How I See San Francisco: The Italian Heritage Parade's Queen Isabella
The city's oldest civic event, the Italian Heritage Parade, celebrates its 150th anniversary on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. As part of its annual festivities, the Italian Heritage Parade committee elects a Queen Isabella and her Court to represent the community throughout the upcoming year. 2018's Queen Isabella, Mia Toracca, is a North Beach native with Italian-American heritage, and a student at City College of San Francisco. Mia answered a few questions for us on how she sees San Francisco, North Beach, and the Italian Heritage Parade.
What is the Italian Heritage Parade?
The Italian Heritage Parade is an event that has been going on for 150 years to commemorate and celebrate the pride of the Italian community and their contributions to the city of San Francisco.
How does the parade fit within the diversity of San Francisco?
The Italian Heritage Parade welcomes a diverse group of participants. Although this day celebrates Italian culture, it is not exclusively Italians who join in. As a community, we welcome all who want to join, including school bands/drill teams from all around the Bay Area, local businesses and vendors, members of the American Chinese Cultural and Art Association, and some of the many Fleet Week military members.
What should visitors expect to see in and at the parade?
The parade consists of a delightful assortment of participants from many different parts of the city and Bay Area. Some of my personal favorites include the Balloon Platoon, the U.S. Marine Corps, the Boudin Bakery and Columbus Salami Floats, and, of course, Queen’s Court.
As Queen, what duties do you have with the parade?
My duties are to attend specific events leading up to the the Grand Ball and Italian Heritage Parade. I participate in publicity for the events, fundraising, and encouraging young Italian-American women to play a larger role in the Italian-American community.
How does North Beach maintain an Italian sensibility?
The smell of coffee from Trieste or Graffeo, the Italian cuisine, delicatessens, and Stella Pastries are just some of the many delicacies located in and around Columbus Avenue. When Italians emigrated to America and settled in San Francisco, they brought with them their language, customs, and culture. Family and neighbors are cornerstones in an Italian community. We keep the idea of small businesses and neighborhood support alive. We stay connected through face-to-face conversations and events.
Parade or not, why should someone visit the North Beach neighborhood?
North Beach offers a warm welcome. Fisherman’s Wharf, located next to North Beach, is already a primary destination for locals and visitors alike. The neighborhood has some of the best food, bars, retail, and attractions. Many sites (Coit Tower, PIER 39, The Embarcadero, Chinatown, Union Square, Market Street, etc.) are within reasonable distance. We also happen to enjoy some of our best weather in October, which draws people out following our notoriously chilly summer months. There is a little bit of something for everyone, which for many, offers a feeling of home.
Italian Heritage Parade aside, what's your favorite annual or seasonal event in the city?
One of my favorite annual events would have to be the 1906 Earthquake & Fire Anniversary Ceremony at Lotta’s Fountain. On April 18 at 5:12 a.m., city officials and the general public are invited to gather around the fountain to commemorate the exact time of the great quake. It is a must-see historical experience that shows just how strong and resilient the people of San Francisco are.
What's one to-do item you still have on your San Francisco bucket list?
Do you have a favorite day trip excursion beyond the bridge to recommend?
We hear you’re a bit of an athlete. How can a sports fan enjoy San Francisco?
Any last advice for visitors to San Francisco?
We’ll put you on the spot - where can someone find the best Italian food in the city?
North Beach, of course! It really is tough to beat. Our neighborhood has a little bit of everything. If you want great Italian food, Firenze By Night. For seafood, Sotto Mare. If you want pizza, it has to be Tony’s Pizza Napoletana or Tommaso’s. We have great Mexican food at Don Pistos, and if you want the real San Francisco experience, it's Original Joe’s. Wherever you go, make sure you tell them the Queen sent 'ya!