Demanding Justice for Italian Americans

By Lisa Femia, NIAF Public Policy Manager

Barbed Wire 2

For years after World War II, there was an open secret among Italian Americans. No one spoke about it, but the scars of wartime mistreatment didn’t fade quickly. Property taken, homes boarded up, nonne forcibly relocated—these were the memories etched in the minds of the war generation.

When their children and grandchildren asked for more detail, too young themselves to remember or comprehend, the war generation said, “No. We do not talk about this.” They didn’t want to relive the humiliation or re-experience the anger. After all, this generation was American now. And they loved their country.

When you hear “internment during World War II,” your first thought is probably not Italian Americans. The internment and forced relocation of 110,000 to 120,000 Japanese Americans, including American citizens, is certainly unmatched and is a story that has been rightly told. It’s a blemish on American history for which the government has had to apologize and provide reparations.

Internment CampBut the Japanese were not the sole targets of the U.S. government at this time. Italians also faced internment, forced relocation, restrictions, and loss of property on a large scale.  This part of the story remains largely unknown—swept under the rug and classified by the government, kept quiet by the victims who wished to move on.

The arrests came first. Immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the FBI conducted raids on scores of persons of Italian descent. Many were aliens, but not all. And of the aliens, many were permanent residents.

They were taken suddenly, told only that their arrest was “by order of President Roosevelt.” Those arrested were put on a train with darkened windows bound for internment camps. Missoula, Montana was home to the largest interned Italian population, with 1,200 non-military Italian men being held alongside Japanese and Germans. Their assets were frozen, their offices closed. Wives and children struggled to access the funds needed to pay bills or cover school tuition. Most were never deemed a sufficient security risk for arrest.

Then came the “enemy alien” classification and restrictions.

600,000 Italian citizens living in the United States were classified as “enemy aliens.” Enemy's LanguageThese were legal immigrants, many in the middle of pursuing American citizenship, many with children and families who were American citizens. They were classified as “enemy aliens” not because they exhibited subversive behavior, but simply because they were Italian.

As enemy aliens, they were required to register at local post offices, where they were fingerprinted, photographed, and given a card to carry at all times. They were confined to a five-mile radius from their homes and forbidden from leaving between the hours of 8:00pm and 6:00am. Firearms, shortwave radios, cameras, and “signaling devices,” including flashlights, were prohibited, confiscated, and largely never returned. The discovery of one of these items in a home was grounds for arrest.

Also confiscated were the boats of dozens of Italian fisherman for use by the U.S. military.  When returned, most of the boats were damaged beyond repair. Hundreds of other Italians lost their jobs due to movement and curfew restrictions. No compensation was ever provided.

About 10,000 Italian Americans were forced out of their homes in California coastal communities and told to move inland. Any alien in an undesirable location was required to move, no matter age or circumstance. As there weren’t enough houses for all displaced Italians, it wasn’t uncommon for people to spend the night in a chicken coop or shed.

Lisa's Nonna WeddingItalians further east were also relocated. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Joe Aiello, a U.S. resident for 56 years, evacuated his home in a wheelchair. Placido Abono was 97 years old when he was forcibly relocated.  He was moved out on a stretcher.

The silence of Italian Americans who lived through the war shielded the federal government from having to share this troubling part of its past. Official documents regarding Italian treatment during World War II were withheld from the public until 1997, when several members of Congress pushed for declassification.  Even now, not all relevant documents are publicly available and much of the story remains unfinished and unacknowledged.

On December 1, 2015, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California introduced two pieces of legislation to the U.S. House of Representatives. One, H.R. 4147, calls for an official apology on behalf of the U.S. Congress for the treatment of Italian Americans during World War II. The other, H.R. 4146, asks for funds to be made available to study Italian Americans during the same period.

While the Italian American community has thrived and assimilated in this country through hard work and perseverance, none of that diminishes the importance of educational initiatives and historical accountability, and this legislation provides both. This is not about whining about the past, it is about clarifying and raising consciousness.

A Congressional apology and an education program have political resonance, showing our representatives that what happened was an abuse of power inconsistent with American ideals. In a larger sense, this is an effort to honor the principles of liberty and justice that are at the core of American democracy, principles that motivated so many Italians and other immigrants to come to these shores.

Join NIAF and ask Congress to apologize for the government’s treatment of Italian Americans during World War II. Call on Congress to pass H.R. 4146 and 4147. 

SIGN THE PETITION HERE

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Cent’anni – “May you live for 100 years”

By Rosario Mariani, http://www.europebychoice.com

A favorite toast among Italians at a wedding, or at any of life’s happy occasions, is  Salute e Cent’anni – “may you live for 100 years.” And in Italy, there is a good chance that in Italy, you might very well reach 100 years old – and possibly more!

Sardinia has the world’s highest recorded percentage of people who have eclipsed a Acciarolicentury.  Montemaggiore Belsito, in the province of Palermo in Sicily, celebrating your 100th birthday is a very common occurrence.

However, in the town of Acciaroli, in the province of Salerno just south of the Amalfi Coast, there is a population of 2,000 inhabitants. Of those 2,000, 300 of them have reached the age of 100, and 60 of them are pushing 110 and enjoying it.

Is it the Mediterranean diet, wine, olive oil, herbs, fish, climate, location, low-stress, and long walks?  The answer is: all the above (as well as the Italian way-of-life).

Ernest Hemingway frequently visited Acciaroli, which played a partial role in inspiring him to write The Old Man and the Sea.

rosemaryOne ingredient in their diet is rosemary – it grows everywhere, is used to flavor their dishes and its use prevents diseases like Alzheimer,as well as improves blood flow to the brain. Another ingredient in their diets are anchovies, which are high in Omega 3 and are equally as effective in preventing heart and cardiovascular diseases.

On a recent visit to Cetara, on the Amalfi Coast, just 50 miles north of Acciaroli, I saw the locals placing their catch of anchovies in a small wooden barrel and putting a heavy weight on it.  The pressure, over a long period of time, allowed the oils of the fish to drip into a container, which they called la colatura. A few drops of this fish oil added to any salad or to any main dish is all you need to get your daily dose of the amazing omega 3.

It seems that the fountain of youth is in Acciaroli! I wonder if the 110 year olds still complain that their 85 year old kids are still disrespectful after all these years?


Rosario Mariani is the owner/CEO of Europe By Choice, which promotes travel to Italy and other select European countries. He has more than 40 years of experience in the travel industry, previously serving as Director of Italy Product for Italiatour and Club ABC Tours, and also in other positions with EuroFly, Alitalia and Air France.

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Happy 70th Anniversary to La Vespa  

By Rosario Mariani, http://www.europebychoice.com

This year is the 70th Anniversary of the founding of Vespa! Before the “Nuova Fiat 500” was launched as a car for the masses in Italy on July 4, 1957, the Piaggio company Vespaintroduced la Vespa to the Italians on April 23, 1946. It was not only a scooter – it was a way-of-life.

When the founder, Enrico Piaggio, was shown a prototype, he immediately exclaimed “Sembra una Vespa!” (It looks like a wasp!). Hence, its name was created on the spot.

Audrey_Hepburn_and_Gregory_Peck_on_Vespa_in_Roman_Holiday_trailer

[Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures]

Vespas quickly became an Italian icon, and soon enough, every young man couldn’t wait to be able to own one.  Its popularity became so widespread that in 1953, it appeared in the movie Roman Holiday where Gregory Peck drove Audrey Hepburn around the Eternal City. That image introduced the Italian dolce vita lifestyle to the world and soon after, everyone began wanting to imitate the Italian lifestyle. Even Charlton Heston in Ben Hur got to ride a Vespa.

The Vespa was inexpensive and, while almost every American family owned a Chevy, Italian families drove a two-wheeler in the post World War II era.  It did the job quite well and Vespa has prospered. It is still very popular, especially in crowded cities around the world.

Buon compleanno Vespa!


Rosario Mariani is the owner/CEO of Europe By Choice, which promotes travel to Italy and other select European countries. He has more than 40 years of experience in the travel industry, previously serving as Director of Italy Product for Italiatour and Club ABC Tours, and also in other positions with EuroFly, Alitalia and Air France.

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Who is in control of Sundays in Italy –  Soccer or Church?

By Rosario Mariani, http://www.europebychoice.com

Modern-day soccer was brought to Italy from England at the end of the 19th Century, where it has become an extremely popular sport and national pastime. By 1934, Italy had won its first FIFA World Cup and then won again in 1938, 1982 and 2006.

soccer ball and field

It has only been surpassed by Brazil who won 5 other world championships. Soccer is not inter milanjust a sport in Italy: it is a way-of-life. Calcio, as it is known in Italy, is gradually overtaking the public’s attention on Sundays.

Soccer clubs have built beautiful and large historic stadiums as cathedrals to the game, and the fans (i tifosi) are devoted to their home team (squadra). Fans will go to any length to attend a Sunday match even if they have to travel out-of-town and at a considerable cost.

Soccer is addictive and – as every Italian household knows – Sundays from 2 p.m. to the late evening is devoted to soccer matches at the stadiums, on TV, radio, social media, or in newspapers and magazines.

Moden CathedralOn the other hand, attendance at religious Mass on Sunday mornings is down.  On a recent trip to Italy, I have noticed that women and children sit in the pews to listen to the priest’s sermon, while most men stand in the back of the church, often outside the main entrance, to discuss that afternoon’s game logistics, as well as other gossip with friends.

My recommendation is that both soccer and religion have a place in the Italian way of life, but an effort has to be made to respect and preserve the latter and make it a very important part of Sunday throughout Italy.


Rosario Mariani is the owner/CEO of Europe By Choice, which promotes travel to Italy and other select European countries. He has more than 40 years of experience in the travel industry, previously serving as Director of Italy Product for Italiatour and Club ABC Tours, and also in other positions with EuroFly, Alitalia and Air France.

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Pesce d’Aprile  ~  April Fool’s day

By Rosario Mariani, http://www.europebychoice.com

As a young boy in a small town in Italy, April 1st was the day to pull pranks on everybody.  We drew an image of a fish on a piece of paper with the phrase “Pesce d’Aprile” and we taped it to parked cars or inside the teacher’s cupboard; we would send a younger child to deliver the message to an adult, or we would pin the paper on the back of somebody’s coat and many other silly ways in order to get a big laugh.  No one explained why we did it, but we liked to do it over and over again.

Pesce d'Aprile

Well, now we know that we can blame it all on Pope Gregory XIII.

By the year 1582, the Julian calendar, which was used by the Western World, was not in sync with the seasons, and desperately needed some tweaking to realign the Earth with the Heavens.

Faced with this dilemma, Pope Gregory XIII introduced some changes and renamed it the Gregorian calendar.  The changes included:

  • 11 days removed from the calendar so that the day after October 4, 1582, became October 15, 1582.
  • February now had 28 days instead of 30 and every 4 years an extra day was added to make it a leap year.
  • Other months of the year consisted of either 30 or 31 days.
  • New Year’s Day was subsequently celebrated on January 1st, and no longer on March 25th, with festivities lasting through April the 1st.

Legend has it that some people were not at all happy with this change, and continued to celebrate the New Year in their own way around April 1st. The people who embraced the new calendar started to mock the reluctant ones and gave them false presents and played tricks on them.

During that time, April 1st coincided with the end of Lent, when the Church forbade Christians to eat meat. Fish was tolerated and was often used in the offering of gifts for the New Year.

When the jokes started to become more common, fake fish were often used to trick the victim. There lies the legendary origin of “April Fish,” (Pesce d’Aprile) stuck on the back of the fools, those who did not accept the changing times or who saw the world through their own eyes only.

And don’t forget! Pranks are only allowed up to mid-afternoon.


Rosario Mariani is the owner/CEO of Europe By Choice, which promotes travel to Italy and other select European countries. He has more than 40 years of experience in the travel industry, previously serving as Director of Italy Product for Italiatour and Club ABC Tours, and also in other positions with EuroFly, Alitalia and Air France.

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Spring has arrived in Italy!

By Rosario Mariani, http://www.europebychoice.com
Every year on March 21st, we celebrate the coming of spring. A season that brings new life to the hills and valleys in all beautiful towns in Italy.
This week, a video taken from my room at the Castello di Semivicoli in Casacanditella in Abruzzo, will convey my feelings and admiration for this magnificent place and season. Spectacular views of the wine country at the foothills of the Maiella. The Baronial house is a splendid place to enjoy “la Primavera Abruzzese.”
Enjoy the video!
Rosario Mariani

Rosario Mariani is the owner/CEO of Europe By Choice, which promotes travel to Italy and other select European countries. He has more than 40 years of experience in the travel industry, previously serving as Director of Italy Product for Italiatour and Club ABC Tours, and also in other positions with EuroFly, Alitalia and Air France.

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Italian Silly Taxes

By Rosario Mariani, http://www.europebychoice.com

It seems that the Italian national debt rises every year and it is almost a given that in order to reduce the debt, all there is to do is levy silly taxes.  These crazy taxes are perceived as unjust and many people find ways not to pay up.

However, these silly taxes breed evasion, so it is fun to watch both sides become very creative in avoiding them. Here are a few silly Italian national and regional taxes:balcony

  • Balcony tax: while most Italian homeowners do not pay any real estate taxes for the first home, they are assessed a balcony tax, an elevator tax, garbage tax, phone line tax and more.
  • Visit to the doctor tax: this was designed to finance health assistance for the needy.
  • Automobile cigarette lighter: since the sale of matches was part of the state monopoly, a cigarette lighter in the car was considered to be bypassing the match tax. So il bollo – a one time stamp tax -was imposed. It had to be visible on the car’s console.  You risked a fine if  il bollo was not displayed properly.
  • TV tax: this tax started in Italy with the introduction of television transmissions in the early 1950’s. Because reception was free and there were no commercials, a yearly tax called il Canone was invented. It became so difficult to collect these taxes that recently the government has asked Enel, the electric power company, to include the tax with their bill to each customer. If you don’t pay, you will not have electricity or any TV.
  • Believe it or not, if you own a piano, have crested silverware, or have servants, there is a tax for it all.
  • If you post a “For Sale” sign you must pay for the privilege.
  • Lately, there has been a lot of talk on taxing Google access.

Last month a friend called me to say that a tax was assessed on his driveway, since it leads to a public road and, therefore, was taxable. He lives on a new development and for the past few years, the community has been pleading with the authorities to pave the road. With no response, the homeowners decided to pave the road themselves. Right after the paving was completed, the access tax was imposed.

Back in the 1st Century,  both Emperor Nero and Vespasian taxed urine, since the lower classes urinated in pots that were then emptied in cesspools. The urine was used in Roman pee pottanning, and they also extracted ammonia from it to clean and whiten woolen togas.

Vespasian’s son, Titus, despised the tax, and made it very known to his father. Vespasian then offered his son a gold coin, which he threw into the urine pot. This was to teach Titus that the value of money should not be tainted by its origins. Therefore, even today there has never been a tax, silly or not, that the tax collector has not liked to collect.

I’m surprised that a “Ministry of Silly Taxes” has not been set up in Italy yet. The Monty Python comedy troupe created a “Ministry of Silly Walks” in Britain, so why can’t Italy have one for silly taxes?


Rosario Mariani is the owner/CEO of Europe By Choice, which promotes travel to Italy and other select European countries. He has more than 40 years of experience in the travel industry, previously serving as Director of Italy Product for Italiatour and Club ABC Tours, and also in other positions with EuroFly, Alitalia and Air France.

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Crossing the Atlantic by Ship or by Plane

By Rosario Mariani, http://www.europebychoice.com

During the post-war era, from 1950 to 1969, every major European country had a fleet of ships positioned in the North Atlantic in order to carry millions of immigrants to the United States.  The biggest passenger ships were the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth, each over 80,000 metric tons.

SS United States

Photo Credit: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

By the mid-1960’s, the Italian line had 4 ships: The Raffaello, Michelangelo, Cristoforo Colombo and Leonardo Da Vinci. When the first two ships entered service in May 1965, they weighed 46,000 tons and carried approximately 1200 passengers.  The average crossing of the Atlantic cost just under $600 in a 4-person cabin, in the tourist class. It took 7 days to reach Genoa, Naples, or Trieste, and the ships were sailing out almost every week. Crossing the Atlantic by ship was they way to go!

The airlines, on the other hand, were proud that their 707’s and DC8’s carried 180 passengers and took 8 hours to reach Rome from New York ‘s Idelwild airport. The apex airfare in the mid 1960’s was around $800.  The capacity, comfort and lower fares made the crossing on ships more desirable.

Pan Am Jumbo JetBut on January 20, 1970, it all came to an end.  Pan Am launched the B747 JUMBOJET service able to carry 354 passengers per flight. The end of the era was about to hit the steamship industry.  Many were skeptical in boarding a big Jumbo Jet, but in spring 1970, the airlines launched the $199 round-trip student fares and the final blow was given to the steamship lines.

Shortly there after, some steamship lines, redirected their focus on the cruise industry.   Ships got bigger and bigger and the cruise industry flourished.  Now the Allure of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in service today, is 5 times the size of The Raffaello or Michelangelo, and carries over 5,400 passengers.

It is no longer an ocean liner, but rather, a theme park sailing the high seas.  The old steamships companies sold off their ships for scrap metal or they were abandoned. Some caught on fire, while others just sank. It was a sad story to see so many ships disappear.

The SS United States, the fastest ocean liner to cross the Atlantic, was for years abandoned but may soon return to the Atlantic as a refurbished luxurious ocean liner to bring back the glory days of the ocean crossings.

My dream is to soon be able to go to Pier 90 in New York City, board the US United States, and return to Genoa in style. The great ocean liners will soon be able to have their revenge on cruise ships.


Rosario Mariani is the owner/CEO of Europe By Choice, which promotes travel to Italy and other select European countries. He has more than 40 years of experience in the travel industry, previously serving as Director of Italy Product for Italiatour and Club ABC Tours, and also in other positions with EuroFly, Alitalia and Air France.

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Addio to Part of My Childhood

By Gabriella Mileti, NIAF Director of Programs.

It’s safe to say, I cannot escape my Italianità.  I speak the language, I cook the food, I sip espresso from a Bialetti Moka pot every morning, I read books about Italian history, I vacation in Italy, I watch Rai Italia, I only drink Italian wine, all my leather goods are Made in Italy, I drive a Fiat 500, I work at NIAF, and the list goes on and on.

So, growing up in an Italian household in Cleveland, Ohio with a mother from the province of Reggio Calabria, and an Italian American father of Sicilian, Abruzzese, Veneto descent, I spent every summer of my childhood (and adulthood) in Italy, visiting family.  It was the one time of the year my family and I got to spend quality time together with our Italian cugini, and zii.

Reggio Calabria

The summer was full of all the familiar sights, sounds and smells that one could imagine in Southern Italy.  I remember landing in Rome and immediately being immersed in the aroma of espresso and the “puzza” of cigarette smoke (don’t forget – smoking in Italian airports was the norm up until a few years ago).  We would later arrive at the one-runway Reggio Calabria airport, and I remember the sounds of families reuniting – kisses and joyful exclamations – and the buzz of vespas, the smell of sauce simmering at 9 a.m., the passeggiate at night, and, of course, the raw landscape of the mountains meeting the Mediterranean Sea.  Summers in Calabria were the best on so many levels.

But if you’ve ever been to Italy to visit family, you know that no visit is complete without making the rounds of the paese to see your relatives.  You know what I mean – the ceremonial procession to each and every relative’s house, with the entire family in tow.  Oftentimes, I didn’t know half of the people I met, and my mother had to explain to me and my siblings numerous times how we were related to them.

Naturally, it’s customary in any Italian household that when guests come over, no matter who they are, you offer them food and drink.  As a child, I was offered candy.  And not just any candy: every household that I ever put foot in in Italy always had a bowl of Perugia Rossana candies.  Fast forward a few decades and honestly, I can’t remember every single name of all the relatives in the paese, but the one thing I do remember are the bowls of Rossana candies that I was offered at each house.

rossana

Perhaps by name you don’t remember them, but if I described the little, rectangular yellow candies, hard on the outside but with a gooey soft core, and wrapped in a shiny red and gold wrapper, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.  It was like there was a cultural public service announcement that every house in Italy was required to have a bowl of Rossana candies in their house.

Indeed, the Perugina Rossana candies are a part of the cultural puzzle—they were as much a part of growing up Italian American as Werther’s Original are to Americans!  The milky flavor was so genuine and simple, and they were a huge part of my experience in Italy as a little girl.  In fact, when I try one as an adult, I am immediately transported to my childhood.

So today, I was sad to find out that Nestlé, the corporate giant behind Perugina, has decided to discontinue producing this 90 year-old tradition. The company is stating that they are not interested in producing historical products, but would rather concentrate on making the best Perugina chocolates.  So much for having a diverse line of products! This is another blow to the Italian culture, thanks to big businesses taking over, as we are seeing more and more these days.

The point of this piece was not to start a tirade on corporate destruction of Italian culture. This is just my last love letter to a piece of my childhood that unfortunately we will all lose forever.  And while those visits with the relatives were sometimes rather boring (no offense cuggini), Rossana candies made the visits sweeter and gave me something to look forward to when we left one house and moved onto the next one.  It’s a shame that something that has been so dear to the hearts of Italians and Italian Americans for the past 90 years will now be lost and eventually forgotten.

While this piece won’t change Nestlé’s mind, I can assure you that on my trip to Italy this summer I will be bringing back a suitcase full of those shiny red-wrapper candies, and will savor the flavor of my childhood for a little bit longer, before it becomes just a memory of the past.

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Some challenges of being an Italian American  

By Rosario Mariani, http://www.europebychoice.com

italian american flags

Italian Americans who are well versed in Italian and English often have to cope with everyday challenges:

  • I have yet to fully enjoy an Italian movie with English subtitles. My biggest challenge is that while reading the subtitles, I become too obsessed in making sure that the translations are correct to enjoy the movie.
  • When visiting friends and family in Italy, I’m referred to as “l’americano,” but as soon as I get back to New York, I become “the Italian.”
  • I am confused when in restaurants I see advertisements for Northern Italian cuisine, but the menu features typical Southern Italian dishes such as Ziti alla Norma, Spaghetti all’Amatriciana, Veal Sorrentino, Mozzarella Caprese, etc.Starbucks
  • I have issues when I go to Starbucks and have to accept Italianized words like “Lattes,” “Frappuccinos,” “Caffe Grande,” or “Caramel Macchiato.” What’s next? Please Starbucks, keep it simple.
  • I  have to stop myself from telling my friends at dinner not to order a Cappuccino after 10 A.M.
  • When watching Italian TV shows, I hate when the host uses too many English words that are often mispronounced and don’t make sense.

What other difficulties have you had, being Italian American and/or bilingual? I would love to compile a list of challenges! – Rosario


Rosario Mariani is the owner/CEO of Europe By Choice, which promotes travel to Italy and other select European countries. He has more than 40 years of experience in the travel industry, previously serving as Director of Italy Product for Italiatour and Club ABC Tours, and also in other positions with EuroFly, Alitalia and Air France.

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