Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Tradition amid Change

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Tradition amid Change

Article excerpt

FORT LEE -- The fireworks of tradition reflected on the windows of new high-rise apartment complexes, and families of all backgrounds celebrated in the streets Sunday with Italian-Americans whose families are among the oldest in the borough.

The past and present melded at the 86th annual St. Rocco Feast, organized by the Saint Rocco Italian American Mutual Aid Society. On Sunday, the feast came to a close after four days, with a procession through much of the borough and a blend of Italian, Korean and strictly American foods and festivities.

The event, originally held to assist poor immigrant families, now directs most of its proceeds to high school students in the form of college scholarships. And though the Italian-American community in Fort Lee isn't what it once was in terms of numbers, the feast is a fixture, organized by a group Mayor Mark Sokolich said had strong, even youthful leadership. Participants in the procession said much the same.

"It keeps the Italian tradition alive," said Rich DeZao, director of the Tony Neglia Feast Band, whose 16 members were on hand Sunday. "We play the same Italian music they played in Sicily."

Red, green and white decor -- the colors of Italy's flag -- hung above children's games, organization booths and food vendors set up along Main Street. But those vendors included a South Korean barbeque stand and a bubble tea tent run by House of Malaysia. There were still a few Italian vendors, and plenty of American carnival foods, such as elephant ears and deep-fried Oreos.

Some visitors were longtime feasters, including Renato Belluscio, 43, of Lodi, who brought his two children to Sunday's festivities. He sipped some wine from a cup filled with peaches -- an Italian tradition -- as he spoke of appreciating the opportunity to share tradition with everyone.

"As far as different cultures, they get to taste a little Italian for the day," he said.

Lou Azzollini, vice president of the Fort Lee Historical Society, also an Italian-American, said the Italians who once occupied all of Main Street are gone and spread throughout North Jersey -- but they come back for the feast and plan summer vacations around it. …

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