For the first time in the festival’s 14th anniversary, a mother-daughter duo have been chosen to rule the Sicilian Independence Heritage Festival this weekend.
Festival mother Brenda Liuzza and her daughter and festival queen, Faith Liuzza, 21, said they’ve been involved in the celebration all their lives, and the opportunity to serve together in the field gives them a platform raised to represent their Sicilian culture.
Brenda said her husband cooks spaghetti sauce every year. As a child, Faith helped her parents put up decorations and run their booth and, of course, enjoyed fairground-style rides and attractions.
“I joke that I’m the only mother who has a daughter young enough to run for Queen,” said Brenda, 62. “I was just thrilled when I found out Faith had won.”
Faith is the 13th festival queen, a number that Brenda said was lucky in their family, so it felt like kismet when Faith won the spot alongside her mother.
Brenda and Faith agreed that pageantry is not Faith’s typical hobby, as she said she enjoys hunting and spending time outdoors. Faith said the crown glow was beautiful, but her appreciation for her heritage prompted her to apply for the job.
“For me, being queen is not about the crown,” Faith said. “It’s about what the crown represents; that’s where my parents and their parents are from. People see the Medusa on my jacket and ask me what it means, and I love being able to share my culture with them.
Brenda said her daughter’s title is especially special, not just because they’re the first mother-daughter couple on the court, but because Brenda was the Queen of the Little Italy Festival in 1978 when she was 19 years old.
“It meant a lot to me to represent my heritage back then, and now I’m able to do the same at 62 alongside my daughter,” Brenda said.
Brenda said her great-grandparents immigrated from Sicily to New York before moving to Louisiana, where they settled in Independence.
Larry Cardaronella, a longtime festival board member and this year’s king, said it was the first time the king, queen, mother and grand marshal had all been Independence residents. , a city that he says has many roots in Sicily.
Dominic Orlando is this year’s grand marshal.
“Being king is the thrill of my life,” Cardaronella said. “Having to serve this festival that I love in a new way takes my excitement to a new level.”
Faith and Brenda said Cardaronella is a close family friend, so reigning together means a lot more to the trio.
Cardaronella said the festival is garnering a strong turnout from the community and those who have moved are coming back to Independence to celebrate.
“The best part is seeing all the people, old friends and faces you haven’t seen in years,” he said. “It’s like a meeting. In this town, everyone knows each other. If I don’t know you, I know your mom or grandpa, and I bet they’ll be at the festival too.
Brenda echoed her sentiment, saying some of her family and friends are coming home specifically to celebrate. “This will be the first time the festival has been in full effect since COVID kicked off,” Brenda said. “The year before COVID, the street was packed with people.”
She said the festival was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic and in 2021 rain prevented people from participating in weekend activities. But this year, even if the weather is cold, the sun should shine on the Sicilian feast.
“I prayed a novena to St. Joseph for sunny skies,” Brenda said. “I didn’t specify the hot weather, so it’s on me, but it’s giving us sunshine! We bundle up, no problem.
Each year, the festival opens on Friday afternoon and lasts until Sunday evening, making for a busy weekend filled with rides, stalls by local performers and, of course, food.
“If you’re from an Italian family, you know how to eat!” Brenda said. “Carbs, pasta, bread – that’s what makes us unique.”
Faith says everyone is coming to eat at the festival. Cardaronella said the spread includes spaghetti, Italian sausage, stuffed artichokes, Italian cookies, cannolis, pizza, meatballs and more, served by nonprofits.
He said 16 food stalls and 18 stalls of local artists and artisans are listed to promote local and Sicilian culture. “Our primary goal is to support these nonprofits,” Cardaronella said. “Several schools, police departments and fire departments make money from the weekend, so while it’s a chance to celebrate our culture, it’s also a chance to support our community.”
On Saturday, a parade runs through the festival and attendees have the chance to compete in a meatball throwing contest and a spaghetti eating contest.
For the meatball toss, former festival queens and queens across the state line up in their evening dresses with other attendees to toss meatballs down the street, stepping back each time to create more distance. The last pair standing with an intact meatball wins the contest.
“Everyone is looking forward to the meatball toss,” Faith said. “I’m partnering with the king this year, and we’ll be very careful that our meatball doesn’t break. I try to win.
Faith said she would also enter the spaghetti tasting contest.
“The goal is simple: eat as much as you can,” she said. “And I like to eat.”
Faith said she would welcome 28 queens from different parishes during the festival.
She returned to Independence from the University of Southern Mississippi at Hattiesburg, where she studied elementary education as a freshman.
“I love college, but it’s not my home,” Faith said. “It’s not like being with family, so I can’t wait to be with my people.”
When Cardaronella takes off his crown on Sunday, he will return to his construction job at North Oaks Medical Center, a career he has built over 36 years. Brenda, a retired solicitor, said she runs Liuzza’s Trucking with her husband, but as her eldest daughter gave birth to her grandson on Wednesday, she will be performing grandmotherly duties before and after the festival.
“It’s been one of the most eventful weeks of my life,” Brenda said. “But it’s so full of blessings, family and celebrations.”
The Sicilian Independence Heritage Festival will be held along West Railroad Avenue, US Highway 51, from 5-9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday, and noon-6 p.m. Sunday.