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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, December 18, 2001

O'ahu Italian citizens eager to share culture

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Fabrizio Favale and four other Italian citizens here founded the Italian Club of Hawai'i.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Italian CIub of Hawai'i potluck
• Noon, Saturday, Kaimana Beach near the Natatorium across from Kapi'olani Park
• Free
• Information: italianclubofhawaii.com

Alex Puggi left her home in Rome three years ago to study at the University of Hawai'i and was startled by the shortage of other Italian nationals in the Islands.

But Island people were — and continue to be — curious about all things Italian — the fashions, the food, the cars and politics. So Puggi and four other Italian citizens on O'ahu gathered five months ago and formed the Italian Club of Hawai'i for the sole purpose of recruiting non-Italians who are curious about Italian culture.

She and the club's president, Maria Gallo, designed a Web site, italianclubofhawaii.com. And Puggi thought up the first event to be put on by the five Italians: a free, food-and-music potluck beginning at noon Saturday at Kaimana Beach.

"Yes, yes, of course there will be food," said Fabrizio Favale, one of the club's founders and the owner of Mediterraneo Ristorante on South King Street. "The food is an excuse to start the cultural exchange for the people."

Favale, 54, left his family's construction and restaurant businesses in the small town of Frascati, Italy, in 1987 and set off for Hawai'i.

"I was looking for a change and I'm a big-change person," Favale said. "I check on the map and find the most faraway place."

The history of Italians as a group in Hawai'i is neither as long nor as storied as that of Asian immigrants to the Islands. But there are colorful chapters, including the sudden influx of nearly 5,000 Italian prisoners who were captured by the British in North Africa and sent to Schofield Barracks, Kane'ohe, Sand Island and Kalihi Valley between 1944 and 1946.

The exact reason so many Italian POWs ended up in Hawai'i has been lost over time. But the legacy of the prisoners remains at Fort Shafter in the form of two fountains they built — one designed with winged lions, the other topped by pineapples.

The POWs left statues at Sand Island and at the Immigration Center at Ala Moana. And they built Schofield Barracks' Mother Cabrini Chapel, which was later demolished.

An estimated 400 Italian women also arrived in the Islands as the wives of returning U.S. soldiers after World War II.

Today, Favale estimates that only about 50 Italian citizens live in Hawai'i. "Everybody know each other if you are Italian," he said.

So Favale has contacted representatives from the Japan-American Society of Hawaii to see if their members also want to join the Italian Club of Hawaii.

"Our point of view is simple: Most club is just for the people, Italians, Japanese, whatever," Favale said. "We try to bring anybody in who's interested in Italy, to understand our culture. We want to just open a little window and say, 'We are nice people, and we are here.'"

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8085.