Orange plays host to Italian American Street Festival

Photo by Chris Sykes
Wiseguys Radio Show magician Michael Healy, center, performs his knotted rope trick for an audience of youths on the second day of the two-day 16th annual Orange Italian-American Street Festival in the city’s Little Italy section, situated at and around the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Mechanic Street in the West Ward.

ORANGE, NJ — Lucy Diura and the Orange Italian American Organization hosted the 16th annual Italian American Street Festival in the city’s Little Italy section, located at and around the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Mechanic Street in the West Ward, on Saturday, Sept. 9, and Sunday, Sept. 10.

“We have our 16th annual Italian American Festival. Our man of the year was Robert ‘Bobby’ LaBanca from the Appian Way restaurant,” said Diura on Saturday, Sept. 9. Diura, who owns and operates the Just Like Nonna’s bakery on Lincoln Avenue with her sister, said the event features Italian-American food, music, culture and history in Little Italy. “It’s all us — our food, our heritage — and we just like the community and want to keep it around. It’s always the same weekend every year, the weekend after Labor Day. It’s been like that for the last 16 years and it’s going to continue to be the same weekend every year.”

That kind of continuity appeals to former residents of Orange, who return to town to reconnect with their root at the festival each year, she said.

“They always come back every year,” said Diura. “They meet new friends, old friends and they make new friends. We just want continue and hope that you come out to support us, so that we can make it a better place.”

This year’s festival featured performances by Jersey Sounds and Switch Mob on Saturday, Sept. 9, and the Wise Guys radio show, magician Michael Healy and more on Sunday, Sept. 10.

“Tomorrow, we have a young group of children who will be singing and performing for us from a school in East Orange,” said Diura. “They’re awesome. They do New Edition, the young lady does Adele and I believe they range from 7 to maybe 10 is the oldest. I’m down with Y.P.P.”

Diura was referring to the Young People for Peace youth group, which performed onstage the second day of the festival. The YPP performance on Sunday, Sept. 10, was in keeping with the Back to School spirit of Mayor Dwayne Warren and Orange City Council’s 12 Hours of Community Service event in and around Central Avenue Playground, down the street from the Italian American Street Festival.

“We had the Italian Festival,” said Warren on Saturday, Sept. 9. “I went over there and met with our good friends at the 16th annual Italian Festival. We gave out community awards. Appian Way got the Business of the Year Award today. A lot of people in Orange today (are) feeling what it is and knowing that the change in Orange is all about family.”

Diura and Lenny D’Andrea of D’Andrea Landscaping & Construction, one of the festival’s sponsors, agreed with Warren that the Italian American Street Festival was all about family and Orange Pride. They agreed that Orange’s future is bright, especially since events such as the festival are proof the city has not forgotten its past.

“I was Man of the Year last year. You know we maintain Orange; you know that. And we do what we do for our community. You know that,” said D’Andrea, on Saturday, Sept. 9. He was born near Naples, Italy, but was raised in Orange after his parents came to the United States. “So far, it seems like everybody’s down here, having a good time. A lot of fun. It’s always good. It’s good for the community. It’s nice. It’s a good thing.”

Diura said called D’Andrea’s comments high praise indeed, adding that men like him are what Little Italy and the annual street festival are all about.

“We’re trying to make this 2.2 square miles a great town. We’re trying our best,” said Diura. “He’s working on it. … That’s what we want to do: Keep it safe for the community and continue our heritage.”