival Program Cover
1999 Program Cover

West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival

This annual festival, which was founded to celebrate the cultural heritage of Italian-Americans in West Virginia, drew 100,000 visitors over three days in 1999. Since 1979, the event has been traditionally held on historic Main Street, Clarksburg, over Labor Day weekend. During opening ceremonies, the royal court of Regina Maria is crowned. In 1999, this included one queen, two maids of honor, 25 princesses, and a minor court of children between ages six and eight. Other festivities involve a bocce tournament, authentic Italian dancers, a wine garden, Italian religious observances, strolling minstrels, a morra contest, Italian food, crafts, concerts, and a parade.

In the early 1900s, thousands of Italian immigrants came to America, searching for a better life. The average immigrant arrived in New York City with $17. The largest influx of Italian immigrants arrived when coal mining companies were recruiting thousands of men to work the deep mines of West Virginia; Italian immigrants also found work on railroads and farms. Usually the men came first, then sent for their wives and children after they had saved enough money.

By the second half of the century, Italian-Americans excelled in every career field, including law, medicine, teaching, and the arts. Religion and family have continued to be an important part of their heritage. In the new millennium, more Italian-Americans are rediscovering their roots, returning to Italy to seek out a relative, baptismal records, or any other family reference. Because Italian-Americans, in their zest to secure lives in America, saved little information regarding their ancestors' history, the West Virginia Heritage Festival was founded to preserve and present their cultural traditions for each new generation.

Documentation comprises a five-page legacy report, a video from the 1999 festival of a children's concert; a brochure, festival commemorative souvenir books from 1980-1981, 1984, 1986-1988, 1991, 1994, 1996-1999; and a 1988 leather-bound book documenting West Virginia Italian-Americas.

Originally submitted by: Allan B. Mollohan, Representative (1st District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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