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The Italian Heritage Festival Returns to Hertel Avenue

Posted at 6:38 PM, Jul 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-15 20:21:17-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — For the first time since the pandemic, the Italian Heritage Festival is back in Buffalo and back on Hertel Avenue. People of all ages hit the street to soak up the sun, enjoy great food and most of all put their love for their heritage back on display.

There were activities for everyone, even the kids. The Festival's Grape Stomping Competition was a big hit.

Cousins Santa Coniglio, Rose Marie Colosimo and Irlanda Colosimo say they're happy to be back. The Colosimo and Coniglio families spent their afternoon watching their little cousin get his face painted, stopping at food vendors and saying hello to old friends.

"I think a lot of people come out to see their friends," said Coniglio. "You run into so many people you know."

The Italian Heritage Festival is Bringing People Back Together
Cousins of the Colosimo and Coniglio family say hello to an old friend.

Who you know and who you are, are big parts of this festival. Many people here say that their main focus is remembering family that came before them and created the traditions they hold so dear.

"It brings back a lot of memories from my childhood," said Colosimo.

"My parents when they immigrated they came to west side of Buffalo and that's where we grew up," said Coniglio. "That's where I believe that's where the original Italian Festival was."

It isn't just those attending the festival that got lost down memory lane. Many food vendors say they're here paying homage to their family traditions too.

"I'm Sicilian," said Maria Olsen, owner of Maria's. "Our family has a lot of traditions that have kind of been lost with my grandma leaving, so I'm trying to keep those up by having the truck."

Olsen said that many items on the menu are either old family recipes or items inspired by family.

"We have Maria's muffuletta and of course Jimmy's spicy muffuletta," said Olsen. That's for my brother out west. We put jalapenos on that."

Having family top of mind is just the theme of this weekend. The Italian Heritage President Judy Portofiorella says her father started the Connecticut Street 1976 festival. Portofiorella says she honored to carry on the family tradition.

"It's in my blood, it's in my heart," said Portofiorella.

The Italian Heritage Festival bounced around several places after being uprooted from Hertel Avenue and then totally shut down due to the pandemic. This year, many are glad the festival is back where it belongs.

"Little Itlay was named years ago when the festival came to Hertel Avenue," said Portofiorella. "And we've kept it going ever since and that's why we wanted to bring back our heritage back to its little Italy, back to its foundation."

This year, that's just what Portofiorella and the festival board did. Portoriorella says she thinks her family would be so proud.

"It would mean a lot to my dad," said Portofiorella. "I know he's watching over me. We raise our kids for our heritage for our culture. It's just, it's amazing."