Exploring Italian heritage

Posted: October 6th, 2017 | Arts & Entertainment, Features, Top Story | No Comments

By Tom Cesarini

The Convivio Society is a nonprofit organization that strives to advance San Diego’s Italian cultural identity.

The Little Italy Heritage Commission, a committee of Convivio, is dedicated to preserving the historical narrative of San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood through images, documents, oral histories, exhibits, and events in partnership with other organizations.

Fishermen play bocce ball in Little Italy, a clear indication that the fishing conditions are poor that afternoon. Pictured in 1945 (l to r) are Dominic Lalicata, Matteo Buompensiero, unknown, Jack Marino, Nino d’Aquisto, Jack Sardina, and Frank Navarro. (Courtesy Ed Pecoraro)

Convivio promotes Italian culture through education and scholarly research and by embracing innovative approaches to cultural advancement.

As a learning organization, with a culture of inquiry as its foundation and an emphasis on community development and increased social awareness, Convivio has the following objectives:

  • Promote the study of Italian language, arts, and culture.
  • Cultivate partnerships with academia.
  • Support scholarly research in Italian studies.
  • Foster Italian community emerging leadership.
  • Provide scholarships and grants across scholarly disciplines.
  • Preserve Italian heritage and identity and relate the Italian immigrant experience.
  • Encourage collaboration with cultural partners.

Confetti flies as family and friends prepare for a festive outing aboard the Conte Verde, owned by the Massa and Castagnola families in the late 1920s. The Star of India, the world’s oldest active ship and an emblem of the fishing industry and harbor life in San Diego to this day, is anchored behind. (Courtesy the Massa, Castagnola, Vattuone and Zolezzi families)

The Convivio vision comprises two objectives to foster unity and embrace cultural identity within San Diego’s Little Italy:

  1. Establish, by 2019, the Convivio Center, to serve as a community hub and social hall providing cultural events, educational programs, and heritage exhibitions. The Convivio Center will represent a unifying element for the local Italian community; by serving as a catalyst for collaboration of the numerous Italian groups all working independently for a similar cause, the center will help these organizations to share vital resources and increase their collective impact — a space in which to find common ground and a home for the Italian and broader cultural community.
  2. Establish the Italian Cultural Institute, an educational resource to be founded through collaboration with academic, business, and civic partners, in order to promote Italian studies and scholarship and foster multicultural awareness and understanding; creating a multifaceted academic environment. The Italian Cultural Institute will also serve to showcase new elements emerging from the culture alongside the rich Italian contributions of the past.

Convivio will achieve its goals for the benefit of those interested in Italian culture, as a legacy for the Italians of a new generation who want to preserve their historical narrative and advance their culture, and as a tribute to the Italians who helped to shape San Diego culture and history.

Washington Elementary School was architecturally modeled after the White House. When this photograph was taken in 1940, the interior was made predominantly of marble, and lion heads originally marked the front entrance but were later removed. The school served the entire Italian community. Sadly, the original building was torn down in 1980. The school, however, was rebuilt
for another generation of young San Diegans. (Courtesy Fran Marline Stephenson)

Ultimately, Convivio envisions increased social capital arising from the establishment of the center and institute, thus adding an element of renewal to the whole of San Diego’s cultural landscape.

Join Convivio Society and the Little Italy Heritage Commission at 6 p.m. on Oct. 21, at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish Hall, to honor Little Italy’s heritage and learn more about their vision for the Convivio Cultural Center.

Come share your story and preserve your history for future generations and bring your historical photographs and documents to be digitized for inclusion in the Italian Community Archives. Enjoy music, appetizers, wine and free digitization of images or documents. Visit

—Tom Cesarini is the founder and executive director of Convivio. To learn more, visit or reach him at

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