BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — For the first time since the pandemic, the Italian Heritage Festival is back in Buffalo and on Hertel Avenue. People of all ages take to the streets to soak up the sun, taste good food and above all show their love for their heritage.
There were activities for everyone, even the children. The Festival’s grape crushing competition was a great success.
Cousins Santa Coniglio, Rose Marie Colosimo and Irlanda Colosimo say they are happy to be back. The Colosimo and Coniglio families spent their afternoon watching their little cousin get her make-up done, stopping at food vendors and saying hello to old friends.
“I think a lot of people go out to see their friends,” Coniglio said. “You meet so many people you know.”
Who you know and who you are are important parts of this festival. Many people here say their main goal is to remember the family that came before them and created the traditions that are so dear to them.
“It brings back a lot of childhood memories,” Colosimo said.
“My parents when they immigrated, they came from the west side of Buffalo and that’s where we grew up,” Coniglio said. “That’s where I believe that’s where the original Italian festival was.”
It’s not just those who attend the festival who are lost in the past. Many food vendors say they are also here to honor their family traditions.
“I’m Sicilian,” said Maria Olsen, owner of Maria’s. “Our family has a lot of traditions that kind of got lost with my grandmother leaving, so I’m trying to carry on with having the truck.”
Olsen said many items on the menu are either old family recipes or family-inspired items.
“We have Maria’s muffuletta and of course Jimmy’s spicy muffuletta,” Olsen said. It’s for my brother out west. We put jalapenos on it.”
Having the family in mind is just the theme of this weekend. Italian Heritage Chair Judy Portofiorella said her father started the 1976 Connecticut Street Festival. Portofiorella says she’s honored to carry on the family tradition.
“It’s in my blood, it’s in my heart,” Portofiorella said.
The Italian Heritage Festival has rebounded in multiple locations after being uprooted from Hertel Avenue and then totally shut down due to the pandemic. This year, many are happy that the festival is back in its place.
“Little Itlay was named years ago when the festival came to Hertel Avenue,” Portofiorella said. “And we’ve maintained it ever since and that’s why we wanted to take our legacy back to its little Italy, to its founding.”
This year, that is exactly what Portofiorella and the festival committee have done. Portoriorella says she thinks her family would be so proud.
“It would mean a lot to my father,” Portofiorella said. “I know he watches over me. We raise our children for our heritage for our culture. It’s just, it’s amazing.”