The Italian Center of Utah will hold an open house today to celebrate the anniversary of Italy's national election, June 2, 1946, when Italy became a republic.

"It gives us a chance for a celebration for the declaration, to have a drink and cheer about the proclamation of the Republic of Italy," said Giovanni G. Maschero, Utah's vice consul of Italy.

Utah is home to as many as 20,000 Italian-Americans, of whom Maschero said only a few hold Italian passports. "The majority are third-, fourth- and fifth-generation Italians, with strong roots to an Italian past," Maschero said.

Since the center's May 14 opening, an increased awareness of the facility has attracted more Italians who are living in Utah.

"It is one place where they can come — near Caputo's, the bakery, the fish market — where everything is available and this is a place they can meet," Maschero said. "It provides them a possibility to know and talk about Italy."

Before 1871, Italy was made up of many small countries. A man named Giuseppe Garibaldi helped to unite the country under a king. The Italian republic came into being when citizens in a national referendum decided to switch from the previous monarchy and become a republic.

In Italy, the day is typically celebrated with a grand military parade through central Rome followed by a wreath-laying ceremony by Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi at the tomb of the unknown soldier in Rome's Piazza Venezia. The ceremony is much like that of the Fourth of July in the United States.

"It is a day of much celebration," Maschero said.

Adriano Comollo, director of the Italian Center of Utah, has organized Wednesday's event to include an open house from noon until 7:30 p.m. and Maschero will offer an official toast between 5 and 7:30 p.m. The general public is invited to the center at 314 W. 300 South, No. 5, in Salt Lake City.

"It will be a toast to Italy, to Italy-America and to America, too," Comollo said. "It is to connect Italians with their motherland."

Comollo has been involved in Utah's communities for 15 years. He is a professor of Italian literature and has taught at many of Utah's universities. He started the center because he felt that Italian culture should be more familiar to the general population.

The center organizes several activities throughout the year, including guest speakers, Italian language lessons for adults and children, and the Italian Culture Fair, Ferragosto Festival, in August. Maschero said the activities aren't the only thing that the center offers. "Anyone can come anytime to find common roots," he said.