By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD News & Journal Editor
Next Friday at noon, a crowd will gather on the Courthouse Plaza for the official opening of the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival … and the initial opening ceremonies will be the coronation of Regina Maria XXXVIII. Wearing the crown for this year’s festivities is Bryanna DeFazio, daughter of David and Kay DeFazio of Stonewood.
A graduate of Robert C. Byrd High School, Bryanna attended West Virginia University, graduating in 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Health & Human Performance. She continued her studies, earning a Master’s Degree (also from WVU) in Occupational Therapy in 2015. Currently, Bryanna is working as a traveling Occupational Therapist, which gives her the opportunity to travel to different locations throughout the United States.
“It also allows me to experience different settings to practice my field,” she explained. “I’m hoping this will give me a clearer view of what I may prefer to do on a permanent basis … whether I’d like to practice my career in a school system, a hospital or nursing home setting, or in home health, etc.”
Right now, though, she is MOST excited about the upcoming WVIHF activities. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone more enthusiastic about reigning during Clarksburg’s Labor Day weekend festival. She has embraced this festival for many years – on the Minor Court as a youngster … as a dancer with the WVIHF Dancers … marching in festival parades … working booths on the street … and volunteering for a number of years in the WVIHF office.
“The Festival has become a tradition for me,” she said. “I began dancing with the Festival dancers at a very young age, and there I learned folk dances and their meanings. I continued this all through high school and college and then helped teach other young children the dances. It peaked my interest and helped me to develop an awareness of my heritage, and I hope it does that for other young dancers.”
Bryanna is very passionate about the Festival and why it is celebrated. She elaborated, “Our Italian ancestors left everything they knew and all they held dear to come to this country, and it couldn’t have been easy. They faced discrimination and countless challenges … all so that future generations of Italian-Americans could live out the American dream. That’s what I’m doing now, and that’s why we celebrate – to promote this knowledge of our culture.”
Today, Bryanna has two young nephews, ages three and one and a half, and they enjoy it when she teaches them the Tarantella!
“This dance is something that is rooted in our history and is part of our heritage. I hope that little things like this will trigger them to learn even more things about their ancestors’ culture. It is a way to preserve that culture. If my generation discards knowledge of these things, then who will pass it on to the coming generations?” she explained.
Bryanna noted that she visited Italy during the summer of 2015 – something she vowed to do when she graduated from college. She spent 13 days there, visiting Venice, Rome, Florence, Vatican City, Naples, Pompeii, Capri, theImalfi Coast.
“It was purely a pleasure trip, but someday I would like to return and investigate my family’s history,” she stated. “But I learned a lot during my first trip. The food was always fresh; the architecture, particularly in Rome, was unbelievable to the eyes! And I noticed in the Piazza, there were always musicians, everyone was dancing, vendors were prevalent and artists were showing their work! This is so reminiscent of our own Italian Festival in Clarksburg, and it demonstrates to me that our Festival captures the real spirit of Italy.”
Because she has participated in so many Festival events through the years and has been a devoted volunteer for such a long time, Bryanna truly appreciates all the hard work the Festival “team” puts forth to make each year’s events successful and enjoyable for everyone.
“It is so much more than just a three-day weekend,” she continued. “The planning and fundraising and all of the coordination to make this happen go on throughout the entire year. It is a BIG effort to make it free to the public, and I guess I appreciate it so much because I’ve been involved with it and have witnessed the hard work that goes into it first-hand. And I amso proud to represent this Festival as Regina Maria XXXVIII.”
Bryanna’s Italian lineage is traced back to her paternal grandfather, the late Anthony “Tony” DeFazio, whose family originated in the southern regions of Campania and Calabria. An example of how much she respects those who came before her is her desire to have a crown upon her head during the Festival that also originates from the land of her forefathers!
With the help of some friends and their family members, she came to know of a gentleman named G.B. Spadafore, a goldsmith in San Giovanni in Fiore known for his craftsmanship of precious jewelry and elegant crowns. Thanks to an Italian speaking liaison, Bryanna exchanged ideas for her custom designed crown and followed its construction across the many miles from the U.S. to Italy.
She wanted this headpiece to become a “lasting keepsake” of her heritage and her reign as Regina Maria, and she paid for it herself because it was something she particularly wanted. Upon its delivery to the U.S., Bryanna’s family gathered for the big reveal! Secured in a red velvet box, complete with its certificate of authenticity was her handcrafted crown, made of sterling silver coated in 24 karat gold and adorned with semi-precious stones.
“It is truly a timeless piece of art, and I am honored to wear it – especially because it was crafted in the hometown of my ancestors!” she added. “It fulfills the missing piece of not having my ancestors here to celebrate with me.”
Surely, those ancestors will be with her in spirit. Her passion for the Festival, the Festival organization, and her heritage is unmistakable. She is very eager to share in this year’s Festival atmosphere on the streets of Clarksburg as Regina Maria XXXVIII!
She concluded, “I’ll be on the streets, meeting and greeting people … and no doubt, dancing in the streets! I want to encourage everyone of all ages to ask questions and learn about their heritage … to take pride in it!”
For Bryanna DeFazio, serving as queen represents more than just wearing a crown, though. Her enthusiasm for the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival may just outshine her illustrious crown!