New Paltz’s Little Slice of Italy

Focaccia with sundried tomatoes, carmelized onions, rosemary, olive oil and other ingredients baking in the oven during Italian Club’s focaccia-making night on March 13. Photo by Amanda Copkov.

The SUNY New Paltz Italian Club has been adding some culture to campus since its inception in the spring of 2015. 

The club was spearheaded by fourth-year Italian contract major and Italian Club president Meghan O’Brien, who had longed to dive headfirst into Italian studies upon arriving to New Paltz.

“I wanted a strong Italian foundation because it wasn’t here,” she said. 

The idea for the club began brewing when O’Brien came back for her sophomore year during the fall of 2014. Her advisor, associate professor of Italian Studies Marinella Garatti, was serving as the interim Italian Studies coordinator at the time. She helped O’Brien orient herself with her contract major as well as with starting the club from scratch. Garatti recruited two of her other students — Christina Vandenbrul, who became the treasurer, and Matt Pantano, who became the secretary, who have both since graduated.

Today, the Italian Club e-board is comprised of president O’Brien, fourth-year psychology major and vice president Hara Millman, fourth-year psychology major and treasurer Jessica Domenichello, third-year journalism major Maria Enea and Italian Studies coordinator, lecturer and Italian Club advisor Daria Bozzato. 

O’Brien sees Italian Club as a soulful band of misfits. As there is no Italian major on campus, the club attracts people from a whole slew of majors.

“These are business, biology, journalism and French majors who have some scrape of Italian love in them and it brought us all together,” she said. “We’re all so different and the one thing we share is a love for Italian and all that Italian studies encompass — food, culture, art, the joy of living.” 

Enea, who comes from a Sicilian household, feels similarly to O’Brien, expressing the warmth and friendliness she feels whenever she goes to the club’s weekly meetings. 

“At the end of the day, it feels like a family,” she said. “I’ve never met people who were so interested in Italian culture. To see so many people who aren’t even Italian love your culture, want to celebrate it and learn about it, is really heartwarming for me. It feels like I’m still connected to home.”

Bozzato, having moved to America from Latina, Italy in 2011, recognizes that there are many stereotypes about Italian culture. This is often the case when it comes to food, which many of the Italian Club’s events revolve around. Bozzato and Enea both agree that Italian Club tries to break these stereotypes and teach its members about the rich truth of the culture.

“Going beyond the stereotypes is the most important goal for me,” Bozzato said. “We are trying to give the opportunity to students participating [in Italian Club] to broaden their knowledge, to open their minds and to learn a new language, because learning a foreign language is also like changing yourself in a way. It exposes you to a different perspective of seeing things and that’s really important. It makes you a better citizen of the world.” 

Some events the Italian Club has held this semester include the Carnevale and International Women’s Day celebrations, focaccia night and Italian music night hosted by Italian teaching assistant Samira Notarangelo. On Saturday, April 1, the Italian Club will venture into Manhattan to see the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center. 

The Italian Club’s next meeting will be held Monday, April 3 at 8 p.m. in the Crispell Hall basement lounge, where they will be watching the 2010 film Benvenuti Al Sud.