The gleaming Ferraris, green-white-and-red banners and lively accordion music left little doubt as to the origin of Saturday's celebration in downtown Salt Lake.
The 6th annual Ferragosto festival recognizing Utah's Italian-Americans, their culture and contributions turned the city's Little Italy neighborhood into a street fair packed with food, entertainment and diversion for a throng of celebrants.
Jinger LaGuardia, co-chairman of the Italian Center of the West, the nonprofit group that hosts the benefit event, said many people aren't aware of the strong local presence and history of Italian-Americans.
"The center gets calls from people who don't know there are Italians in the state," LaGuardia said. "They sound really surprised when we tell them that there are 70,000 Italian-Americans living here in Utah."
LaGuardia said Italians represented a significant portion of the immigrant labor that found work in Utah in the mining boon of the late 19th century. The very site of Saturday's event was a neighborhood dubbed "Little Italy" because of it's heavy Italian population present from the 1890s until just after World War I. LaGuardia said her group is committed to maintaining the legacy and culture of those early immigrants who made Utah their home.
"We work toward cultural preservation on a lot of fronts," LaGuardia said. "Language classes, lectures, preserving oral histories, internships ... we really want to make people aware."
The annual festival is named Ferragosto, after a Catholic holiday celebrated in Italy on Aug. 15, also known as Assumption Day. Father Daniel Rolland of St. Catherine of Siena University Parish was manning a booth at the festival, dispensing T-shirts and blessings to people stopping by.
"We're here to talk to people and share what we're about at St. Catherine's," Father Rolland said.
There to share another icon of Italian culture, Levon Mikayelyan, from the Salt Lake auto dealer Steve Harris Imports, answered questions while trying to keep up with the fingerprints on the bright red Ferrari convertible he was standing by, one of the several exotic Italian sports cars from his company, which also brought along a couple of Maseratis. Mikayelyan said the two most asked questions of the day were, "How much?" and "How fast?".
"Only 500 of these (Ferrari 575 Superamerica) were made in 2005," Mikayelyan said. "This one has a top speed of about 208 mph and costs $330,000."
Those who needed to catch their breath and recover from sports-car sticker-shock were only a moment away from an ice cold Moretti beer and hot Italian sausage sandwich from local maker Colosimo's. Lily Turner from Park City was enjoying a cool beverage and waiting to meet some Salt Lake friends at the event's performance pavilion. She said she wasn't of Italian heritage, but wished she was.
"I'm not Italian, but I feel like I should have been," Turner said. "The wine, the food, the music ... and the country ... it's just beautiful ... I love it."Others who love and appreciate Italians and their culture, but who may have missed Saturday's celebration, can find a schedule of year-round activities on the Italian Center of the West's Web site at italiancenterofthewest.com.
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