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Italian Day on the Drive will stage a heartfelt comeback in Vancouver

Brunella Gaudio by Clarence Chan
Italian Day on the Drive executive director Brunella Gaudio (centre) didn't give up on one of Vancouver's most popular festivals. Photo by Clarence Chan.

Italian Day on the Drive is returning to Vancouver after a three-year hiatus. And it offers an opportunity to reflect on the contributions of Italian Canadians to the city and the country.

As tens of thousands—if not hundreds of thousands—flock to Commercial Drive in Vancouver on Sunday (June 11), here’s one thing that will be on my mind: the Michael Cuccione Foundation. Named after a boy who developed cancer, it has funded a fleet of researchers who are investigating how to control cancer by harnessing proteins, manipulating the cells’ macroenvironment, and several other approaches, including immunotherapy.

Immunotherapy, which helps the body mount its own defence against tumours, saved the life of a dear friend. It’s one reason why I encourage anyone attending Italian Day on the Drive to drop by the Michael Cuccione Foundation and make a donation.

Back in 2019 before the last Italian Day on the Drive, I wrote about the foundation. At that time, thanks in part to the generosity of Italian Canadians, it had raised $24 million for cancer research.

Michael Cuccione was an amazing kid. Diagnosed at the age of nine, he still went on to become a singer, songwriter, actor, dancer, and author in his short life. He was also a tireless advocate for other kids suffering with cancer, as well as a dynamic fundraiser.

According to his mother, Gloria Cuccione, Michael generated $130,000 for cancer research through the sale of his CD, Make a Difference, which features his songs.

Michael was only 16 years old when he died from respiratory failure in 2001 but he left a lasting imprint on cancer research. His parents, Domenic and Gloria, decided to carry on his legacy, marshalling members of the community to continue the fight against cancer.

Learn more about Michael Cuccione in this video.

Italian Day showcases community’s spirit

I love how Italian Day on the Drive has supported worthwhile charities like this over the years. Also in 2019, the event saluted community heroes Tanya Zambrano and Jim Crescenzo, two Templeton secondary teachers who devoted their careers to helping at-risk kids. They, too, reflect the heart of the Italian community, which has its roots in the East Side.

In 2020, the pandemic kiboshed the big street party. In its place, organizers launched Italian Day on the Drive for Courage, which was a series of events to raise money for Coast Mental Health. It opened with a concert at Vancouver City Hall, inspired by people in Italy singing songs from balconies and rooftops during the pandemic.

This year’s theme for Italian Day on the Drive is Renaissance—or, as the Italians say, Rinascimento. It’s because one of Vancouver’s most beloved festivals is about to experience a rebirth.

There are plenty of tireless volunteers on the board of directors of Italian Day on the Drive. They’ve made this Rinascimento possible. But this year, I also want to give a special shout-out to the executive director, Brunella Gaudio, who has kept dream of Italian Day on the Drive alive. This has been despite the pandemic and all the challenges that it imposed on Commercial Drive businesses.

Brunella embodies the Italian heart of Vancouver—and the spirit of comunità—including in the way that she likes to shine the spotlight on others.

Italian Day on the Drive takes place on Sunday (June 11) with mor than 160 street participants, three music stages, and one music tent. For the full list of events, visit the website. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.