For a small Mediterranean country, Italy’s impact on the United States of America and western Nevada County continues to be felt generations after immigrants crossed the Atlantic Ocean in search of adventure and prosperity.
The third annual Nevada County Italian Festival will celebrate that impact Saturday and Sunday with a two-day event intended to honor the legacy of Italian immigrants and their descendants.
“The country of Italy is one of the most sought-after countries by tourists,” said Stephen DeSena, organizer of the festival.
“People love the beauty, the history, the people, the music, the art and sculpture. Italy has everything but a stable government.”
Instead of spending thousands of dollars to witness the “cornucopia of art, culture, cuisine and music,” county residents can get a sample of the country at Western Gateway Park in Penn Valley this weekend.
The two-day event will feature Italian arts and crafts, authentic food from nine different regions in Italy, Italian wines, music — including a Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin impersonator — a cultural heritage center, bocce and children’s activities.
“Ten percent of the population of Nevada County has Italian heritage,” DeSena said.
Many of those residents are derived from 18 original Italian families that settled in the region during the Gold Rush of the mid-19th century.
“Much is made of the ‘Cousin Jacks,’ and you never hear about the ‘Cousin Guiseppes,’ but they came from the lead mines and the salt mines of Italy,” DeSena said. “They were hard-rock miners.”
When mining started to wane in the early 19th century, those same immigrants began to establish farms and ranches in the area.
“They made a great contribution to Nevada County,” DeSena said. “This festival is designed to excite the Italian people that live here, but we also want to share our food, our wine and our history with the rest of Nevada County.”
DeSena expects attendance to be robust, as the event has grown every year since its incarnation three years ago.
Last year, paid attendance totaled about 5,000 people, but DeSena expects in the area of 7,000 people to attend over the weekend.
One of the major attractions are the state-of-the-art bocce courts, which are built to state and national standards for the recreational activity, DeSena said.
The festival will feature a tournament, so those who believe in their bocce prowess are encouraged to attend and display their mettle.
Visit www.nevadacountyitalianfestival.com for information.