NISKAYUNA- Lauren Gabriele, a senior at Niskayuna, has taken a deeper look at her heritage to represent Italy at Albany’s Festival of Nations – the first time in several years that the country will be represented.
The Festival of Nations began in 1972, when cultural group leaders from around the Capital Region sought a way to celebrate the heritage and diversity found in the Region.
Leaders also sought to encourage younger generations to take an interest in their own heritage with the Miss Festival of Nations contest.
Every year, girls from all across the Capital Region are selected to represent their heritage.
There are girls of Chinese heritage, of Indian heritage, of Polish heritage and many others.
Gabriele comes from an ‘all-Italian family’, meaning that her great-grandparents on her mom’s and dad’s side came from Italy.
She is frequently reminded of her family’s roots and one of the things she appreciated most about her family.
When she was asked to represent Italy at the Festival of Nations in September, Gabriele didn’t hesitate.
“I immediately said yes and just jumped right into it,” Gabriele said.
Her family comes from Sicily and northern Italy and her grandparents still share stories about their parents’ memories of Italy.
“My great great grandmother was known in the village as the chicken lady and the chicken doctor in her village,” Gabriele said.
In the 1800s, when one of her ancestors immigrated to the U.S., he ordered a ‘bride’ from Italy.
“He had been writing to this one woman and getting to know her. But they sent the wrong woman,” Gabriele said. The two ended up getting along and got married anyways, but it’s one story that Gabriele will always remember because it seems so far fetched in today’s world.
While these stories help Gabriele to get a sense of her Italian heritage, for her roots become most visceral when it comes to cooking and family dinners.
“It’s not a joke or a myth, it’s actually what we do,” Gabriele said of the big family dinners that bring even her extended family together.
“My grandma also makes homemade sauce and meatballs,” Gabriele said. Her recipes bring everyone in the family together, no matter how busy their lives get.
These stories and experiences led Gabriele to take singing lessons . . . in Italian.
Although she started singing in first grade, she took up Italian singing lessons five years ago.
“The spanish background definitely helped to learn it. Once I get the pitches down, I learn what I’m singing about,” Gabriele said.
Another part of being Italian is being expressive and singing classic Italian style songs has helped Gabriele to be more confident and more expressive.
“I learned to express a lot more emotion and I’m a lot more confident. There were some performances that I’ve done in the past that I was really nervous for, but they turned out to be some of my best. Then others where I was confident but didn’t do as well as I’d hoped. . . I’ve learned to build myself back up from rejection,” Gabriele said.
Recently, she auditioned for a show called Melodies of Christmas (performed with the Empire State Youth Orchestra). She had tried out in years past and was rejected. But this year she auditioned and found out a few days later that she got in.
For this, Gabriele has her choral teacher Christina Pizzino-Catalano and her mother.
“Mrs. Pizzino-Catalno sees me at my lowest points and tells me to keep going,” Gabriele said.
Her mother, Terry, is just as encouraging, Gabriele said.
When she’s not singing or dancing at Orlando School of dance, Gabriele is managing the junior varsity basketball and soccer teams or working as the co-president of Students Advocating for a Positive Environment.
“I’m actually pretty competitive,” Gabriele said. Managing the two teams allows her to get in the game and be involved off the field.