Italy’s “No” Vote: What it means for Italians, Italian Americans, and the World

By Lisa Femia, NIAF Manager of Public Policy

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On Monday evening, December 5th, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi looked solemnly in the face of political defeat and submitted his resignation to Italian President Sergio Mattarella. Italian voters had decisively rejected his proposed constitutional reform plan in a referendum vote just the night before. So tied was the resolution to the Prime Minister, that The Economist began referring to it as the “Renzi-ferendum.”  Renzi had made it a top goal of his tenure in parliament, and promised to resign should it fail. Now, the moment had come. As he announced his resignation, he knew, as did the people of Italy, that this vote had been a rejection of him as much as his proposal.

Italians voted against the constitutional referendum by a surprisingly large margin. About 60% of Italian voters said “no” to a plan that would have reformed the size and scope of the national government and altered the nation’s 68-year old Constitution. U.S. analysts are labeling it another victory for international populist, nationalist political movements, though in truth, it is far more complex than that. Renzi faced opposition from multiple ends of the political spectrum.  Establishment politicians, such as former Prime Minister Mario Monti, also argued against the referendum. In fact, it is not clear if the vote was a rejection of the referendum itself, Renzi, centralized government, or some combination of the three.

The rest of Europe—and much of the world—has turned its eyes towards Italy after the vote on Sunday. So too have Italian Americans, sitting at home in the United States, wondering what this means for their ancestral homeland, for global markets, and for the future of relations between Italy and the U.S.

WHAT WAS THE REFERENDUM?

The referendum would have changed 47 of the Constitution’s 139 articles. The most controversial proposed change was a significant reduction in the size of the Senate and a shift in its role to a more consultative legislative body, giving the lower house increased freedom to pass bills without Senate approval.

The referendum would have also provided for the abolition of Italian provinces, the level of governance below the regions. Some powers currently retained by the regions—such as infrastructure, energy, major transportation, and civil protection—would then have been transferred to the national government. Other changes included abolishing the national council on the economy and labor that advises Parliament, amending the electoral process for selecting judges to Italy’s highest court and Italy’s president, and opening up channels for citizens to propose legislation.

Proponents of Renzi’s plan argued that it would streamline Italy’s legislative process, preventing bills from being stalled for months, if not years, as they often currently are. Italy has had 63 governments in 70 years, something Renzi’s supporters claim is a result of gridlock in the country’s political system due to the over influence of Senate power. Opponents, on the other hand, claim the referendum would concentrate too much authority in the hands of central government and allow a political party that merely won a plurality in the general election to completely dominate the system. The referendum, many argue, was thrown together sloppily and could have been more effective had Renzi introduced measures in pieces.

WHAT ARE THE IMMEDIATE EFFECTS IN ITALY?

Of course, the most immediate effect of the “no” vote in Italy is Renzi’s resignation. Although President Mattarella asked Renzi to remain as Prime Minister until the 2017 budget is passed, the Prime Minister will ultimately step down. The pressing question in Italian politics is who will replace him. A couple names have been put forward, including Pier Carlo Padoan, a former finance minister in Renzi’s cabinet, and Pietro Grasso, the former head of Italy’s Anti-Mafia  Commission. Regardless, it is more likely than not that an establishment politician will take over until the next election, which is currently slated for 2018. Parliament will undoubtedly argue over election laws, but that date is likely to remain the same.

Renzi’s resignation, however, does leave the country with a political vacuum. Many experts think this could provide an opening for the increasingly popular Five Star Movement, a populist party that supports an anti-globalist platform, including leaving the euro and returning to the lira as currency. Other experts think a Five Star takeover is still far from likely, given the popularity of the euro with Italians and the high probability that a majority coalition will be needed to form a new government in 2018.

The largest concern in the wake of Sunday’s vote is the fate of the Italian banking system. The country’s banks are in deep financial trouble, nursing $385 billion in suspect debt among them. The vote on the referendum has lessened the banks’ hopes of being recapitalized. Prior to Sunday’s vote, the Financial Times reported that eight of the banks were at a high risk of failure should the referendum fail. Now, much currently hinges on the recapitalization of Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, Italy’s third largest bank by assets, which is currently in talks with Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund for funding.

This recapitalization plan, however, looks likely to fail. If the bank cannot get funding from private investors, it will need either a taxpayer-led bailout, a “bail in” of junior bondholders by turning their safe bonds into risky ones, or a Eurozone-level bailout. The European Central Bank could do this through its bond buying program.

 

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR EUROPE?

Europe’s most immediate concern is financial. There were early losses for the euro immediately after the vote, but the market recovered quickly. This was partly because investors predicted the result, partly because political instability in Rome is not unusual, and partly because it became clear the path to power for the Five Star Movement remains a difficult one. Still, another Eurozone bailout seems increasingly likely, and the financial situation moving forward is a thorny one.

More troubling for Europe, however, would be the rise of populist, anti-European Union sentiment in a politically tumultuous Italy. Italy is the third largest economy in the EU and, if it votes to leave, it could precipitate a massive financial crisis on the continent. After Brexit, there is fear among EU members of any political action or failure that emboldens anti-globalist movements. Once again, though, the referendum’s failure in no way makes the rise of the Five Star Movement inevitable.

 

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE UNITED STATES?

Right now, not much. U.S. banks experienced a boost on Monday when Italy’s banking bailout became less likely, thereby increasing the appeal of U.S. markets. Even so, the U.S. should not experience any major financial or political effects in the short term.

However, the rejection of the referendum does open the door for future actions that could have a major impact on the U.S. and global markets. If the vote signals the continued spread of nationalist populism in Europe and allows for the rise of the Five Star Movement in Italy, the world could witness the breakup of the Eurozone. This could cause geopolitical unrest and a global financial crisis that would hurt U.S. investors. For the moment, however, that still seems unlikely.

All the U.S. and Italian Americans can do right now is sit, wait, and see what happens.

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Truffle Season

Fall in Italy is a season of warm colors, festivals and, of course, incredible food. With every season come new tastes and culinary traditions in each region of Italy and one of the most popular, which has made its way across the Atlantic to the U.S., is the truffle.

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These small, dirt-covered delicacies don’t look like much at first glance: they are, in fact, a species of fungus that grow underground, and are related to mushrooms. In the past, truffles were found by pigs, which farmers used to sniff out the truffles in the undergrowth of forests in regions such as Piemonte, as well as Molise, Tuscany, Umbria, Emilia Romagna, and Le Marche.

Pigs, as it so happens, are smart animals, and farmers had a difficult time stopping the pigs from eating the truffles before they could actually get their hands on the nugget-sized delicacies. Today, the truffle hunter (also truffle-2known as a tartufaio or trifolau) instead trains and uses dogs to sniff out the truffles. It is dirty work, involving hours spent tramping through forests, digging through mud and underbrush, often returning home empty-handed. Perhaps part of the allure of truffles is that they are not something that can be cultivated – they must always be hunted, sought after, dug up from the earth.

truffle-3Truffles are used in a variety of Italian (and international) dishes. Known for their rich, earthy flavors, truffles are can often be found in creamy pasta sauces, shaved raw over risotto, in carpaccio, or even on bruschetta and crostini. Regardless of how it’s eaten, truffles – especially white truffles – have come to be associated with culinary decadence.

Ancient Romans often ate a cousin of today’s truffles known as a terfez, or “desert truffle.” Truffles came back in style in the Renaissance, where they were eaten almost exclusively in royal courts.  Today, truffles are still royal in some regards: a large, high-quality white truffle from Italy can sell for over $100,000 (although you can find black truffle products for much less).

white-truffleThis past weekend, the Union League of Philadelphia and NIAF’s 2016 Region of Honor, Piemonte, hosted the XVII World Alba White Truffle Charity Auction simultaneously in both Philadelphia, and Torino. Proceeds from some of the 2.5 lb truffles will go to NIAF and our scholarship programs, which support hundreds of students in their college educations.

So if you’re in the mood for earthy, seasonal Italian dishes, indulge in some truffles this autumn and pretend – at least for just a moment – that you’re eating gold (it might cost as much).

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A Gala Experience

Haley Prater, the recipient of The NIAF Marnell Foundation Scholarship in 2014-2015-2016, had the opportunity to attend and volunteer at this month’s NIAF 41st Anniversary Gala Weekend.

Haley blogged about her experience on her personal blog, but we’ve decided to share it here for all of our followers to see one young woman’s experience of our Gala Weekend.

The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) held their 41st Anniversary Gala on Saturday, October 16, 2016 in Washington DC. As a three-year recipient of the NIAF Marnell Foundation Scholarship, I was gala-1invited to volunteer at the event, and I finally made my way out to D.C. in my last stretch of college. The NIAF Region of Honor this year was Piemonte and I lived in Torino (the capital of Piemonte) for a year so I couldn’t contain my excitement. Considering the fact that my family is very proud of our Italian heritage, and I have worked myself to the bone in an attempt to keep my scholarship, this weekend was the opportunity of a lifetime.

D.C. was beyond my expectations. I hadn’t felt this at home in a city since I was touring cities for college; it is one of the only cities I’ve visited (besides Paris and New Orleans) where I could see myself living there and being happy for years to come. The fast-paced characteristics of the city, along with the metro, made me beyond elated because it made the city seem small and large at the same time. Leaving Monday evening was practically devastating.

Friday afternoon was the beginning of the Gala weekend. Beginning the day with a cooking demonstration from Domenica Marchetti, my mom and I watched as she made one of my favorite foods from my time in Italy: tajarin, which is the Piemonte version of tagliatelle. The pasta noodles are egg-yolk-rich, have a lovely yellow color, and go great with truffles or mushrooms. After walking around D.C., my mom and I got ready for the NIAF Friday gala-2Night Kick-Off Celebration.

The cocktail party, which had an extensive silent auction, featured many Italian cocktails and my FAVORITE wine. When I saw that they had Dolcetto d’Alba at the bar, my excitement went through the roof. Full of bold and rich flavors, the wine was direct from Piemonte and it reminded me of my amazing time living in Italy. The party was MC-ed by Joe Piscopo, who surprised me with his impressive music skills. Joe Matarese from America’s Got Talent killed it with his comedy set highlighting everything from Italian Grandmas to Non-Italians. World-famous accordionist Cory Pesaturo, Lena Prima, and Deana Martin all performed to the pleased crowd, and made the night one to remember.

Saturday was by far the busiest and craziest day of the weekend. The Expo Italiana was in full swing, where I worked at the NIAF welcome booth. I got to greet guests, raffle off prizes, and give attendees information about the Expo. The Expo had food, wine, coffee, and products from all over Italy. NIAF called the event “a vibrant marketplace and forum for all things Italian and Italian American.” Mike’s Deli, Lavazza Café, Peroni, Cibo Foods, Ferrero, BIVI Vodka, La Famiglia DelGrosso, Dolce Gelato, Alitalia, Maserati, and Regione Piemonte were the featured products and brands at the Expo. Guests could learn about and enjoy these products with other Italians and Italian Americans throughout the day.

The Expo also had a Bocce Ball court, movie screenings, and special forums that talked about everything from the future of Little Italys to the process of getting Italian citizenship. I worked at the NIAF welcome booth and interacted with attendees until the Q&A with Anthony and Joe Russo started. The Russo brothers, who were being honored at gala-3the Gala, are the directors of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Arrested Development, and Community. Being a huge Marvel fan, I attended the forum and got to ask the Russo brothers a question. It was inspiring to see the men who have helped define my self-proclaimed nerdiness be so open and willing to talk to people who share a cultural bond with them.

After tearing down and cleaning up the Expo, running to my room, getting Gala-ready in 15 minutes, and rushing back to the hotel where the Gala was being held, I was put at my gala-4post. As a greeter at the event, I was able to meet attendees and explain the layout of the Gala, as well as help guests to their seats. Despite the fact that my dress ripped 15 minutes before I was set to be at the Gala, I was on cloud nine because I finally got to attend an event that I had heard about for over two years.

The Gala dinner itself went off without a hitch and it was one of the coolest experiences ever. Joe Piscopo returned with the NIAF President and COO John Viola to host the event. The Italian Ambassador, Armando Varricchio, opened the event with a tear-inducing speech, which thanked NIAF and its supporters for the more than half a million dollars that was raised in response to the August earthquake that hit central Italy. He expressed his gratitude and the ability of the Italian 20161015-193544-2102webresand Italian-American community to really make a difference. What really got me was the video honoring Piemonte. Seeing the place where I lived and dearly missed made all my happy memories rush forward. The food that was served that night highlighted the uniqueness of the region and its emphasis on truffles and beef. The food and wine that was served showed how wonderful living and eating in the region was as well.

The Gala honored many impressive Italian-Americans throughout the night. While accepting their award, the Russo Brothers announced the launch of a new NIAF program, The Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum. This is a new grant and scholarship initiative that will help fund young Italian-American filmmakers in their efforts to break into the industry and capture what it means to be Italian-American. The crowd was also told about the NIAF’s scholarship programs which in 2016 gave out 180 scholarships, all totaling $950,000. It was an honor to be at the Gala and hear about the scholarship programs because I have received scholarships from the National Italian American Foundation a total of three times. That night was one that will stay with me forever and I was so grateful for the opportunity to finally work and attend the Gala.

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Overall, D.C. and the NIAF Gala were amazing to me. There’s nothing in this world that I’ve done so far that can compare to this experience. If you’d like to learn more about the NIAF click here. If you’d like to learn more about and apply to the NIAF scholarships click here. If you’d like to learn more about and apply to the NIAF grants (The Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum will be up on the website within the upcoming months) click here.

You can check out Haley’s blog post on her entire weekend in D.C. on her personal blog, To Go With Love.

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A Day about Italians Should Be Called Just That

By John M. Viola, President, National Italian American Foundation

For the past few years, as summer fades into autumn and October approaches, I’m inevitably inundated with calls from media to talk about the great elephant in the Italian American room: Columbus Day.

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In recent years, communities around the nation have begun to explore the possibility of replacing one of the oldest American holidays with a new celebration called Indigenous Peoples Day.  Fueled by ever more accessible, and ever more complicated histories of the Italian explorer and his exploits on the American continent, voices from many quarters (including many Italian Americans) have called for a re-examination – if not a complete abandonment – of Columbus’s hero status. Far be it from me, a non-profit community leader, to opine on the nationwide trend for tearing down the heroes of the old order. After all, this same exercise has occurred all over the southern United States in relation to confederate leadership.

In my role as the President of the National Italian American Foundation, the nation’s most active organization representing 25 million Americans of Italian descent, I don’t have the luxury of exploring the positives and negatives of Columbus’s person or his historical imprint.

I have the responsibility of focusing on what columbus-day-paradeColumbus Day has become, more so than what it was intended to be, and what it has become is a celebration of our Italian American community, its luminaries (past and present), its accomplishments in this great nation, and the core values that Italian Americans continue to cherish and identify with.

Believe me, I can understand, coming from a group that did not have a necessarily easy transition to the United States, how important it is to have that point on the calendar where a community can revel in their shining piece of the great American mosaic.  That said, no community deserves more attention and examination than the indigenous peoples of the United States; a group that has faced an incredibly complex and often times sad historical narrative.

Certainly the rest of our nation should seek greater awareness of the numerous tribes dealing with issues that the average American citizen doesn’t face.  But in the battle for Columbus’s legacy, we Italian Americans run the risk of becoming collateral damage in a struggle that has unfortunately pitted two communities against each other.

There is no chance of healing old wounds by opening new ones.  I’m sure my counterparts in the Indigenous American community can understand my concerns that these worthy efforts which they are undertaking lose a great deal of their virtue when they ignore the damage that is being done to the Italian American community.

Facing this onslaught in community after community, while having to serve as the sole defenders of Columbus, is hard enough, but is made all-the-worse by the continuing inability of the leadership of the myriad of Italian American organizations around the country to come together and form a single response or strategy.

Last year our Foundation hosted a forum (which quickly descended into a screaming match) and about the only conclusion we could come to was that there were countless dsc_4676webopinions throughout our community (ranging from those who thought it was our responsibility to fight for Columbus on behalf to those who wished to do away with the holiday completely) but no chance of consensus.  As for me, I think the middle road is always the best.

I think that the Italian American community and our leadership around the nation need to be fighting to make sure that those municipalities that feel uncomfortable with the celebration of Columbus’s legacy have only one option for replacement of Columbus Day and that should be Italian American Heritage Day.

After all, Columbus Day, from its earliest inception, has been a holiday filled with political undertones: first anti-British and eventually even fascist, as well as a day set out to celebrate exploration and immigration, which has by default become a celebration of our keep-em-coming-34great Italian community.

So needless to say, tying the experience of proud Italian Americans and their innumerable ancestors to the biographical circumstances of one figure, completely removed from our general Italian American experience, leaves something lacking to begin with.

So I’m calling on these municipalities and Indigenous leadership around the nation to join me in a strategy that will leave room for everyone to celebrate and explore our various heritages.  If Columbus Day must go, let it be replaced by Italian American Heritage Day and let’s work together to find an alternative time of the year for Indigenous People’s Day, so that we can celebrate (and for most of us learn) the history of the first peoples of this incomparable nation that has welcomed so many cultures to its shores in search of a better life.

To me this day isn’t really about one man, be he famous or infamous, but about millions of men and women, overlooked and unsung, whose courage and self-sacrifice allowed Italian Americans the chance to have this better life.

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John M. Viola is the President of the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., dedicated to preserving and protecting the Italian American heritage and culture.

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Un Giorno con Gigi (A Day with Gigi)

Captured (written) by The Recipe Hunters in Calabria, Italy

We’re sharing a blog post from our guest blogger team, The Recipe Hunters, of an adventure they had while traveling through Calabria as they searched for authentic, Italian recipes. You can read their original post (and get access to this adventure’s recipes) here. Happy reading (and cooking)!

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We are staying at Anthony’s family apartment in Marina di Caulonia, in Calabria, Italy. Every morning Anthony wakes up at 6 AM, takes a run and then a swim in the ocean. I lay in bed until I am conscious enough to bribe myself awake with a cup of Italian espresso and hot milk. By the time I get out of bed, Anthony is usually dripping wet, sandy feet, and smiling. We enjoy our morning espresso together practicing Italian before we plug into our computers.

We have spent the past five days typing up people’s stories and trying out the recipes we have recorded. I work on the veranda in the mornings where I can hear the fish peddlers and the waves crash against the shore at the end of the street. When the sun gets too hot I retreat inside to the cool fan. We play the local radio station hoping to absorb Italian by img_6777auditory osmosis.

Yesterday and the day before, the internet did not work, so Anthony and I went into the town looking for kind people to teach us the local, traditional recipes. So far we haven’t had much luck. We spent about two hours yesterday talking to a woman in a herbal shop and I swear I have never heard anyone talk so fast. I could not understand a word she was saying, I felt like my brain was one of those jackpot slot machines that just keeps spinning until it finds a bilingual match.

From what I can understand, her hippie cousin, who lives in trailer on the Aphrodite Campground by the beach, is someone that we should meet. She tells us, “At this hour, he is sure to be found sitting outside of his trailer with the light on, the guy with the really dsc_0068long grey beard, you can’t miss him.”

…So off we go to meet the serial killer (well, not really, but my mind tends to wander to dark, scary catastrophic places). We stop to pick up groceries for dinner and after being attacked by a stray spider that crawled up my arm from the chicory (not a good sign), we finally arrive at Aphrodite Campground.

At the entrance, Anthony sees a woman in her nightgown smoking a cigarette. We approach her and ask if she knows Luigi (Gigi) Briglia. She nods and asks us to follow her. I don’t remember her leaving, but I remember walking down a dirt pathway towards a beaming fluorescent light ahead of me, feeling like a transfixed moth.

There, sitting below a drooping canopy, is a grey-bearded man in a black t-shirt, faded jeans, and sandals. There are two lawn chairs scattered in front of him. As we approach, he rises to greet us. As he smiles and reaches his hand out, I sense his kindness in the crinkles near his eyes. He asks us to sit down, offers his chair and moves the folded laundry off of mine, sweeping it clean from any dust. I look over to Anthony and let out a deep sigh of relief as he tells the man that his cousin, Claudia, sent us and starts to explain our blog, Made with Love. He listens intently before getting up and walking into his camper.

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I look over at Anthony and smile as I often do when things go better than expected. Luigi (Gigi) returns bearing a portfolio and three large manila envelopes. He hands one envelope to Anthony and one to me. I open the envelope and a stack of photographs falls onto my lap: black and white photographs of the city dating back 30 years, from before we were born. There are men stacking wood to make coal, women mouths wide-open, singing for glory, an old wrinkly grandmother pensively staring out of a window longing for the past, and a little Italian girl in her ballerina outfit stretching towards her toes. Incredible!

These photographs are the most beautiful photographs I had ever seen. We spend the next dsc_0114hour thumbing through photo after photo of festivals, families, and traditions.  We leave with one of his photography books and an invitation to return to his family’s home in the town of Caulonia Superiore during the day of Saint Hilarion (Sant’Ilarione) to make a recipe with his sisters, Manu and Dita.

We meet Luigi at the corner of our street on the morning of the day of Saint Hilarion. We hop in his car and drive the ten minutes to Caulonia Superiore, where the festival is being celebrated. We arrive in the small town atop a hill and park the car, entering the piazza to see a large crowd of people gathering in front of the church.dsc_0034Luigi explains that everyone in the town gathers inside the church for Mass before embarking on a procession where the relic and statue of St. Hilarion are carried on the dsc_0033shoulders of 15 men. As the men bare the statue, they sing in unison with the community members to the sounds of the marching band that follows ensuite.  The priest carries a silver arm containing the ulna bone of St. Hilarion behind a transparent piece of glass, giving people his blessing while they kiss the holy relic.

The procession stops right outside of the gates for 15 minutes as fireworks blast and the singing continues, before they begin their descent into the valley. The parade ends when they reach the abbey about 3 miles down the road. Everyone returns to town for an evening celebration full of good food, music, and joy.

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After the parade, Luigi invites us to his home to make Zeppole, Tarassaco e fagioli cannellini (wild chicory with cannellini beans), and homemade pasta con la buca (fusilli) with his sisters, Dina and Emanuela, (“Manu” for short). Everything Dina and Emanuela cook dsc_0170is organic: they harvest their own olives for olive oil, they forage their own wild plants, they have an incredible garden overlooking the fertile olive orchard and citrus fruit valley, they make their own soap, make their own pasta, and try to be as self-sufficient as possible.

We laugh a lot, eat incredible food, and end our meal with a surprise dessert of lemon cake shaped in a heart by Manu! We leave feeling full, happy, and gracious that we are able to become friends with such inviting, loving people in Anthony’s nonna’s hometown.

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This blog post is courtesy of our NIAF Guest Bloggers, The Recipe Hunters – Anthony Morano and Leila Elamine. Learn all about them and their other adventures here!

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Scholarship Stories

At the National Italian American Foundation, we believe in supporting future generations of our community, which is why we have provided over $7,860,400 in scholarships and grants since 2009. Every donation to our Foundation helps us to not only protect the history and culture of Italian Americans, but also continue the education of our younger generations.

We’d like to introduce you to Nicholas Angelo Strada, from Brown University, Class of 2022- and the recipient of a NIAF Scholarship, to learn more about the deserving students that we support. 

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As a person who is very proud of his Italian heritage, I have always wanted to learn the Italian language, and this class not only taught me the basics of the language but also engaged me in the culture and pushed me to converse in a new language in a way that was out of my comfort zone.

However, I am always aware of the financial burden of attending Brown and being a part of the eight-year PLME program.  I fully realize that with any endeavor such as this come costs and sacrifices.  And so, I am extremely appreciative of the financial support from NIAF and the scholarship I have received.

Because of the eight-year program, the financial burden on my family is large, and the money I received from the scholarship helps ease this burden.  I am passionate about my studies both within and outside of the field of medicine, and I appreciate the ability to pursue these goals every day.

NIAF helps to ease the burden and adds to my appreciation for all those who make pursuing my dreams a reality.

 

For more information on our NIAF Scholarship Programs, click here.

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Scholarship Stories

At the National Italian American Foundation, we believe in supporting future generations of our community, which is why we have provided over $7,860,400 in scholarships and grants since 2009. Every donation to our Foundation helps us to not only protect the history and culture of Italian Americans, but also continue the education of our younger generations.

We’d like to introduce you to Amy Grudier, from Cedarville University, Class of 2017 – and the recipient of our NIAF Lido Civic Club Matching Scholarship, to learn more about the deserving students that we support. 

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The experience of applying, interviewing for and winning the scholarship two years in a row has given me a much deeper appreciation of my Italian heritage. My father was the first person in his family to earn a college degree, so the opportunity to be able to do the same is definitely a great privilege. My first two years at Cedarville can be summarized as full of opportunity.

I have had opportunities to interact with incredible people, learn from phenomenal professors, participate in several community service projects with my peers, and grow in my passion for emergency medicine by getting my EMT certification freshman year and Stethoscopevolunteering as an EMT sophomore year. Receiving my EMT training was made possible through the NIAF scholarship, as the additional financial commitment it posed would not have been affordable if not for the NIAF scholarship.

Through the generous support of those in the NIAF, my first two years at Cedarville have been filled with many memorable moments, and the opportunity to grow in my knowledge of and passion for nursing, emergency medicine, and care for people.

 

For more information on our NIAF Scholarship Programs, click here.

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Italy’s Earthquake: A Call to Action

Italian American Relief Fund

To the Italian American community:

On Wednesday morning, August 24, 2016, a large part of central Italy was struck by a devastating earthquake. This tragic disaster has claimed the lives of hundreds of people, and words cannot convey the deep loss that has affected so many of us. Our hearts and prayers are with them and the rescue workers who are frantically trying to save the remaining victims trapped under the rubble.

Please help the National Italian American Foundation, and our partners throughout the Italian American community, to raise funds for our Italian family. To help in ANY amount, please visit www.ItalianAmericanRelief.org.

As developments unfold, we will continue to update the above site. We are in contact with local authorities as well as the Embassy of Italy to finalize the details of the relief fund, and as soon as we have any updates, we will share them on our website and social media. Although immediate relief is crucial in the aftermath of the earthquake through organizations such as the Red Cross, it will also take years to rebuild these stricken communities, and all donations we receive will go towards those people in need and returning their lives back to normal.

The generosity of our Italian American community is evident in the donations we have received so far, but we must keep the momentum going. We can do a great deal of good in the coming days and weeks, and we hope you will be a part of this effort.

Please pass this along to as many friends and family as you can and please join in our prayers for our Italian family.

I am, as always,

Yours in Partnership,

John M. Viola

President & COO of The National Italian American Foundation

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Scholarship Stories

At the National Italian American Foundation, we believe in supporting future generations of our community, which is why we have provided over $7,860,400 in scholarships and grants since 2009. Every donation to our Foundation helps us to not only protect the history and culture of Italian Americans, but also continue the education of our younger generations.

We’d like to introduce you to Brandon Abranovic, from Arizona State University, Class of 2017 – and the recipient of our NIAF Intel Scholarship, to learn more about the deserving students that we support. 

Abranovic_Brandon

While many students nowadays must struggle to balance school and work and are burdened with debt after graduation, the NIAF Intel Scholarship has freed me from financial worries and allowed me to focus exclusively on academics and extracurricular activities.  This has allowed me to engage in many extracurricular activities that have greatly enhanced my educational experience.  For example, during my freshman year, I was offered the opportunity to be involved in a program called EPICS (Engineering Projects in Community Service).

Through my involvement in EPICS, I was appointed the leader of a small group of engineering students working on a design for an affordable digital high power microscope.  Over the course of a semester and several design iterations, the design developed by my team was successful in developing a working prototype that is now being evaluated for commercialization and large-scale manufacturing.

I believe that this microscope has the potential to enhance education opportunities for millions of low-income students around the world.  My team is currently preparing a technical paper for publication as well as pursuing a patent on several elements of our design.

The NIAF Intel Scholarship is helping me earn credentials and continue to explore the many applications of Chemical Engineering, but most importantly NIAF is allowing me to further my commitment to educating myself and getting me one step closer to my ultimate goal of becoming a professional engineer.

Ellis Island platformBeing Italian American means a lot to me. I am honored and proud to be part of this nurturing and wonderful community – a community that gives me a collective identity, while helping me forge my own individuality by giving me the comfort, security and a sense of belonging to a community.

These historical contributions that Italian Americans have bestowed upon the US are of great importance. Their hard work, traditions and values throughout the history of this country have had an enormous and positive impact and, one day, I hope I will be able to add my own experiences and endeavors to the ever expanding book of the Italian American accomplishments.

Piggy bank

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Meet NIAF

We want you to know the staff working behind-the-scenes here at the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), so we are taking the opportunity to introduce you to one of our staff members! This week, we introduce you to Julia Streisfeld, our Assistant Director of Programs:

Meet the Staff Julia 2

How long have you worked at NIAF?

I started working at NIAF in late September of 2015, in the midst of the madness of the Pope arriving in Washington, D.C., and three weeks before NIAF’s 40th Anniversary Gala! I moved here after graduating with my Masters in Italian Language Culture and Literature from University of Connecticut.  It’s strange to think that almost a year has passed.  Moving down here for my job at NIAF is one of the best choices I’ve ever made!

Why do you like working at NIAF?

The quote, “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life” could not even begin to sum up how I feel about working at NIAF (except for if it added in something about having fantastic coworkers).  I have always had a passion for the Italian and Italian American culture and now I get to work among a family of amazing DSC_5453people who share that enthusiasm and for members who truly appreciate what we do here.

I loved teaching Italian and working with my Italian American students at a university level – in fact, there are certain parts of teaching that I miss immensely, but now I get to apply what I learned in my academic career and share what I taught in an exciting, real world setting. My coworkers especially have made the transition to a new work environment and a completely new city a smooth one after moving almost 400 miles.  Their passion, humor and encouragement are what really make our work environment special. It’s like being adopted into a huge, welcoming family.

Also, working with college-age students is something I truly enjoy. I spent a total of 4 years working as a Resident Assistant and in the office of Residential Life.  Working in student affairs is where I discovered my passion for making a difference in students’ lives during one of the most pivotal and stressful periods of their lives.  This June, I had the opportunity to attend a scholarship reception for one of the matching scholarships that NIAF offers where I met a bunch of the scholarship recipients.  Actually meeting the remarkable students that we are helping was extremely fulfilling. My job not only allows me to promote my heritage, but also allows me to make a positive impact on the lives of outstanding students, all at the same time!

What is your favorite Italian dish?pesto

It’s so hard to pick just one! I would have to go with either arancini or pesce spada arrosto in salmoriglio.  I’m also a sucker for almost anything with pesto Genovese or prosciutto.

Give us a random fact/event/skill thousands can know about you:

One of my favorite hobbies is making jewelry and I try to sell some of my work on Etsy.  I am in awe of gemstones and the way that the earth can produce such a wide variety of colors and shapes of stones and I love that jewelry is basically a wearable form of art.

What is your favorite Italian tradition and why?

By far, my favorite Italian tradition is the procession through town after a couple gets married. I love the idea of being able to celebrate a wedding with friends and family as well as the entire community.

What is your favorite Italian piece of art/music/literature?

danteThis is quite possibly the hardest question I have ever been asked, especially after 6 years of studying Italian culture, but here it goes! There is no way that I can choose just one piece, so I will have to go with my three favorite Italian literary works: La Divina Commedia by Dante Alighieri, I Malavoglia by Giovanni Verga and Ossi di Seppia by Eugenio Montale.

Why is being Italian American important to you?

There is so much to be proud of as an Italian American. Italian Americans are the Statue of Liberty arrivaldescendants of a culture of excellence in every aspect ranging from literature, to art, to music, to the scientific advancements that Italians have provided the world. Being Italian American is important to me because it means not only coming from this rich culture and being a part of a group that has produced so much history, but also coming from a long line of people that have succeeded in the face of adversity.
With my ancestors coming from Castellemmare del Golfo to New York, I am fiercely proud of, and grateful for, my Sicilian background and all of the sacrifices that my ancestors had to make in order to get Castellemmare del Golfomy family where they are today. When I think of what it means to be Italian American, I think of my great-grandparents fearlessly leaving their homes in search of better lives and a better future for the generations to come, and the countless hours that my grandparents worked to provide for their family.  My Italian American identity is important to me because it instilled in me the importance of perseverance, hard work, sacrifice and the unquestioned importance of family.

 

Stay tuned for more Meet the Staff blog posts, coming your way soon!

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