Because Italianita’s first experiences of “Italianness” were in the Valley, Mitzel said: “Often, when I think of Italy, I really think of Youngstown.”
NEW CITIZEN – When Anthony Dion Mitzel visits his local market in Cesena, Italy, he remembers the Italian festivals of the Mahoning Valley where he grew up participating.
“It’s the way people interact with each other in a certain space,” he said, “the way festivals in the Valley and markets in Italy still hold some of the communal activities of common spaces and public interaction.
“This is how culture is preserved,” he added.
Mitzel is an assistant professor at the University of Bologna. The native of the Valley shared his expertise on Thursday as part of the Mahoning Historical Association’s Bites and Bits of History monthly program.
His lecture “Youngstalia: Italian Food in the Mahoning Valley” explores the importance and trajectory of the local American Italian food culture.
He traced the creation of the Italian diaspora of ethnic enclaves like Youngstown’s Brier Hill neighborhood and the secession of ethnicity from separate areas following the closure of Youngstown steel mills.
During this trajectory, Italian-Americans in the Valley have engaged with Old World culture through new intakes of Italian food.
Some imports of Italian food from Southern Italy remain popular in the Mahoning Valley even decades later, such as: wedding soup, pizzas and what we now call Brier Hill pizza.
“We grew up gritting our teeth at the pizza,” Mitzel joked.
Pizza Brier Hill, “had its origins in municipal creation” and can still be found fresh on Fridays at St Anthony’s Church in Youngstown’s North Side, he said.
Many of these recipes – in addition to being shared within Valley families – are stored in Easterseals Angels and Friends’s Favorite Recipes, which Mitzel noted remain ubiquitous on bookshelves throughout the region.
“Every family in the Mahoning Valley has a Bible and Angels and Friends,” Mitzel joked.
More than 4,000 miles away from their native communities, the Italian-Americans in the Valley and their families. “[create] an idea of Italy “interacting with Italian food and culture.
Because Italianita’s first experiences of “Italianness” were in the Valley, Mitzel said, “Often, when I think of Italy, I really think of Youngstown.”