The Amerigo Vespucci Society (AVS) of Long Branch celebrated Italian American Heritage and Culture month in as many ways as they could for 2022. Their current President, Joseph Sirianni, stated, “as the nations oldest Italian American Mutual Aid Society, the AVS wants to do as much as possible to celebrate and acknowledge the federally declared month of October as ‘Italian American Heritage and Culture Month’.” As a result, the organization participated and celebrated four events for October.
The first event, Italian Heritage Night, was held at the Long Branch Arts and Cultural Center in October. The event featured seven local Italian American artists (Carla Valentino, Charles Brunetto, Christina Sodano, Frederick Raymon Lavergne, Kathleen Lo Pinto Vignolini, Patricia Valente, and John Aria). In addition, poetry was read aloud by Long Branch Poetlariet Emanuel Di Pasquale as well as Amerigo Vespucci Society Poetlariet Frank Valentino. Free to the public and supported by the City of Long Branch Office of Community & Economic Development, the evening included complimentary pastries from Caputo’s Pastry Shoppe, espresso from Castorino Espresso USA which is located in Salerno Italy and is one of Italy’s most premium and boutique coffee producers, goods from Italy featured on display by DalVero Imports which is also located in Salerno Italy, and Italian liquor samples from Long Branch Distillery whose owner, Mark Elia, is a proud Italian American and member of the AVS. Attendance was impressive as the room was at capacity.
Dignitaries included Congressman Frank Pallone, Senator Vin GoPal, County Commissioner Director Tom Arnone, County Commissioner Ross Licitra, Long Branch Mayor John Pallone and Councilman Mario Vieira, Atlantic Highlands Mayor Loretta Gluckstein, Ocean Township Councilman Rob Acerra, Long Branch Director of Public Safety William Broughton, Long Branch Superintendent of Schools Francisco Rodriguez, Monsignor Sam Sirianni, and more. As the room filled with art enthusiasts and acoustic music filled the air by musician Doug Clarke, AVS member Roberto Ferragina stepped forward to introduce the artists and to welcome everyone. After the event he stated, “As Italians and Italian Americans, art is in our blood. Our ancestors include the greats, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Giotto, and the list goes on!” He went on to state, “We have talented local artists right here in the greater Long Branch area, it’s a pleasure to partner with the city to feature them and to celebrate Italian American heritage and Culture month!”
The second event was the Italian Flag raising at City Hall in Long Branch. The AVS has been raising the Italian flag for several years during the month of October and this year was no different. Led by AVS President Joseph Sirianni, the organization sent several members to join Mayor Pallone in raising the Italian flag. AVS member Frank Crupi – Esquire was one of the society members that assisted in raising the flag. After the flag was raised he stated, “I get emotional every time I see the Italian flag raised. I think of my relatives who came from the land they loved, Italy, to this great nation of opportunity, the United States. While many Italian immigrants were not treated well they worked hard, making this country a better place as a result.” The Italian flag will be on display in front of city hall on Broadway through the month of October. There are other municipalities throughout the state that have also raised the Italian flag at their respective municipal buildings. When asked about the meaning of the Italian flag colors AVS member Robert LaBella, owner of Long Branch’s Jamm Printing Company, stated, “There are several versions of what the colors represent however many see the white representing the snow filled Italian Alps, the green representing the Italian rolling plains and hills, and the red representing the blood spilt at the various Italian wars of independence. For us at the AVS the colors also represent the sacrifices many Italian immigrants made to create a better life for their children as well as the achievemnets Italian Americans have made to our great nation, the United States.”
The third event that the AVS participated in was the recent Annual Long Branch Columbus Day Parade. The AVS float, which was professionally made, was the brainchild of AVS member and local businessman Paul Sgro. The float had professional graphics, including a jumbo size AVS logo with the image bust of the Italian explorer and mapmaker Amerigo Vespucci. It also had large speakers which amplified the Italian National Anthem. The float was led by AVS member John Aria who rode on a red, white, and green Vespa motor scooter which was followed by twenty five members and flag bearers. On the float were various AVS family members, friends, and children throwing candy to the spectators along the parade path. After the parade lunch was provided at the AVS building on Willow Avenue for AVS members and their families and friends. When asked about his efforts regarding the float, AVS Member Paul Sgro stated, “my interest to assist with the float was and is my passion to always remember where I came from and to never forget educating my family and friends about the struggles of our ancestors as well as the incredible history of both Italians throughout history and what Italian Americans have accomplished in all walks of life from architecture to fashion, to science.” AVS President Joseph Sirianni interjected by stating, “It is because of members such as Paul that this organization has existed since 1875.”
In addition to the three events held thus far in October, the society changed their calendar this year to include their annual “Thomas Gagliano Tripe Dinner” which will be held later in the month. The event has been taking place at the AVS for over fifty years. It has always been sold out and includes a multi course meal. Society member Joseph Valentino, who has been on the Tripe Dinner Committee for many years stated, “having the dinner this year in October allows the membership an opportunity to further celebrate and acknowledge and enjoy one of the Italian passions, amazing food and friendship.”
The AVS, founded in 1875 and incorporated in 1893, takes its name from the famous 15th century Italian explorer and map maker. The organization was originally established as a mutual aid society where Italian men could congregate, escape from discrimination and anti-Italianism that began during the period of large-scale Italian immigration during the late 19th century. Since that time the society members have made it a priority to assist each other and their families when there was/is no other place to turn. Today, the AVS continues to be a mutual aid society as well as a 501(c)3 organization assisting individuals and organizations in the community and providing educational scholarships. They are active in combating pervasive negative stereotyping and defamation of Italian Americans in the media and promote the extraordinary history and accomplishments of Italians and Italian-Americans. They also promote the admiration, general appreciation and love of Italy, its culture, society, arts and people. The AVS joins other local and national organizations in promoting Italophilia and combating anti-Italianism.