Friday, July 15, 2011

Italian Culture Marks SF Bay Area

Dane Greco - a communications intern at Sonoma State University - has been assisting me with a pr campaign for the upcoming musical concerts of Due Zighi Baci. This talented duo performs European Cafe and Neapolitan music that celebrates well-loved French and Italian melodies.

At my urging, Dane wrote this guest post about the Italian influence in California's North Bay:

What sets the North Bay apart from other regions in California is its rich and dynamic cultural layout. It is a melting pot that has adapted to many different kinds of cultural entities. Each culture brings its folklore: traditional foods, music, language, religion and other qualities that, over time, have adapted to their new setting. One of the major cultural groups to contribute to the San Francisco Bay Area are the Italians who brought with them customs and folkways that quickly took root.

Italians made up one of the first waves of immigrants to land on Ellis Island in New York during the 1892 immigration boom. They were also among the early immigrants to first settle in California. The most popular example of this can be found in North Beach in San Francisco, which has appropriately been deemed “Little Italy.”

What attracted them to this location was a familiar (Mediterranean) climate and the waterfront where there were vast amounts of docks and fishing wharves. Italians made their way into business with grocery stores, cafes, bars and delicatessens that flourished. It didn’t take long for this trend to move further north towards Marin and Sonoma County.

The rapid growth of this culture within the North Bay can be seen in the numerous music, art, and food festivals that occur throughout the region, all of which offer others a peek into this vivacious community.

Italian cultural centers, such as Sons of Italy and North Bay Italian Cultural Foundation help keep the customs and awareness about them alive. Festivities that include promotions of Italian Neapolitan (Naples, Italy) music in restaurants, art like what is produced at the annual Italian Street Painting Festival in San Rafael), and even food-related activities at local professional sports games (Oakland Athletics, etc.).

Even the Italian language and culinary arts have taken hold in the area. Courses are offered at most colleges, community centers and at many high schools.

From the myriad of authentic Italian cafes and restaurants that sweep the North bay region, to the Neapolitan melodies that local Italian folk music groups, such as Due Zighi Baci, (Two Gypsy Kisses), Their unique interpretation of time-honored Italian favorites shows how versatile music is. It can be both traditional and contemporary in its presentation.

But why is this important?

The Italian community in the North Bay is a perfect example of how our melting pot country works. The folklore of the old world becomes the folklore of the new world where many cultural traditions fuse together. Each able to co-mingle and yet preserve the essence of their own unique cultural identity.

It is healthy for communities to embrace this because understanding and participating in the folklore ways of a culture different from one’s own encourages acceptance and appreciation of diversity.

The Italian-American community of the North Bay continues to do a great job of opening its cultural doors to others.

For more information:

Sons of Italy

Knights of Columbus

North Bay Italian Cultural Foundation


  1. As an Italian American, I find more qualities about my ethnicity that make me grateful for my heritage. One quality that stands out are the strong family values that were carried over from my family to this country. The overwhelming struggle that my great grandparents endured to adapt to a new culture when they settled in America is the root for the vast expansion of Italian culture in America, and in my family's case, Sonoma and Marin County.

  2. Immigrants lived very different lives than ours, that's for sure. My grandfather came from Rhodes (Jewish quarter) and struggled, too. He did quite well for himself... and managed to keep his rich heritage alive in the SF Bay Area.
    I love to hear the stories about him!

  3. You really captured the essence of Italian culture in the Bay Area. It's always interesting to reflect on where our ancestors came from and the struggles they had to endure so that we could be here. I was actually speaking with my grandma yesterday and she was telling me the story of how her grandmother came to America from Norway and settled in Montana, where my dad was eventually born. Montana is hardly a melting pot like the San Francisco Bay area but I wonder if there is a small population of Norwegians that now live there. Either way, I love the stories too!