Held in McAlester, Oklahoma, the annual Italian Festival began as a commemoration of that nationality's history in the state. Overpopulation and economic difficulties had forced Italians to venture to the United States in the early 1900s. The year 1907 witnessed the highest influx of them, and by 1910, 2,564 resided in Oklahoma. The population concentrated in the southeastern counties where coal-mining labor shortages offered willing workers income and a better life.
The idea of an Italian Festival originated with Bill Prichard, a local restaurant owner who, along with others, desired to celebrate and preserve the Italian heritage of the region. The first event occurred on October 16, 1971, in McAlester Chadick Park. The two-day, annual affair takes place on Memorial Day weekend. Held at the Pittsburg County Regional Expo Center in McAlester, activities include the crowning of an esteemed community couple as the Re and Regina (king and queen in Italian). Other entertainment entails traditional Italian games like bocce and morra, and of course, a serving of spaghetti finished with spumoni ice cream.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Kenny L. Brown, The Italians in Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980). Andrew F. Rolle, The Italian Americans: Troubled Roots (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980). Howard F. Stein and Robert F. Hill, eds., The Culture of Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993).
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