While nearly 67,000 residents currently occupy the shipping town known for cement, boat and food products, as well as for being a fishing port and a light industrial center, Molfetta's impact and importance is much greater, especially in the United States, and particularly Hudson County.
That's because there are approximately 40,000 Italian-Americans of Molfetese descent currently residing in northern New Jersey, especially Hoboken and Weehawken.
In fact, according to Salvatore Scardigno, the president of the Federazione Molfettesi d' America, there are approximately 4-to-5,000 Weehawken residents whose ancestors come from the shipping town.
"I don't know of any town in Italy that has sent more Italian immigrants to America," said Scardigno, whose social and cultural organization works to promote the history and the culture of the town. "Not Rome, not Naples. It's easy to see how many Molfetese are in the area by going through the phone book. Minervini, Gataletta, DePinto, DeCandia. Those are all names from Molfetta. At one time in the mid-1960s, 50 percent of Hoboken was from Molfetta. Many of those people worked hard, earned money and moved to Weehawken."
One of those families was the Silvestri family, like in First Ward Councilwoman Carmela Silvestri Ehret. "My father was from Molfetta," Silvestri Ehret said. "When they came here from Molfetta, he made it a point to learn the language. A lot of people tried to camouflage where they were from. But my Dad worked hard to learn English because he didn't want it to be so apparent. But it's part of my heritage. I never really had a history lesson about Molfetta."
Sunday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. at Weehawken's Webster School, Scardigno and some of the members of his association will give a special presentation about the history and culture of Molfetta.
There will be three speakers: Scardigno, who is now an engineer; Cosimo DeBari, another Molfetta native who is now a vice president of a bank and Professor Orazio Tanelli, who is a teacher of Italian history at Ramapo College.
"The reason why we're doing this is to change the perception that people have of Italy," Scardigno said. "It's a disgrace the way Italy is portrayed in Hollywood. People think that it's just the Mafia, spaghetti and Sophia Loren. Hollywood always shows Italians as being in the mob. I'm not saying that there's no Mafia, just that it's not as significant. While there are so many people here who are Molfetese, there are so many who don't know anything about it."
Scardigno said that Molfetta natives flocked to the United States, particularly Hoboken, in three waves - at the turn of the century, in between the two World Wars and then after World War II. Scardigno's family arrived in Hoboken in 1961.
But Scardigno wants other Molfetese to realize how wonderful the native region has become.
"It's so beautiful there," Scardigno said. "It's surpassed England in terms of economics. I think perhaps some of the old-timers might have forgotten about the history and tradition of Molfetta and the progress Molfetese people have made over the years since coming to America. The land was here, the opportunity was here and jobs were here, so they capitalized on it. There are so many success stories."
Scardigno said that there are prominent natives of Molfetta, like Gaetano Salvemini, who was the first person to stand up to Benito Mussolini and his fascist regime.
"Salvemimi was a professor in Italy who told everyone that Mussolini was bad," Scardigno said. "He ran away to the United States and then taught at Harvard and Yale. He fought fascism to the end and even came to Hoboken to speak a few times."
Another native of Molfetta to earn fame in the United States was Riccardo Muti, who has been the director of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra for the last 20 years.
Scardigno said that Molfetta is now more of a vacation town.
"The water is clean, the air is clean," Scardigno said. "It's a pretty affluent area because there are so many Molfetese people who left, went to other countries, like the United States, Argentina, Australia and Venezuela, sent money back to Molfetta. But people come back to visit."
Now, the Molfetese people of Weehawken will get a firsthand chance to learn even more about their heritage and history.
"I'd love to learn a little more," Silvestri Ehret said. "I don't think I've ever seen a presentation like this in our neck of the woods. There are a lot of Italians in Weehawken, a lot from Molfetta. Most of my neighbors are. I think it's good for the people of Weehawken to learn more about it."
The presentation is free of charge and there will be a reception following it.
For more information about the federation, log on to www.molfettausa.org.