ELIZABETH, NJ — The Peterstown Cultural Festival, a four-day annual event that ran this year, Thursday, July 27, through Sunday, July 30, from 6:30 to 11:30 p.m. at 800 Fourth Ave. at High Street, was a joyful occasion celebrating Italian American culture and other ethnicities that takes place in the Peterstown neighborhood of Elizabeth. Founded by Council President Frank O. Mazza, the descendent of Italian immigrants from Vallata, Avellino, the organization is now led by his son, Vito A. Mazza, and Rocco Nusaritolo.
What makes the Peterstown neighborhood of Elizabeth feel the same as a village unto itself is that it includes Union Square, which features many locally-owned food markets. In the southeastern part of the city, Peterstown became an Italian-American neighborhood in the 1920s. Many New Jersey Italian-Americans who have roots in Peterstown have deeper roots in the Avellino Province of Italy and are part of the Vallatesi community – either from or with ancestors from the town of Vallata.
Because it’s an important Vallatesi cultural tradition, the Peterstown Cultural Festival has historically been linked to the Roman Catholic celebration of the Festa di San Vito. San Vito, a Christian martyr from Sicily, died in the fourth century in defense of his faith. The cultural festival began as a block party 16 years ago.
Mazza said the event was about “unity, community, respect, culture, and tradition.”
Nusaritolo added, “Every year, for four beautiful days, we have the best food. The deejay plays all genres of music — oldies, ’70s … We mix it up for everyone. It’s a small, controlled, traditional family-oriented event.”
The goal of the festival is to embrace the multi-ethical cultures of the neighborhood. And while it’s sponsored by the Union County Board of Commissioners, local families and businesses also donate to the festival.
In addition to children’s rides and carnival games of chance for the young, there were many different types of food from all cultures: Asian barbeque, Spanish Latin American cuisine, Italian sausage and peppers, zeppole, BBQ, Greek, brick oven pizza, fresh mangos, watermelon, corn on the cob, French fries, and ice cream. Dicosmo’s Italian Ice, which has been in business 108 years and is currently owned and run by John and Nancy Dicosmo, was also open to celebrate the festival. The couple was excited about the event and happy to see so many smiling faces.
Dozens of street vendors sold Italian pride T-shirts, flags, pins, and toys. There was also a DJ, live music and a magician, Payaso Charles, mago-illusionista, who led the audience to dance festively to “The Chicken Dance” and “Luna Mezza Mare” after his stunning performance.
Artist Justin Dawes, from Jackson, who designs T-shirts, said the best part of the festival is, “A lot of different ethnicities, the music, and enjoying the weather.”
Michelle Riley, of Elizabeth, said she comes to the festival every year and enjoys everything.
Maria Marine, also of Elizabeth, said she enjoys the bands and looking at all the vendor booths have to offer.
Police Director Earl Graves said, “It’s a great event. We look forward to it every year.”
For more information about the Peterstown Cultural Festival, contact Mazza at 732-309-1580 or [email protected].
Photos by Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta and Hellen Quesada