Cleveland and Ohio have a great history of Italian emigration, perhaps not celebrated as much as it should be, as is often the case with Italian American communities that do not reside on one coast or the other.
In Cleveland there is a beautiful Little Italy, still vibrant and buzzing, and our today's guest has her office right there. Angela Spitalieri Ianiro is dedicated to representing and celebrating her Italian roots and the beautiful community that like her has Italian DNA. She does this with an interesting foundation and a beautiful newspaper. It is a pleasure to talk with her.
Hi Angela, welcome to We the Italians. I would start by asking about your Italian roots. What region is your family from and when did they come to the United States?
I’m part from Sicily and part from Puglia. My dad’s mother is from Palermo and his father is from Cesaro – very small in between Messina and Taormina - and they were both born here in the United States. My mum is from Puglia, from Foggia and Bari, and actually we’re going back to Bari this summer to do some history check. My mum’s dad was born here in the United States but then went back to Italy, they didn’t like the States so they went back, and then they came back a few years older.
Please tell me something about the Italian American community in Cleveland and Ohio… there are many Italian American people, right?
Yes, it’s very strong here, in the Cleveland area Italian is one of the top five ethnicities. We have 4 different Italian parishes here, there is Mount Carmel on the west side, Saint Rocco on the west side, Holy Rosary in Little Italy and then Holy Redeemer in the Collinwood Area, and they’re all very strong parishes. My office is in Little Italy where Holy Rosary is and is still a very strong and vibrant community with lots of people that came here from the old country and settled. We still have our traditional masses and we have the feast of the Assumption, which is very popular in the street of Little Italy.
Yes, please let’s talk about that. When I visited Cleveland I saw a wonderful very sparkling Little Italy, I liked it very much.
Little Italy has changed a little bit, but they still thrive for the Italian richness that we have, like the restaurants and the chefs. We also have an Italian American museum that recently opened. The Italians who live here take great pride in the neighborhood and in being Italian. This is why I wanted to have the Foundation and the newspaper stay down in Little Italy, because I believe in those rich traditions and I think that it was necessary. We could’ve gone downtown Cleveland or anywhere else, but I believe in supporting the community that we’re in, which is Little Italy.
I seem to remember that there is also a Montessori School, am I right?
Yes, there’s a Montessori school in the neighborhood that is very rich in tradition and makes us very proud.
Please tell me about NOIA (Northern Ohio Italian American) Foundation, where you are Executive Director: its history and activities
NOIA has been around for almost 30 years and we’re lucky to have the opportunity to be in Little Italy and to be a part of the community, whether that’s through the church or through the community itself: we have a program that we take great ownership for supporting Little Italy.
NOIA started in 1995 by a few businessmen that came under the direction of Bishop Antony M. Pilla - who has since passed away. They got together and Bishop Pilla asked them to raise some money for the sacristy of Saint John which is the catholic church downtown. They did so and they were very successful. When the organization first started they didn’t have a director, they didn’t have bylaws, they didn’t have checks and balances, they just really wanted to get together to celebrate their heritage and do good for their community, and they did that. They held up the four parishes, they helped up Saint John’s, they helped at the John Carroll University with the Bishop Pilla program.
When I came on board, almost 18 years ago, with the help of Vince Campanella I took it to the next level. We redefined our mission, made sure that we stayed true to who we were but making sure that we had a purpose and that we had regulations and committees and check and balances, and that we hit all specters of our membership and not just one specific group.
So I’m happy to say that today we’re thriving. We have over 230 members, we have a very healthy endowment that support different causes through our legacy program and our mission is to preserve the Italian heritage and to perpetuate the Italian culture and the history that we’re so proud to be a part of. We are doing wonderful things with volunteer opportunities, we recently just brought Rossella Rago and her “Cooking With Nonna” and she talked about her cook book and the traditions with her nonna, it was a great a opportunity. I think that with our foundation we do wonderful vibrant things and there are so many wonderful people that have made it a success.
Do you have an Italian Honorary Consul in Cleveland?
Yes we do, we have a new Honorary Consul, Esq. Ezio Listati, he’s an attorney downtown. I’ve known him for a long time, we are lucky to have him, he’s helping with the Visas, and communicating with the people in Detroit, so it’s really nice, he’s great!
You are also the publisher of La Gazzetta Italiana, the monthly Italian American newspaper dedicated to Ohio's Italian American community. Please tell us more about this wonderful publication
La Gazzetta Italian was a project that my dad started back in 1999 with Paul Sciria, who recently passed. It was a way for my dad to give back to the Italian community. Paul was no businessman, but everybody loved him and he was very happy to be the voice of the Italian community with la Gazzetta Italiana. When Paul passed I stepped in and took over the day-to day operations, and now we have an online version, wonderful writers that contribute and advertisers and marketing. It has really come full circle and we’re so proud of the work that we do every day to bring the news to our readers from NY to California, to Arizona, to Florida, they are everywhere.
Is there an annually Festival through Cleveland’s Little Italy, a moment of celebration of what’s Italian in your city and in the Buckeye State?
Yes, we have a four-day festival, it starts depending on when the Feast of the Assumption hits, when the feast starts. So it could start two or three days before, but it always starts around the day of the Feast of the Assumption and there is mass before the Holy Rosary Church and there is a procession through the neighborhoods and the different clubs come through the parade and wear the typical outfits from Calabria or Puglia or Sicily.
Each club dressed depending on what their traditions are, and they walk through the streets down Mayfield Road, through the Murray Hill area. They have Italian music, Italian food, it’s a great opportunity for people to come see the neighborhood and support Holy Rosary Church: it’s a big undertaking but also a big fundraiser for the church, and father Joseph Previte is grateful and very thankful for everybody’s commitment to the festival.
Last but not least, a question I do to almost every Italian American friend I have the honor to interview: what do you think about the attacks against Christopher Columbus? Did Cleveland experience problems with any statue or with Columbus Day?
Cleveland is very lucky because we do have our Columbus Day parade and our past mayor Frank Jackson was very adamant about keeping it and doing everything that he could to make sure that it still went off, so we’re very lucky that we still have our Columbus Day parade.
I think that with everything that is going on in the world, people have lost sight of what Columbus Day is to Italian Americans: for me it’s about being proud of who I am and where I come from. I think it is a day for us to celebrate and be proud of us and all of our accomplishments, and that’s the way I look at it. My grandparents struggled when they came here so for me all the wonderful things that they have been able to do because of who they are and because of the Italian community are the meaning of Columbus Day. It’s very important for me to celebrate who I am and to show my nephews and nieces who we are and to really be proud of the Italian community. It’s a shame that it’s turned into something that’s a negative, because there’s so much negativity in the world and it’s unfortunate that someone had to turn a day that we are proud of who we are into a negative.
I don’t like to get into politics and negativity, so for me it’s a day to be proud and I’ve always been very proud of it. I eat, sleep and breathe Italian, my husband’s Italian, my mother in law and father in law were from Italy and I couldn’t be more proud. So Columbus Day for me is a day to proud and if it’s still around I’m going to celebrate it and with the people that I have in my circle we will celebrate it and everything else doesn’t matter to me.
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