NIAF Congressional Fellowship: Reflections by Anthony Falcone

Anthony Falcone was a 2020 NIAF Congressional Fellow and is a student at The Catholic University of America.

This past fall I had the honor to intern in the office of Congressman Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.-AL) as part of the NIAF Congressional Fellowship. My primary responsibilities included answering phone calls from constituents, sorting through constituent emails and mail, and assisting other staff members with any tasks or errands they had for me. During my internship, Congressman Gianforte and his office worked on legislation dealing with veterans, suicide prevention, and public lands.

This past year was certainly an interesting time for our country, so it was helpful for the Congressman to hear directly from constituents about how they felt about the many issues facing our country today. Working in the office of an at-large district with COVID-19 safety measures and social distancing practices in place, provided the unique opportunity to work for all of the citizens of a state, not just those of a particular district. This internship gave me a greater insight and appreciation for the legislative process that takes place every day at the Capitol and for all those who work diligently to make it possible.

As a person who values my Italian heritage, it was a privilege to work for a fellow Italian American who holds public office. To see his dedication to the citizens of Montana and our entire nation reminded me of the patriotism of my grandmothers, who passed on their rich Italian culture to their grandchildren, while instilling a love for the United States. This blend of working for the ideas and goals of the United States and our Constitution, while never forgetting the traditions and culture of Italy has been a driving factor in my life. My experience interning as a NIAF Congressional Fellow allowed me to experience this first-hand. I am very grateful to NIAF for this beneficial opportunity that has helped me to develop both professional and personal skills.

The 2021 Congressional Fellowship application is open now until June 1. For more information, visit: https://www.niaf.org/programs/congressional-fellows/.

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Italian American WWII Hero: Joseph LaTorre Jr.

Launched in 2020 to remember the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, NIAF is recognizing Italian Americans who sacrificed, served and defended peace, freedom and democracy during the war through the #IAWW2Heroes initiative. 

This entry is a special submission from Joanne LaTorre Anderson in honor of her late father.

Joseph (Giuseppe) LaTorre Jr. (1919-1990) was born in San Jose, Calif., to Italian immigrant parents from Gioia del Colle, a comune in Bari. He married his wife Ann on December 7, 1941, the day of the infamous Pearl Harbor attacks. In response to the attacks in Hawaii, California mandated blackouts, which altered some of the couple’s plans.

Shortly after, LaTorre was drafted into the U.S. Army. In 1944, he was sent to Europe where he fought in and survived the Battle of the Bulge. LaTorre’s first daughter was born while he was in Germany. He met his daughter, Joanne, for the first time when she was 11 months old. Note the signature on the photo he sent to her: “To my Angel, From Daddy.” 

Photo of Joseph LaTorre Jr. with his message to his newborn daughter: “To my Angel, From Daddy”

A few years later, he and his wife welcomed their second daughter, Janis, who completed their family.

“He was a man of love, bravery, integrity, fun, hard work and devotion to his Italian family!” shared his daughter, Joanne LaTorre Anderson.

After he returned from the war, he went into a wholesale produce business: “He provided wonderful vegetables and fruit for our family dinners and generously shared with other family members, neighbors, and friends,” shared Anderson. “Over the years, he spoke frequently about his army ‘buddies’ with a sense of a strong brotherly love and pride! Joe LaTorre was a humble man, and his family is extremely proud of his participation in the ‘Battle of the Bulge’ which changed the world forever!”

If you’d like to make a submission to NIAF’s #IAWW2Heroes initiative, email the photo and description to media@niaf.org.

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NIAF Congressional Fellowship: Reflections by Benjamin O’Hara

Benjamin O’Hara was a 2020 NIAF Congressional Fellow and is currently a senior at Georgetown University.

This fall semester, I had the opportunity to work remotely for the office of Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.). I have felt very privileged to work for Congressman Pascrell not only because of his work on behalf of the Italian American community, but most importantly because of his fight for values that my Italian American grandmother instilled in me: decency and justice for all. This semester, I am proud to say I was able to do my small part in assisting the Congressman in his work.

During my time as an intern, I also learned a great deal about the legislative process and writing skills that will be useful as I enter my early career. I greatly enjoyed drafting co-sponsor memos for the congressman; in this way, I learned about interesting and important congressional bills that are rarely discussed in the media. Through this task, I also learned how to effectively summarize large amounts of information so that the reader can quickly understand the heart of the subject.

In addition, I had the opportunity to listen to hearings concerning the PPP loan program and Federal Reserve policy. These hearings gave me a deeper understanding of issues that are especially important during the pandemic.

Although my work this semester was remote, I learned and grew a lot from the experience. I am especially thankful to Congressman Pascrell’s staff members for giving me tasks that were engaging and fruitful. During this difficult and busy period, they took the time to make my experience as a NIAF Congressional Fellow as rewarding as possible, and for that I am grateful.

I deeply appreciate the opportunity NIAF and Congressman Pascrell’s office gave to me, and I know I will make use of the skills I gained this semester in my professional career after college.

The National Italian American Foundation’s Congressional Fellows program serves as an opportunity for first-hand experience in public service for the next generation of Italian American leaders in government. Fellows learned about the legislative process, issues facing Congress, and the operations of a Congressional office while working for an Italian American leader who has climbed the ladder of public policy success.

The 2021 Congressional Fellowship application is open now until June 1. For more information, visit: https://www.niaf.org/programs/congressional-fellows/.

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Italian American WWII Hero: Albert N. Marchio

Launched in 2020 to remember the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, NIAF is recognizing Italian Americans who sacrificed, served and defended peace, freedom and democracy during the war through the #IAWW2Heroes initiative. 

This entry is a special submission from Jim Marchio in honor of his late father.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Albert N. Marchio helped defend his country during the Second World War, honorably serving in the United States Coast Guard from October 1942 to April 1946. He began his Coast Guard service on Long Island, N.Y., as walking patrol along the beach to spot German U-Boats off the coast and thwart potential infiltration attempts. 

He later served as a radarman on a Coast Guard cutter patrolling the east coast, from Brooklyn to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, protecting vital sea lines of communication and allied shipping from German submarines.   

Born in 1922 in Plainfield, N.J., Al worked in his father’s grocery and butcher shop prior to enlisting. Both his father (Niccola, born in Pitigliano, Toscana) and mother (Anna DeMatteo, born in Alvignanello, Campania) emigrated to the United States prior to the outbreak of the First World War.  Al returned to his father’s shop after the war but eventually went on to have a very successful career as a beer and liquor salesman. 

If you’d like to make a submission to NIAF’s #IAWW2Heroes initiative, email the photo and description to media@niaf.org.

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The Philly Cheese Steak’s Italian American History

By Bob Masullo

Excerpt from “6 Italian American Sandwiches That You Won’t Find in Italy” in NIAF’s Ambassador magazine, 2021 Spring Issue.

The most popular, and in the opinion of many the most delicious Italian American sandwich, comes from Philadelphia—the Philly Cheese Steak. Made with thinly sliced, sautéed rib-eye beef and melted cheese—usually cheddar, or American, even Cheese Whiz, though provolone has been an option from the start—and served on a long, crusty roll with fried onions, spicy peppers, sometimes sautéed mushrooms and tomato sauce.

The sandwich’s name doesn’t hint at its ethnic roots, but in South Philly, the city’s Little Italy, Italian Americans Pat and Harry Olivieri invented it in the 1920s. Pat used to sell hot dogs from a small street stand. One day, having grown tired of his own fare, he asked his brother Harry go to a nearby butcher and buy some beef. Pat grilled the beef, added some onions, put it on an Italian roll, and as he was getting ready to eat it, a cab driver smelled the beef and asked for a steak sandwich himself.

“You ought to sell these…,” said the cabbie. According to legend, cab drivers from all over the city started coming for the steak sandwiches. Pat added the cheese  years later.

In 1930, Pat opened Pat’s King of Steaks on E. Passyunk Avenue, specializing—and still does—in cheese steaks. Served hot, the sandwich spread to other Philadelphia eateries—including across the street at the famous rival cheese steaks at Geno’s—and then went nationwide.

Read about the other five Italian American sandwiches at niaf.org/ambassador and flip to page 54.

NIAF Members receive the printed glossy magazine as a membership benefit. Join NIAF today.

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NIAF Remembers Devastating Abruzzo Earthquake

On this day 12 years ago, residents of Italy’s mountainous Abruzzo region were woken up by a devastating earthquake that shook the very foundations of their lives. The magnitude 6.3 quake resulted in 308 deaths, more than 1,500 injured and the displacement of 65,000 people. At the University of L’Aquila, administration buildings and residence halls collapsed, with eight students dying in just one dormitory.

We will never forget April 6, 2009.

In response to the tragedy, the NIAF Abruzzo Relief Fund raised nearly $800,000 for relief efforts, while a public-private partnership between NIAF and the State Department helped bring 52 displaced University of L’Aquila students to the United States to continue their studies at American universities. NIAF was chosen by the U.S. State Department to lead this initiative.

For 46 years, with your support, NIAF has answered the call to help our brothers and sisters in both Italy and the United States: https://bit.ly/2wodHmM.

To help the Foundation continue its mission and answer the call for relief missions, join NIAF today.

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Italian American WWII Hero: Joseph Montopoli

Launched in 2020 to remember the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, NIAF is recognizing Italian Americans who sacrificed, served and defended peace, freedom and democracy during the war through the #IAWW2Heroes initiative. 

This entry is a special submission from Michael A. Montopoli, MD, MPH, FACOEM, CAPT USN (Ret), in honor of his late father.

Joseph Michael Montopoli (1922-1999) was born in Rome, N.Y., where his parents Giuseppe and Maria (nee Paolini) Montopoli emigrated from Tocco da Casauria, Provincia di Pescara, Abruzzo. From 1943 to 1945, he served honorably in the United States Navy as Ship’s Serviceman Tailor Second Class (SSMT2).

“Thank you for your initiative honoring members of the ‘Greatest Generation,'” said Michael Montopoli.

Additional information on his service is available on the Navy Log at http://navylog.navymemorial.org/montopoli-joseph.

If you’d like to make a submission to NIAF’s #IAWW2Heroes initiative, email the photo and description to media@niaf.org.

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Italians Lynched in Tallulah, La., Honored with Historical Marker at Gravesite

By Linda Fatta Ott

The State of Mississippi and City of Vicksburg honored five Italians who were lynched just across the Mississippi River in Tallulah, La., on July 20, 1899. Five Italian men who owned grocery stores in town, were seized by a mob of local residents and publicly hanged. The men honored are Giuseppe Di Fatta, Francesco Di Fatta, Pasquale Di Fatta, Giovanni Cerami and Rosario Fiduccia. Three of the men were brothers and all were related.

The dedicated historical marker at the gravesite of the victims. Photo courtesy of Charles Marsala.

On Friday, March 19, 2021, a Mississippi State Historical Marker was dedicated at their burial site at the Cedar Hill Cemetery in Vicksburg, Miss. Antoinette Fatta Helton, Linda Fatta Ott, and Deborah Helton Flores—descendants of Giuseppe Di Fatta—sponsored the Historical Marker to ensure the men will never be forgotten. Ott, Giuseppe’s great-granddaughter, officiated the ceremony and other family members participated. Father Rusty Vincent of St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Vicksburg blessed the burial site.

“Giuseppe’s son, Nicolo Di Fatta ‘Nick Fatta’ anguished over the fact that his father did not receive a proper Catholic burial,” said Ott, Nick’s granddaughter. “Nick passed away in Houston in 1967 and his family knows he too can finally rest in peace. Nick would be very proud of this ceremony and what the marker represents.”

More than 60 people gathered for the dedication ceremony to honor the Italians who were victims of this horrible crime. The descendants of the victims, Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs Jr., Tallulah Mayor Charles Finlayson, fellow Italian Americans, historians, and friends gathered at the gravesite to show respect for the men and to hear the story of what led up to the horrible deaths these men faced.  Cynthia Savaglio, a University of Tampa Assistant professor who wrote a screenplay about the Tallulah lynching, was asked to speak and present the truth of what led up to the murders. After the lynching event in 1899, American Newspapers and magazines wrote incorrect information in an attempt to justify the actions of the lynchers. The truth has finally been told and the victims have been vindicated.

All five Italians emigrated from Cefalu, Sicily, to Louisiana in hope of making a better life for their families. Sadly, they were the victims of racism and murder at the hands of the men they served in their grocery stores in the town of Tallulah. The event triggered an international incident with Italy; the fact that those men who performed the lynchings were never brought to justice caused anger and tension between Italy and the United States. President William Mckinley vowed to make the incident a priority and to bring the men responsible to justice. However, that never occurred. In the President’s December 1899 state of the union address, he stated in part:

For the fourth time in the present decade, question has arisen with the Government of Italy in regard to the Lynching of Italian subjects. The latest of these deplorable events occurred at Tallulah, Louisiana, whereby five unfortunates of Italian origin were taken from jail and hanged.

Governor Tate Reeves of Mississippi recently wrote a letter to Giuseppe’s family regarding the monument for Giuseppe, Francisco, Pasquale, Giovanne and Rosario. He stated, “This state historical marker will ensure that Mississippians will remember their names so that we will never repeat the tragedy of the past.”

The Mayor of Cefalu, Rosario Lapunzina, also wrote to the family in which he sincerely and wisely stated: “In today’s world, there are too many signs that the terrible history of the tenth and twentieth centuries can be repeated, and that racism, prejudice and human stupidity are now a daily occurrence. For this reason, each of us has the duty to educate young people in the values of solidarity, acceptance and respect.” (Translated from Italian to English)

The victims’ families believe this Historical Marker will serve as an acknowledgment of the wrong doings that occurred 122 years ago and a step forward to healing. Certainly, the five Italians shall never be forgotten.

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Italian American WWII Hero: Giuseppe Messina

Launched in 2020 to remember the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, NIAF is recognizing Italian Americans who sacrificed, served and defended peace, freedom and democracy during the war through the #IAWW2Heroes initiative. 

This entry is a special submission from John Messina in honor of his late grandfather.

Giuseppe (Joe) Messina was born in Porto Empedocle, Sicily, in 1920. His mother delayed the recording of his birth for one year out of concern that he would be drafted into the Italian military as a child. Mr. Messina immigrated to the United States with his mother in 1928 in order to join his father who had settled in San Francisco several years earlier. 

Mr. Messina dropped out of school after the death of his mother and took up welding at around the age of 12. With the outbreak of World War II, he initially received a military deferment due to his welding skills which were needed to rebuild the U.S. fleet after the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

Marie Concetta

Mr. Messina’s father was a fisherman and his boat, the Marie Concetta (pictured above), was seized by government officials during the war. 

During the latter part of the war, Mr. Messina went on to serve in the U.S. Army. He stormed the beach on D-Day during the invasion of Normandy and was later injured by mortar fire during the Battle of the Bulge. Mr. Messina received a Purple Heart and Silver Star for his service.

Mr. Messina resided in South San Francisco until his death in 1996. 

If you’d like to make a submission to NIAF’s #IAWW2Heroes initiative, email the photo and description to media@niaf.org.

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Italian American WWII Hero: Antonio Francis Federico

Launched in 2020 to remember the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, NIAF is recognizing Italian Americans who sacrificed, served and defended peace, freedom and democracy during the war through the #IAWW2Heroes initiative. 

This entry is a special submission from Nancy Federico in honor of her late father.

Antonio (Tony) Francis Federico was born in Aprigliano Corte Cosenza in the Italian region of Calabria in 1915 and immigrated to the United States in 1927. After moving to America, he lived in Portland, Oregon, with his parents Rocco Federico and Maria Rosaria Muto Federico along with this two siblings, Teresa and Angelo.

Tony Federico joined the U.S. Army in 1941 and completed the U.S. Army Officer Engineer Course, where he earned a diploma in 1942.  He went on to become a 1st Lieutenant and a Platoon Commander-Engineer Unit, and fought in the Battle of the Bulge at Normandy as a M1A Shoulder Fired Anti-Tank Rocket Launcher Bazooka Gunner. Using the Bazooka Gunner made Mr. Federico permanently deaf in his left ear.

Mr. Federico was awarded a European and American Theatre Ribbon with 3 Stars; Normandy, Central Europe, Rhineland, and an American Defense Victory Metal. He left the Army in 1946 with Honorable Discharge.

Mr. Federico returned home and married Giacoma Apa. They had five children named Diane, Nancy, Teresa, David and Delores (who are twins).

 In 1956, Mr. Federico moved his family from Portland, Ore., to Santa Clara, Calif., in the Santa Clara Valley, now known as Silicon Valley.  His civilian career was with, The Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company (Pacific Bell), and after working with Pacific Bell more than 29 years, he retired in 1977.

“In 2004, I honored my father with a WWII Certificate of Honor from the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C., when the wall was completed,” shared his daughter, Nancy Federico. “In 1989, my father was also honored by another one of his children, with a certificate from the State of Liberty-Ellis Island, signed by Lee A. Iacocca, as ‘An American Immigrant Wall of Honor’ recipient, and his name was also engraved on a wall of Ellis Island. This honor was also given to my mother, Giacoma (Jacqueline) Apa.”

Mr. Federico lived to the age of 77 and is survived by his children and several grand and great-grandchildren

If you’d like to make a submission to NIAF’s #IAWW2Heroes initiative, email the photo and description to media@niaf.org.

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