Transcripts: Italian Heritage Month [VIDEOS]

Melissa Marinaro:

Benvenuti. Welcome to the Heinz History Center’s Italian American Program’s digital offering of Italian Heritage Month. Normally we would come together in October and celebrate Italian Heritage Day at the History Center, but because of the pandemic, this year we are offering to you four videos of activity ideas that you can do at home to celebrate your own Italian Heritage and I’m here to walk you through some ideas for how you can do our first activity. Normally if you came to the History Center you would enter the Great Hall and learn a little bit about what we are doing for Italian Heritage Day, so I’m here to tell you a little bit about what we’re going to do. So instead of coming together in the building like we normally do, we are going to take a virtual trip to the sixth floor Detre Library & Archives so join me while we go to six. Our first activity is going to be to visit the Detre Library & Archives and build our family tree. Many of you come and visit us in person and you know that the History Center has a lot of resources to help you with your family history research. These resources are still accessible, and we are working with researchers through digital means to get them materials as well as doing visits by appointment. So, if you are interested in visiting us to do some research, you have many options available and you can reach out to find out what best suits you

If you come to Italian Heritage Day in the past you, probably met with one of our genealogists from the area who helped you find out some information about your family history and this is something we certainly still can do remotely because we have many people reaching out wanting to know how can they continue their research and do it in a safe way. Luckily there’s a lot of different digital materials out there through sites like and family search that do have some free functions, which will allow you to take your research a little farther. I would also suggest materials like Historic Pittsburgh and the History Centers’ catalog to see what kind of materials are available as well as what materials are digitized. Remember that we are working to try to make these options safe and easy for patrons so please consider reaching out to the History Center to see what can we do to aid you during your researching.

We have a lot of oral histories and I find that oral histories are really instrumental in helping people understand not just the context around the lives lived by their ancestors but what else was going on around them in the region. Oral histories are digitized. They are easy things for us to share through our transcripts, but they’re also easy things for you to do at home. If you are interested in starting to record some of your family history and this is what I’m going to talk to you about next and this is getting a little bit into our activity suggestions for what you can do at home.

Many of you are probably quite advanced in your family genealogy but some of you might just be starting out and want to know where do I begin. What’s essential is that you record the vital details about your family history so those would be things like names, dates, places of birth, marriages, and death dates. These vital records are important because they’re gonna allow you to continue that search because these will become the facts in which you’re going to try to fact check to see if you can find your relatives in the vital records in the region. Now many of you probably already have this and maybe you already have an elaborate family tree that traces not just your direct descendants but probably other branches of the family. If you are more advanced and you’re looking at something to do with your family tree once it’s completed, recording your family stories is a great next step and many people often decide to take their family research and generate it into a memoir or a work of autobiographical fiction and we often have people visit the History Center looking for materials to help them in those pursuits. So here’s something to think about if you’re trying to record your family stories. You can use audio and you can use video, but zoom is a really great option. This is what we’re using today and it has the ability to record the conversation. Now it’s really important if you’re going to record someone telling their stories that you get consent from them to use those stories later. You don’t need to have any paperwork like we do at the History Center but if you ask your relative, ‘do I have your consent to record and share your story,’ and they say yes, even in a recorded version, that works as permission. so that is something that I encourage you to do if you want to move on to this next step. If you purchased a take-home kit from the Heinz History Center, you received two 11×17 sheets, one of which has this family tree. You also received another sheet where you will need scissors to cut out some of the labels and you’ll notice the labels are in Italian, so here’s a cheat sheet for you of Italian words and their English counterparts so you can identify those family members using Italian language. You will need tape or glue in order to put those sheets of paper onto your family tree and my suggestion is start with Io – me – and put yourself at the base of the trunk and then grow your tree from there. Even if you don’t have this guide, you can use anything at home that you have. You can get quite creative. If you have young kids at home and you want to make this a fun activity this is something that you could do for hours because my hope is that once you start to build your family tree you start to have conversations with your family members and you learn a little bit more about your family history because there’s always something that we can learn from our elders and our families.

I thank you so much for tuning in today to learn about how we can still engage in our Italian Heritage during these times of the pandemic and I am happy that we are able to find digital means to share with you some of the great activities we do at the History Center and I hope that in 2021 I get to see you each in person. Thank you so much for joining us and stay tuned for our next video where we will learn how to make a musical instrument.

Melissa Marinaro:

Benvenuti. Welcome to the Heinz History Center’s Italian American Program’s Italian Heritage Month. This year because of the pandemic we are offering four virtual videos to help you do activities at home similar to what we do at Italian Heritage Day at the History Center.

This is the second video in our installment of four videos and today we’re going to talk a little bit about musical instruments. Now for many of you who’ve come to our Italian Heritage Day in the past you’ve probably seen some performances in our fifth floor Mueller Center. Ee host many different groups from the region to perform music that reminds us of some of the traditional music that came from Italy to the United States. We’re looking at a picture right now of the San Rocco blob band from Aliquippa, who comes and plays traditional marches and marzukas that are native to Italy as well as original pieces written by those Italian Americans that settled in Aliquippa. Many of you are probably quite familiar with I Campagnoli, the folk singing and dance troupe that was sponsored by the Italian Sons and Daughters of America and performed around our region for over 50 years. Members of the group often come together and perform at the History Center’s Italian Heritage Day and we’re fortunate enough that later in the video series we’re going to learn a folk song together. But today we need to get prepared for that and we need to make our musical instrument. So, today’s activity is our arts and crafts activity and we are going to make a tambourine, which we’ll be able to use down the road when we learn our folk song.

Now when we think of traditional Italian music here in the United States we think of that music that came with our ancestors when they immigrated at the end of the 19th century and into the beginning of the 20th century. We think about instruments like accordions, mandolins, and tambourines, which would have been common in the music that came in this area and in fact some of the songs that are popular here in the United States that came from Italy aren’t popular in Italy anymore because in a sense we kind of have a time capsule of music here in the United States, which is quite interesting when you start to look at the variety of folk songs that became popular here.

And as you know with Italian folk music, dancing is also common and because we have to keep the beat when we dance, it’s important sometimes that we have percussive instruments that help our dancers to keep time, which is part of why we’re going to make a tambourine today. Now tambourines are something that are fairly simple to do. I think some of you might even have the supplies you already need at home to do so, but I’m going to walk you through a few ideas and tell you how you can make your own tambourine as well as embellish it.

Now I’ve pointed out a tambourine that I Campagnoli is using in their performance because we have one that’s quite similar in the Italian American Collection and that’s what we’re going to use as our inspiration today for our arts and crafts tambourine. Our tambourine was donated by Anna Maria Fiori and you can see that she has painted the front of her tambourine with La Trinacria. This is a symbol for the island of Sicily and if you’re part sichuliani like me maybe you want to put la tranacria on your tambourine, but maybe you’re from a different region of Italy and you’d like to look at those symbols or banners for an idea of what to do. Maybe you don’t want to stick with a region in Italy and instead you want to celebrate a sports team. You could do something related to the Penguins, the Steelers, or the Pirates on your tambourine. You can go rogue and do whatever you would like but I wanted to show you this as an idea of what more you can do to embellish your tambourine because here we can see that Anna Marie Fiore not only painted but added some ribbons to give a little bit of flair to her tambourine. So, let’s talk about how you can do the same at home. I’m going to show you two examples from past Italian Heritage Days that were made at our arts and crafts table and here you can see we’ve just used two paper plates. Notice how it is put together. We have taken yarn – you can use ribbon – we have taken colored pencils but we’ve also applied some applique using construction paper and glue and if you’re like me and you’re a crafter maybe you have more things at home like stickers or pipe cleaners, tape, glue, maybe you like to collage and you would like to cut from a magazine and paste those pictures on your tambourine. The sky is really the limit and I’m always excited at our events to see how creative some of our visitors are when they make their pieces. Now if you got the Italian Heritage Day take-home kit you already have two paper plates, some ribbon, as well as some bells that might be something you don’t have at home but don’t worry because we can still make music by tapping on our tambourine.

After you make your tambourine please consider sending me a picture of it or posting on our social media with #ItalianHeritageMonth. We would love to see what you make and we hope that this gives you an idea for an activity that you can do at home with your family. Make sure to hang on to those tambourines because we’re going to use them in a couple weeks when we learn our folk song. Thank you so much for tuning in and I’m glad that we’re able to do activities together remotely so that we can preserve Italian heritage and culture. Thank you so much.

Melissa Marinaro: Benvenuti! Welcome to the History Center’s third video in our digital Italian Heritage Month series. For those of you who have attended Italian Heritage Day in the past, you’ve probably visited the Weisbrod Kitchen Classroom on our third floor where we’ve had cooking demonstrations for you to learn a little bit about Italian American food culture and recipes that you can try at home. Because of the pandemic, we are going to talk a little bit about Italian coffee culture and I’m going to invite our special guest, Sam Patti, to talk to us about La Prima Espresso and the ways that it maintains Italian coffee culture here in the United States.

Many of you probably have family recipes that you make at home, and those recipes may have been modified because of changes that were made once your ancestors came to the United States. When Italian immigrants first came to the United States, their cuisine was foreign and their ingredients were not easy to find. Because of that, we saw food waste industries develop in our region to service the Italian American community, and once mainstream Americans tasted our food and realized how great it was, we saw that Italian cuisine became very popular in the United States and turned into what we understand it to be today Italian American cuisine.

Now as a part of Italian cuisine, they have their own coffee culture much like many different countries in the world have their own coffee culture and the coffee culture that came from Italy is central to the idea of espresso. Espresso means ‘on the spur of the moment’ in Italian and it was an invention that was created in the late 19th century in the industrial areas of Milan and Turin. We’re looking at a Gagia espresso machine, which was made in the 1950s and purchased and used at Poli’s restaurant once located in Squirrel Hill. For many of you who grew up in Pittsburgh, you probably have memories of dining at Poli’s restaurant and maybe even enjoyed a cappuccino made by this machine. Espresso is something that has become very common in the United States and what’s very interesting about our region is we have some businesses that continue these Italian traditions and offer them for American audiences. So let’s have Sam Patti from La Prima Espresso explain to us a little bit about the coffee that he makes and how it’s connected to Italy.

Melissa Marinaro: Welcome everyone. Today we have with us Sam Patti who is the owner of La Prima Espresso company here in Pittsburgh and he’s going to talk to us a little bit about Italian coffee culture and how it came here to America. So Sam, to start for the people that don’t know you, could you give us a little bit of background about how you started La Prima.

Sam Patti: Well sure. I was teaching out of state, came back to Pittsburgh, needed a job. I’m going to tell you the truth, I was supposed to get this little job at Duquesne university and I called over there to see what was going on with this job and they said, ‘oh, we couldn’t find you, we hired somebody else.’ So I thought maybe it’s time to step away from education and figure out what I’m going to do. I had been introduced to coffee at home. My family always drank a lot of coffee. I knew a little bit about Italian coffee, or a cafe latte from my grandmother, and so I thought, well from my travels in Italy and all the bars, I thought man, I think Americans would really like this cappuccino stuff. I knew that it was going on on the west coast, so I decided that I would do that. I grew up in a bar room. I understood the dynamics of a bar, and actually my first idea was to sell espresso machines, which we still do and we have a couple of different bars and I just jumped in. I thought the Strip District was the perfect place to put the bar because I wanted to sell both hotel and retail and that’s at that time where the restaurant orders would come to buy their product. So there was fish there, was Pennsylvania Macaroni Co., there were restaurant equipment places, so I thought okay I’m just going to do this and it’s one of those entrepreneurial stories: You need a job, you have an idea, and you say I think I’ll just take a swim with this and I did.

Melissa Marinaro: Tell us a little bit about what makes the process you do with your beans, similar to what we may see in Italy.

Sam Patti: Well, as I said I grew up in in a bar room so I understand the dynamics of a bar so that idea of building community was very natural for me. That’s what you see in the Italian espresso bars. We want our coffee to at least reflect the style of the type of espresso and cappuccino that you would find in Italy. There’s been a lot going on over the last 30 years about coffee. The first wave of coffee – you’ll hear these expressions – the second wave, the third wave – we’ve tried to maintain our roots as an Italian style espresso bar. Again that would be the type of single espresso. The type of, let’s say six ounce cappuccino, that we serve. So we tried to stay true to that. The place reflects my interest in Italian American studies, you know my Italian Heritage – I did a paper one time talking about restaurants and other small businesses as museums and reflections of Italian American culture in the United States and I think that if you want to know about Italian American culture there are pizzerias restaurants all different kinds of businesses that certainly reflect that and we do do the same thing. I think that’s incredible that when you look at the fabric of our region and you look at these small businesses, you can learn so much about the history of the community by talking to the business owners and hearing the story of how they got into the business.

Melissa Marinaro: Could you tell us where you grew up and where your family comes from in Italy?

Sam Patti: Yeah sure. I grew up in Indiana, Pennsylvania. I’ve lived in Pittsburgh for over 40 years but you know my sister still lives there. She has an Italian restaurant, her and her and her son. So my family comes from Calabria and Sicily.

Melissa Marinaro: For those of at home who got the take-home kit, they got a sample of La Prima Coffee and I was wondering, to wrap up, could you give us any tips for how to brew a good cup of coffee at home.

Sam Patti: Well especially for regular coffee, I think there are two issues that are really important and one is to use enough coffee. Over the years, for restaurants, for instance for an individual restaurant, the pack coffee used to be about three ounces. It’s weaned its way down to two and a half ounces, two ounces less than an ounce. So you need enough coffee and the easiest way to remember that would be for every four ounces of coffee or – I’m sorry for every four ounce of water – one tablespoon of ground coffee. Four ounces of water, one tablespoon of ground coffee. And of course you can adjust. That’s a good baseline. The other issue is to make sure that the water is hot enough. You know we I don’t think anybody usually cooks a roast beef in the oven for two hours unless they’re making something like barbecue. So you have to have hot water, so you need water that’s just off the boil. If you have, let’s say a Pyrex pitcher, you fill up your pitcher with water, boil it, by the time you take it – let’s say out of the microwave and the bubbles go away – you’re at the right temperature. So the right amount of coffee, the water that’s hot enough = that would be that. Now that’s for standard American coffee.

Melissa Marinaro: Well that’s great because those are exactly the tips we’re looking for because I think some people are going to be coffee aficionados and other people are just going to be learning about some of these connections. So thank you for spending a little bit of time with us today and I hope everyone gets a chance to sample La Prima when they come to Pittsburgh. It’s an excellent brew and Sam thank you for everything you do to support the Italian American program.

Sam Patti: Thank you for inviting me.

Melissa Marinaro: We’ll see you again. Thank you you so much for joining us in this third installment of Italian Heritage Month and next week we will meet with Mary Faro and we are going to learn an Italian folk song.

Melissa Marinaro: Benvenuti! Welcome to the fourth and final video in our digital series Italian Heritage Month. Today we are going to learn a folk song with our special guest, Mary Ferro. Before Mary joins us, I want to give you a little bit of background about what inspires today’s activity. Many of you may be aware that the Italian Sons and Daughters of America once sponsored a folk singing and dance troupe called I Campagnoli.

I Campagnoli formed in the mid-1960s during the height of the revival of folk music in America. It was the mission of this organization to learn folk songs and dances from all 20 regions of Italy representing what I would consider pan Italian culture, which is a little different than the migrants that came at the 20th century that were very focused on those regions and provinces they came from in Italy. I Campagnoli made it their mission to share the folk traditions of all parts of Italy. You may remember a few weeks ago that we made a tambourine that was inspired by an artifact in the collection – a tambourine that belonged to one of the former members of I Campagnoli, but did you know we also received a donation of sheet music related to the group that has hundreds of songs, many in dialect, from different parts of Italy?

Today we’re going to be joined by Mary Ferro and here you can see by the arrow where Mary is in this group portrait of I Campagnoli. She became a member of I Campagnoli as a child because her mother and father, Mary and Vincent Ferro, were members of the troupe. So she grew up learning these songs and dances and we’re very fortunate that today she’s going to teach us one song that is a part of the sheet music collection, which she graciously donated to the History Center a few years ago. Mary’s going to join us and tell us a little bit about where the song comes from and teach us the chorus.

Now I’m going to welcome our special guest, Mary Ferro, who is here to teach us an Italian folk song, Mary, could you tell us a little bit about the song we’re going to learn today?

Mary Ferro: Absolutely Melissa. Grazie mille for having me here. The song is called O Come Bali Bene. It is a Venetian song from the place of Venice of course and it’s a villanella. A villanella was a 16th century song in an intentionally unsophisticated style. It’s a light Italian secular vocal music originated in Naples. It influenced later the canconeta, which is another type of song. Then the madrigal it influenced. It was the beginning of all this. It initiated all of this influence with the canconeta then the madrigal and although it originated in Naple, the villanella – O Come Bali Bene like I said before – is from Venice, Venezia and it’s a very lighthearted hearted song. The middle of the song the chorus is extremely intricate with a lot of B consonants. So I think we’re going to work on learning the chorus and it is about – O Come Bali Bene means ‘oh, how beautiful this person dances.’ It translates to that.

Melissa Marinaro: Sounds great. So, I’ll be your student and if you’re at home you can follow along with me while Mary teaches us the song.

Mary Ferro: Okay, what we’re going to do first of all is we’re going to pronounce the words. This song is in three-four time, which means three beats to a measure and a quarter note gets one beat usually and this is a waltz – one, two, three, one, two, three – you guys know what that is. Okay, so I’m going to pronounce the words first and if you would repeat after me, please. This is the chorus. Now the chorus always comes after each verse so – O Come Bali Bene Bella Bimba.

Let’s try it one more time: O Come Bali Bene Bella Bimba

Then we repeat: Bella Bimba Bella Bimba

All together: O Come Bali Bene Bella Bimba Bella Bimba Bella Bimba Bali Bene

Let’s take the whole chorus one more time: O Come Bali Bene Bella Bimba Bella Bimba Bella Bimba Bali Bene

Now let’s add a little melody to it. How’s that? I have my piano right here.

O Come Bali Bene Bella Bimba Bella Bimba Bella Bimba Bali Bene

There you go. Now, let’s repeat it: O Come Bali Bene Bella Bimba Bella Bimba Bella Bimba Bali Bene

Melissa Marinaro: I think that I’m a work in progress, but I hope that I’m encouraging everybody to try singing the song because you’re right it is a mouth workout.

Mary Ferro:  It is a mouth workout and the words are very simple but yet as we said before. it’s almost like a tongue twister.

Melissa Marinaro: Thank you so much for joining us. I hope you enjoyed our Italian Heritage Month digital offerings. Please let us know if you have any feedback about what additional digital activities you’d like to see come from the Italian American program. Grazie mille.

Thank you to our Italian Heritage Month sponsors

UPMC Health Plan