Reflections – The Ambassador Peter F. Secchia Voyage of Discovery (VOD)

-In light of the 2020 VOD being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic-

By Anthony Pizzo, Alumnus of the 2002 Gift of Discovery/Voyage of Discovery

In 2002, I had the life changing honor to go to NIAF’s Voyage of Discovery program (or Gift of Discovery back then). I was just a young college student when I was selected to go on the Voyage of Discovery, and the experience completely changed my life.

Before going on the Voyage of Discovery, I was just an Italian American kid from a working class in South “Philly.” I was in college at the time but did not know what I wanted to do with my life. I had never left the country nor did I every really think I would have the opportunity.

I remember in late December of 2001 my father showed me about this program for Italian American students to visit Italy. I shrugged my father off and did not think I had any real opportunity to qualify for any program. At the time, I was also working 7 days a week at an Italian pastry shop where I worked from 3AM until 7AM every morning before I went to school. Applying was just not a priority for me. But on the deadline for applications, something inside me told me to apply. A few weeks later I was absolutely shocked to receive a letter (how times have changed!) from NIAF. The letter stated that I was accepted for the Voyage of Discovery program to go Sardinia, Italy, with Italian American students from all over the U.S.  

The trip itself was amazing and brought about ever-lasting changes. For nearly two weeks in May 2002, we traveled throughout the beautiful island of Sardinia, interacting with locals, taking in the sights, and I learned about the world outside of my little bubble of South Philadelphia than I ever could have imagined. But the real changes did not end there, in fact, they had only just begun.

Living in a working-class area of Philadelphia, PA, the Voyage of Discovery gave me the opportunity to meet Italians and Italian Americans who went beyond the stereotypes of Italian and Italian Americans I had grown up watching on TV. I realized then that Italian Americans were capable of doing great things and I wanted to be able to give back and make a difference.

After I returned from the Voyage of Discovery, I immediately enrolled in Italian courses. Within a year, I had applied for and received my Italian citizenship. By the time I graduated from college, I was accepted to St. John’s University MBA program in Rome, Italy. I lived in Rome for two years and I knew then that I wanted to be able to come back and stay in Italy. I also decided that I wanted to be an inspiration to fellow Italian Americans in a pivotal stage in their lives – college. So, I was determined to get a doctoral degree and return to Italy as a college professor. It took a while, but in 2019, I graduated with my PhD in Business Administration. While the current economic environment has put my dream of returning to Italy and working as a professor on hold, I encourage all of this years of Voyage of Discovery award winners to maintain their fortitude.

We, as Italian Americans, have been graced with fortitude. Although recent events have temporarily set us back, I encourage all of this year’s participants to stay the course and see the bigger picture. Indeed, even back in 2002, our Voyage of Discovery trip was almost cancelled due to the September 11th attacks.

I know it is easy for me to tell you to stay positive. But there is a large and supportive organization with NIAF, myself included. Please use us as a resource on your voyage moving forward. I hope my story brings you a little sense of tranquility. Never forget that you are apart of an organization which will be a constant source of inspiration for you.

Although this year’s VOD trip has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we encourage those who are interested in the program to learn more by visiting

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NIAF Membership Giveaway with My Dad’s Sauce

By Nicolette Turano, Co-Founder of My Dad’s Sauce

Our dad, Pat Turano came from Calabria, Italy, in 1971 and opened his first pizzeria, Casa Turano at 21 years old. From there he opened, operated, and sold several restaurants and pizzerias – his most recent was Trattoria Rustica in Montclair, N.J. In 2016, he won a competition on Restaurant Impossible with Robert Irvine. When asked why he loves what he does he said, “I love creating new dishes, it’s a lot about making people happy.”

In January 2019, my siblings Brianna and Ryan, and I decided to start jarring “My Dad’s Sauce”—the tomato sauce that we grew up enjoying with our family and friends. To keep our product fresh, we jar in small batches. Our product is vegan with no artificial flavors or preservatives and no added sugar.

During quarantine, we realized the potential we had to expose our sauce to a much larger audience. With the help of social media and a great community we are seeing our dream become a reality. Right now, we are selling online as well as a few local markets. We recently launched our product in Shoprite Bloomfield, N.J., as of May 22! We hope this sauce can become a household staple that symbolizes family.

We are so excited to be collaborating with the National Italian American Foundation for this giveaway in honor of Father’s Day!


The NIAF Membership Giveaway with My Dad’s Sauce – Enter by June 10!

In honor of Father’s Day, NIAF is offering its members a chance to win a jar of My Dad’s Sauce along with: a NIAF Buon Appetito! apron, a NIAF “Make Sunday Italian Again” wooden spoon, and Celebrity Chef Mary Ann Esposito’s latest cookbook Ciao Italia: My Lifelong Food Adventures in Italy! NIAF Members eligible to win this gift must follow these three steps:

  1. Like NIAF, Mary Ann Esposito, and My Dad’s Sauce’s Facebook pages;
  2. Follow both NIAF and My Dad’s Sauce’s Instagram accounts; and
  3. Email confirming that they did steps 1 and 2 above.

The contest will run until June 10. The winner will be announced on June 12. Not a NIAF Member? Join today to be eligible to win this fantastic giveaway:


My Dad’s Sauce’s Connection to NIAF

Brianna and Nicolette Turano, two of the three siblings that started “My Dad’s Sauce” have been fortunate enough to take part in the Ambassador Peter F. Secchia Voyage of Discovery (VOD) trip with NIAF in 2013 and 2018. Brianna and Nicolette still look back on these trips as one of their best life experiences!

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NIAF Congressional Fellow: Part 3

By Sam Pedalino, 2019 NIAF Congressional Fellow

2019 Fellow Sam Pedalino with U.S. Representative Bill Pascrell Jr. (N.J.-09)

This past fall semester I had the privilege of working for Congressman Bill Pascrell Jr. (N.J.-09) who is Co-chairman of the Italian American Congressional Delegation (IACD). My work primarily focused on working with constituents by receiving and documenting their calls, assisting staffers in gathering support from other Members of Congress for bills and letters, as well as attending briefings and hearings.

Coming from an Italian American background, it is especially inspiring to see fellow members of the community succeed. Being an intern on Capitol Hill was an experience that I never could have imagined. An opportunity as exclusive and exciting as this gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation for the everyday commitment our country’s representatives give to their work and their constituents in hopes of making our country a better place. This first-hand experience has given me the tools to feel confident in having the ability to thrive in whichever field I plan to pursue.

Sam Pedalino is a student at the University of Oklahoma and is from Kinnelton, N.J.

The 2020 NIAF Congressional Fellowship application is open until June 1. For more information, visit:

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NIAF Congressional Fellowship: Part 2

By Luke Ferrante, 2019 Congressional Fellow

Minority Whip Rep. Steven Scalise (La.-01) shaking hands with 2019 Congressional Fellow Luke Ferrante

My Italian American heritage has always played a large role in my life. From a young age, the stories of my family’s hard work to make a new life for themselves in America inspired me to put my best foot forward in not only my studies but also in my career.

As a political science major, working in Washington, D.C., was frequently thought of as a dream job for some far-off future. Luckily, I did not have to wait as long as I expected when I was offered this Fellowship and placed in the Office of Republican Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.-01). I am incredibly grateful to NIAF for giving me the amazing opportunity to make my dream a reality. I was able to work alongside very smart and talented people and see first-hand the inner workings of how a congressional legislative and leadership office operates. Thanks to NIAF, I learned valuable professional skills which I will use in future jobs and was exposed to countless opportunities to pursue when I graduate.

Luke Ferrante is a student at Ramapo College and is from Morris Plains, N.J.

The 2020 NIAF Congressional Fellowship application is open now until June 1. For more information, visit:

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Italian American WWII Heroes

By Chris Tremoglie

Vice President Nelson Rockefeller once said, “I think of the 1.5 million Americans of Italian descent who made up ten percent of the armed might of the United States in World War II, and many of these men you have met in years still well remembered.”

May 8th – VE Day (Victory in Europe) – is the anniversary of the surrender of Nazi Germany to the Allied forces, ending World War II in Europe. Approximately 3% of the world’s population perished in combat during the world’s deadliest war. In the United States, Italian Americans played a pivotal role in fighting the Axis Powers – many of them sacrificing their lives. Often honored as the “Greatest Generation,” let us honor some of the brave Italian-Americans who served as we commemorate the 75th Anniversary of VE Day.

John Basilone

John Basilone is arguably the most well-known Italian American to serve in World War II. In fact, Basilone’s story was one of the main plots of the HBO miniseries, The Pacific. Basilone was a United States Marine Gunnery Sergeant and fought in the Pacific Ocean theater of World War II. Remarkably, he also served in the United States Army three years before his service in the Marine Corps.

Basilone’s heroic feats during the Battle of Henderson Field in Guadalcanal are of mythical proportions and almost impossible to believe. His unit came under heavy fire from about 3000 Japanese soldiers. Basilone “was commanding two heavy .30-caliber machine gun sections from First Battalion, Seventh Marines, that were tasked with holding a narrow pass at the Tenaru River.” Basilone and his men were hammered with wave after wave of brutal Japanese attacks.

As his unit suffered significant casualties and ammunition was running critically low, Basilone’s heroism saved the day. He moved an extra gun into position and maintained continual fire against Japanese forces. Through all of this, he repaired a broken machine gun and went to replenish ammunition. During this sprint, Basilone: carried “about 90 pounds of weaponry and ammunition, ran a distance of 200 yards through enemy fire while fighting off Japanese soldiers along the route with his Colt .45 pistol. He continued running back and forth between gun pits, supplying ammunition to those desperately in need and clearing gun jams for his fellow Marines.” He also wound up burning his hands and arms while fending off an “entire wave of Japanese soldiers.”

By the time reinforcements had arrived, only Basilone and two other Marines were alive and Japanese forces opposite their section of the line had been virtually annihilated. For his actions during the battle, Basilone received the United States military’s highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor.

Afterwards, Private First Class Nash W. Phillips recalled:

“Basilone had a machine gun on the go for three days and nights without sleep, rest, or food. He was in a good emplacement, and causing the Japanese lots of trouble, not only firing his machine gun, but also using his pistol.”

Basilone would ultimately be killed in action in Iwo Jima protecting his fellow Marines from an enemy attack. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Navy Cross. Basilone was the only enlisted Marine “to be awarded both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross for his extraordinary heroism in both battles.”

Henry Mucci

Henry Mucci was a Colonel in the United States Army. Mucci was a West Point graduate who was assigned to Hawaii. Mucci is known for his heroism in liberating over 500 survivors (most American soldiers) “of the fall of Corregidor and the Bataan Death March from a Japanese prison camp in the Philippines.”

He survived the attack on Pearl Harbor and then joined the Army Rangers. He also had two brothers serve in the military during World War II. The 2005 film, The Great Raid, was about Mucci’s heroism.

The USO website highlights Mucci’s skill and bravery in executing the “Great Raid.” It states that “there were only 48 hours to plan the liberation and no time to practice the logistics. Mucci had just 121 Rangers with him and they were outnumbered at least two-to-one. They also had the hefty goal of rescuing more than 500 prisoners of war (POWs). Still, Mucci led his men behind Japanese lines, following their Filipino guerilla guides as they trekked through the jungle to prepare for their attack.”

Mucci was praised for the discipline of his unit in planning and executing the raid. In his obituary in the New York Times, his valor was highlighted. It was also noted that it was this discipline that enabled Mucci and his men to “penetrate 30 miles behind Japanese lines north of Manila” who were captured for three years “endured an excruciatingly brutal confinement in a camp named for the nearby town of Cabanatuan.”

Anthony P. Damato

Corporal Anthony P. Damato was an Italian American World War II hero who served as a Marine in both the Europe and Pacific Theaters.

Damato enlisted in the Marines about a month after Pearl Harbor. He was a participant in the Allied invasion of North Africa known as Operation Torch. Damato “helped seize the port of Arzeau, Algeria” and advanced in rank as a result of “his meritorious conduct.” His heroism involved “entering the port from seaward and assisted in boarding and seizing vessels in the harbor as well as the seizure of the port.”

His bravery continued when he saved the lives of two American soldiers while fighting in the Marshall Islands. Corporal Damato threw himself onto an enemy Japanese grenade that landed in his foxhole. He died instantly.

On April 9, 1945, Corporal Anthony P. Damato was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Medal of Honor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Of Corporal Damato, President Roosevelt said: “Corporal Damato’s splendid initiative, fearless conduct and valiant sacrifice reflect great upon himself and the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his comrades.”

Gino J. Merli

Sergeant Gino J. Merli was another Italian American who valiantly served in World War II and received the Medal of Honor. He served in the 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division. He was among those who landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day. He also fought in the Battle of the Bulge. His courageous efforts are also of epic proportions that resemble more of a Hollywood sequence than real events.

At a small Belgian town known as Sars-la-Bruyere, Sergeant Merli’s company faced a vigorous attack from 100 German soldiers. His position was overrun with German soliders and the men in his company began a retreat. Merli stayed behind and provided machine gun cover for his men. Ultimately, German soldiers overran his position, he faked his death as German soldiers “prodded him with bayonets” to make sure he was dead.

As the German soldiers were moving on from his alleged dead body, Merli “leapt up and opened fire.” He repeated his ruse several times in a heroic gambit to stay alive and fight off the Germans all night. As reinforcements emerged the next morning, the Germans asked for a truce. Merli was found with bodies of fifty German soldiers in front of him.

Merli “single-handedly caused significant damage to the enemy and put himself at great risk, he was awarded the Medal of Honor from President Truman. He also received two Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star and the Battle of the Bulge Medal.”

Vito R. Bertoldo

Master Sergeant Vito Bertoldo’s heroism almost did not happen. Because of poor vision, Bertoldo was ineligible for the World War II draft. He enlisted in the Army anyway. He talked “his way into training as an infantryman and was assigned as a cook.”

Bertoldo fought in a battle near Hatten, France. As German troops were shelling the town, Bertoldo volunteered to “provide rearguard defense” to help other American troops move to an alternate location. While under fire, Betoldo “mounted a machine gun at the CP’s entrance, enabling him to cover the main approach. He held his fire as German tanks shelled the building, then fired at the advancing infantry that followed.”

He continued his bravery the next day. He continued to defend against the relentless German shelling. He “exposed himself to enemy fire to throw hand grenades at the advancing Germans.” Later, the Germans fired a “self-propelled 88-millimeter gun directly into the room from which Bertoldo was shooting, the concussion from the third round knocked him across the room and left him dazed.” After ensuring the safety of his assistant gunner, Bertoldo “returned to his machine gun and continued the fight. He continued to fight as the battalion staff withdrew from the alternate command post and did not withdraw himself until everyone else had moved to safety.”

Bertoldo was awarded the Medal of Honor, Combat Infantryman Badge, Bronze Star Medal with oak leaf cluster, Purple Heart, and French Croix de Guerre.  

His Medal of Honor citation can be found here.

Ralph Cheli

Major Ralph Cheli served in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. Initially a student at Lehigh University, Cheli left before graduating to enlist in the Army Air Forces.

Cheli served as the commanding officer of the 405th Bombardment Squadron in the Fifth Air Force’s 38th Bombardment Group, based out of Duran Airfield, Port Moresby, New Guinea.

Cheli flew in over 40 combat missions. In the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, Cheli “led his squadron in the first masthead bombing attacks ever executed during daylight against enemy shipping in the Southwest Pacific.”

While flying a mission on the “heavily defended enemy airdrome of Dagua near Wewak, New Guinea, Cheli was shot down.” He was captured by the Japanese and sent to the POW camp at Rabaul. He was either executed by his captors or killed when the enemy ship he was being transported to Japan on was sunk.

His medal of honor citation can be read here.

William J. Guarnere

“Wild Bill” Guarnere was a United States Army soldier who fought in the 101st Airborne Division. He was a non-commissioned officer with Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He gained widespread recognition as a character in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers.

Originally from South Philadelphia, Guarnere and his brother enlisted in the military shortly after Pearl Harbor. His brother, Henry, was killed in the Italian campaign at Monte Cassino.

Guarnere’s first combat jump was on D-Day. He became known as “Wild Bill” as a result of his hasty and reckless attitude towards the Germans. Guarnere’s killing of most of a German platoon near the village of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont was an example of this and portrayed in Band of Brothers.

Another example of his reckless attitude, but also endeared him to fans of the miniseries, was after he was wounded in battle, he tried to sneak out of the hospital he was in to rejoin his company. He was caught, demoted to private, court-martialed, and sent back to the hospital. He told officials at the hospital that he would continue to go AWOL “just to rejoin Easy Company.” He was later allowed to leave.

Guarnere fought in the Battle of the Bulge. While under a massive artillery shelling from the Germans, his friend and fellow soldier, Joe Toye was hit. Guarnere tried to drag him to safety but was also hit during his attempt. Both men lost their right leg.

Guarnere was awarded “the Silver Star for combat during the Brecourt Manor Assault on D-Day, and was later decorated with three Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts, making him one of only two Easy Company members (the other being Lynn Compton) to be awarded the Silver Star throughout the duration of the war while a member of Easy Company.”

Italian American Heroism in WW2

These are just some of the countless Italian Americans who served in World War II. Many gave their lives so that freedom would endure. My great-uncle, who I never met, Albert Tremoglie, was killed in the European Theater on D-Day. Many others, like my grandfather Joseph Tremoglie who fought in the Aleutian Islands against the Japanese, showed great courage and survived the war and returned home. All of them should be regarded as heroes.

Here is a list of other Italian-American soldiers who were awarded the Medal of Honor during World War II (as well as all the Italian American Medal of Honor recipients).

Chris Tremoglie is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania where he is pursuing a double major in Political Science and Russian and Eastern European Studies. @chris_tremoglie

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Untold WWII History: U.S. Internment of Italians Americans

By Chris Tremoglie

Years ago, while working on a history project in middle school, my grandfather (long since deceased) told me a story about events that occurred during World War II that the majority are not familiar with. His father, who worked at a Stetson Hat factory that was once located in Kensington, had immigrated to the country from Sicily. After Pearl Harbor was bombed, his status in the United States changed; in the blink of an eye, he went from hard-working Italian immigrant to “enemy alien” to an internment camp.

“He returned home from the factory one day,” my grandfather told me, “and he was arrested and eventually taken out to Montana.”

Interned Italians enter the internment camp at Fort Missoula in Montana. (Credit: Tony Traficante/ISDA)

February 19, 1942 is a date that many think should live in infamy. It is the date President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. It is this Executive Order that established internment camps during World War II – a phenomenon that many today retroactively cite as an example of the government’s racism. Yet while many know of the internment of the Japanese, the plight of interned people of Italian descent – people from a country that, unlike Japan, did not attack U.S. soil before the war – are often ignored. Unfortunately, much lesser known is the experience of Italian internee.

Slightly over two months after the country suffered the most devastating attack in its history at the time at Pearl Harbor, the government and the voting public were focused on security. People of Italian descent in the United States had their civil liberties crushed in the name of threat mitigation. As Salvatore LaGumina described in In Search of Heroes: Italian Americans in World War II, Italians were viewed as “a potentially subversive population in the United States.” As such, by January 1942, at least 600,000 Italians and Italian Americans, among them who were legal residents and American citizens, were classified as “enemy aliens.”

When America entered WWII, Italian immigrants and Italian Americans were placed under suspician.
(Marjory Collins/Library of Congress)

Moreover, about 1,600 Italian citizens — among them my great-grandfather — were put into internment camps in Missoula, Montana and Ellis Island. As a result of security concerns in coastal areas, about 10,000 Italian Americans were forced to relocate from their homes along the California coast, moving inland. Additionally, people of German, Czech, Romanian, Bulgarian, and Hungarian descent were also interned and had their civil liberties violated too.

The U.S. internment of people of Italian descent comes after a long history of anti-Italianism in the United States. During the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century, many Italians, who arrived in the United States as immigrants were subjected to menacing, widespread discrimination in this country – a phenomenon largely not emphasized in schools today.

During this time, Italians were harassed, bullied, called ethnic slurs, denied housing jobs and other infringements of their civil liberties. One of the largest mass lynchings in the history of the United States occurred in New Orleans in 1891. Moreover, the United States Congress restricted the immigration of Italians (among other ethnicities) to the United States through the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and Immigration Act of 1924. This anti-Italian immigrant sentiment, combined with Italy being an Axis Power in World War II, perhaps paved the way for their internment.

The December 10, 1941 Oakland Tribune headlines the FBI’s seizure of enemy aliens who were considered “potentially dangerous,” many of whom were headed for internment. (Credit: Una Storia Segreta)

Yet despite these horrors, it is typically only the experience of the Japanese internment camps that get taught in our schools or mentioned by politicians. As my Italian grandpop said, “They don’t teach about this in those history books of yours.”

Grandpop was right.

In 2004, the “Treatment of Japanese-American Internment During World War II in U.S. History Textbooks,” a study by Masato Ogawa, was published. Ogawa writes that history textbooks “exclude the information that nationals of Germany and Italy were interned.”

In 1995, an article in the New York Times stated that the country “was at war with Germany and Italy, of course, but there were no moves to lock up any European Americans.”

In an email conversation about World War II internment camps with a history professor at the Community College of Philadelphia, I received this reply:

To be honest with you, I do not know of any Italian or German internment camps. I am of German ancestry and during World War I, the language of German was banned in schools, but that only lasted as long as the war progressed. Also many Americans of Italian and German descent fought in the Pacific War. Do you know of any internment camps? Are you thinking of Prisoner of War camps?

That a history professor was not aware of these camps should be telling. Why are these things unknown? Why are only the sins of our country that focus on the plights of people of color given scrutiny or taught in schools?

The Italian merchant seamen who had been sent to Fort Missoula had christened it Camp Bella Vista because of the picturesque mountains in the distance. Most of the Italian American internees, however, failed to see their internment as in any way beautiful. (Credit: Una Storia Segreta)

Moreover, and even more obscured from our present knowledge, was the fact that internment camps were also incorporated into the war strategy of World War I. Under the 1798 Alien Enemy Act, President Woodrow Wilson interred thousands of people of German descent, as well as those of Austro-Hungarian heritage. Such actions contributed to the anti-immigrant sentiment – European immigrants – that was rampant in the country at the time. 

Granted, the numbers of those of European descent were significantly less than the nearly 110,000 Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans who were interned. However, while many claim this discrepancy as proof of racism, it is important to acknowledge that the empire of Japan attacked the United States before entering World War II on its homeland (Hawaii was a U.S. territory at the time), whereas the Axis Powers of Germany and Italy did not.

Moreover, unlike the Japanese, and to a lesser degree, the Germans, Italy never launched any attack on the United States mainland. Often omitted in history, Japan’s aggression towards the United States homeland continued long after Pearl Harbor. There are factual and logical claims of racism and xenophobia pertaining to the Japanese during that time, but it should not be omitted that there were legitimate security concerns as well. Just as racism, xenophobia, and security concerns predicated the internment of Italians (often considered not ‘white’ at the time) and Germans.

When evaluating the threat the Japanese posed to the U.S. homeland, it is important to remember that the Japanese also attacked and seized parts of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. In June 1942, the Japanese established military bases on these islands which had been U.S. territory since the acquisition of Alaska from Russia in 1867. Furthermore, the Japanese military launched attacks along the Pacific coast of the United States including Ellwood Oil Field, located near Santa Barbara, Fort Stevens in Oregon, and the Lookout Air Raids near Brookings, Oregon. 

Also, the Japanese military used balloon bombs to wreak havoc in the United States. Deployed in Japan, these high-altitude balloon bombs would ride the jet stream across the Pacific Ocean, triggered to detonate on the U.S. mainland. During the last 8 months of World War II, the Empire of Japan deployed nearly 9000 of these to hit the mainland United States. Meant to instill fear and panic, these “Fu-go” balloons were largely ineffective as only 300 made it to the mainland. Six people did die from them. Some of these balloons made it as far as Michigan and Iowa.

Moreover, a cryptanalysis project during World War II known as MAGIC revealed that the Empire of Japan successfully obtained sensitive information through espionage efforts by “second generation” Japanese Americans in the country. These events, too, are omitted from our history textbooks — just like the internment of American of European extraction. 

Given the propensity for progressives to constantly chide the United States as historically racist and xenophobic when it comes to immigration and security measures, our treatment of thousands of people of European descent by the government, over two World Wars, strongly challenges such claims. This is not to say that discrimination based on race did not happen; it did. However, when discussing the sins of America’s past, we are constantly reminded of the sins by the government towards racial minorities, while the same types of injustices faced by those of European descent are frequently and conveniently omitted. We can condemn the internment of Japanese Americans and also that of Italian and German Americans. But when only one story is told, it sows the seeds of racial discord in American society. Furthermore, it neglects the plight of all who were wronged with internment.  

Italian internees behind metal wire fencing at one of the camps. (Credit: Tony Traficante/ISDA)

In 1988, the United States government officially apologized for the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II blaming “race prejudice, war hysteria, and failure of political leadership; reparations of $20,000 were paid to survivors.

As of May 2020, the descendants of interred Italian Americans are still waiting for their apology. 

Chris Tremoglie is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania where he is pursuing a double major in Political Science and Russian and Eastern European Studies. @chris_tremoglie

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The NIAF Congressional Fellowship: Part 1

By Nicoló Ferretti, 2019 NIAF Congressional Fellow

Forty Italians stood in a round room in the heart of the Capitol as Kirsten Gillibrand, a U.S. Senator from the great state of New York, gestured towards me. She had just welcomed the group to the Capitol; I translated her welcome into Italian for our guests. They were here to celebrate Detective Joe Petrosino, an Italian immigrant exemplary of the kind of impact Italian Americans have had in our experiment in democracy. In the early 20th century, he had done work that led to the arrest of thousands of mafia-related criminals here and in his native Sicily. The forty Italians in the Capitol that day learned about the complicated history that created the country where Petrosino had become a successful detective. They got there by arranging a series of events with the office of Congressman Tom Suozzi (NY-3), who has been my boss last fall. Through this position, I have had incredible experiences like this one and many, many more. 

NIAF Congressional Fellow Nicoló Ferretti with Rep. Tom Suozzi (NY-3)

The privilege of working for Congressman Suozzi, an Italian American politician and community leader from and representing Northwest Long Island, was made possible through the NIAF Congressional Fellowship. And what exciting work it was. Daily, I crossed paths with famous members of Congress and attended historical hearings. One series of hearings that considered the teen vaping epidemic was especially important to my office. When I interned in the office, we were working to implement taxes on vaping to financially disincentivize addiction. At other events I got to hear important opinion leaders speak and even met celebrity activists like Enes Kanter. Being in the throng of these events made my job constantly interesting. 

More importantly, I learned what working on the Hill, across party lines and helping constituent looked like. A large portion of my time was consumed by speaking to and responding to constituents. Some constituent calls were incredibly fulfilling. We were able to help people plagued with fraud and healthcare problems. At the very least I learned how to deal with people, especially those that felt like they weren’t getting attention. Really, everything we did was for the constituents. We supported bills that would lower drug costs to help our elderly constituents who were facing financial issues to medical costs. I learned the importance of tooling government policies to produce positive, tangible effects for Americans.

Moreover, I learned the facts of the issues that face the United States. In briefings I heard about everything from the risk associated with North Korean relations to green infrastructure implementation to save taxpayer dollars. These briefings allowed me to right informed policy memos for my office. They also complemented my studies of Science and International Affairs at Georgetown University. 

Between helping constituents, experiencing the excitement of congressional politics, and learning about an array of important and topical issues, I have had few experiences more rewarding then being an intern at Rep. Tom Suozzi’s office through the NIAF Congressional Fellowship. 

Nicoló Ferretti is a student at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, studying Science, Technology and International Affairs.

The 2020 NIAF Congressional Fellowship application is open now until June 1. For more information, visit:

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Quarantine Cuisine: A Rustic Potato Leek Soup

By Joanne Marino Bartram, co-author of Two Parts Italy blog

I didn’t think it would last this long. Two weeks, three at the most, and we’d see the number of new infections and deaths drop in Italy. I was overconfident. Three weeks into our “lockdown” in Tuscany (I’m writing this on March 28), we are (grazie Dio!) seeing the rates begins to come down, but slowly, slowly.  And so we remain safely tucked into our Italian homes, venturing out only for essentials (food, medicine, trash disposal). 

This piazza is usually humming with activity, but under the quarantine sits empty and quiet.

I will be honest – I have good days and more difficult ones. The vibrant social life in Lucca is part of why I love living here and I miss being able to meet for a coffee or an aperitivo. I miss seeing spring unfold around me. I miss people here and my family back home. I sometimes give in to worry or fear. But I have more good days than bad. And I remain hopeful and aware that even in the midst of all of this I have much to be thankful for – a healthy family, good friends, abundant food, music, and the kindness of people, both Italian and ex-pats from around the globe. And church bells – every day I hear church bells ringing. It’s a hopeful sound.

Spring begins along Lucca’s walls - I know it is out there, but I can’t get out and enjoy it right now (photo from 2019).
Spring begins along Lucca’s walls – I know it is out there, but I can’t get out and enjoy it right now (photo from 2019).

Cooking is a form of therapy for me. The movements used in slicing, dicing, mixing, stirring, kneading, seasoning, and tasting are a kind of meditation, a way of centering myself. Preparing food gives purpose.  Even better to cook with some music on in the background. And so, it is no surprise that my kitchen is seeing a lot of action these days. 

Leeks, thinly sliced and ready to sauté, are the base for a lovely potato leek soup.
Leeks, thinly sliced and ready to sauté, are the base for a lovely potato leek soup.

Yesterday I received two bags of groceries from friends who were heading back to their home in Canada to ride out the virus. 

They rang the doorbell, put the bags inside the entry, and never got closer than 6 feet away. It felt sad not to be able to give them a goodbye hug but the physical distancing is key and we followed the rules. In the bags were staples (pasta, wine) and some fresh veggies that would need to be used the next day – a big bunch of leeks and a bag of potatoes among them.

It was a no-brainer that a pot of potato leek soup would be on the menu.

Classic potato leek soups are puréed to a smooth and creamy consistency. They can be served cold (think French vichyssoise) or hot. Either way they are delicious. I actually prefer my soups a bit more chunky than puréed. So, with that in mind, it seemed a good time to experiment with a more rustic version of potato leek soup in which the potatoes were left unpeeled and a bit of carrot added color.  I also substituted whole milk (which I had on hand) for cream (in these days of quarantine we don’t make trips to the grocery store just for a bit of cream). For seasoning I went with thyme, salt, and pepper, which are used in the classic recipe, and added just a dash of nutmeg. Instead of making the soup into a purée, about half of the cooked potatoes were mashed to add thickness, but the rest of the soup stayed chunky. The result was delicious – not bad for quarantine cooking using what was on hand!

Rustic Potato Leek Soup
Rustic Potato Leek Soup

In Italy the catch phrase is io resto a casa ( I stay at home). I hope you too are safely at home and taking all necessary precautions wherever you are. And I hope you are still planning your next trip to Italy. 

Rustic Potato Leek Soup Recipe

3 leeks, white & light green portions only, sliced lengthwise, rinsed, sliced thin (about 4 cups)

90 grams of butter (3 oz)

2 carrots, diced small (about 1 cup)

750 grams of small white potatoes, unpeeled, cut into medium size cubes  (about 1.5 pounds)

3.5  cups chicken broth (increase to 4 cups if you like a thinner soup)

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp salt

1/8 tsp finely ground black pepper

Dash of ground nutmeg

2/3 cup whole milk or cream (let’s be honest – cream is better!)


Sauté sliced leeks in butter until limp, about 8 minutes. Add diced carrots and sauté for another 4-5 minutes.

Add chicken broth, cubed potatoes, and spices.

Cook about 20 minutes or until potatoes are soft

Add cream or milk

Depending on the consistency you like, leave soup as is, take half the potatoes out and mash them before returning to the pot, or use an immersion blender to make a less chunky soup. Buon appetito!

Joanne Marino Bartram’s post has been reposted on Pensieri from Two Parts Italy, a blog that she shares with her friend Judy Giannettino. Both are Americans who relocated to Italy in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

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Venice… the Most Improbable of Cities

By Carla Gambescia, author of La Dolce Vita University & curator of Postcards from the Boot

An elegant gondola with its striped-shirt gondolier plying one of Venice’s 177 canals, silently gliding beneath one of its 450 stone bridges.  Extravagant carnival masks … simultaneously concealing their wearers’ identities and projecting fantasies.  Blown glass… dizzying bouquets of translucent color magically forged from sand.  Or,  perhaps that architectural confection that feels more like an imagined Xanadu than an inhabited city. No other place on the planet conjures such images!  The novelist Thomas Mann called Venice “the most improbable of cities”… and all on a piece of real estate just two times the size of Central Park.

La Serenissima, long may you float.  The world’s prayers are with you.

To see additional photos that accompany this piece from Carla’s blog, visit, Postcards from the Boot.

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Goodbye to a Dear Friend: Tomie dePaola

By Nicola Orichuia

I often tell people that the reason our bookstore is still around today is because of Tomie dePaola. Let me share a little story with you…

Tomie dePaola and Nicola Orichuia at I AM Books in Boston

We opened our doors on Oct. 29, 2015, and some might have argued that calling ourselves a bookstore was a bit of a stretch back then. We had just a few bookshelves, very little inventory, and a potpourri of other items and gadgets that filled up the space. In other words: we were a serious work-in-progress.

But we had promoted the bookstore across a lot of media and, through a series of connections, Tomie found out about I AM Books. I’ll never forget receiving an email from his assistant Bob on Nov. 10, wondering if we wanted to organize a signing with Tomie in early December. The next day we had settled on Dec. 6 as the day for the signing, giving us little over three weeks to get books and promote the event.

To be honest, my partner Jim Pinzino and I focused more on getting books in those days leading up to the event, and left the promotion to the few online outlets we used back then: Facebook, newsletter, website. Somehow, word got out quickly that Tomie dePaola was going to sign books in Boston. And just like that, thousands of people were liking and sharing the event with family and friends.

When the day of the signing came around, Pascal went to pick up Tomie and Bob at South Station (Tomie came by bus!) and dropped them off at the bookstore. We hugged, as if we had always known each other. The energy that emanated from him was incredible.

More than 350 people showed up that cold December morning, and we sold several hundred books. We had never done a signing with anyone before. Every person, adult and child, left with a big smile. Some even cried, having finally met the creator of so many of their favorite characters and stories. The signing was in the back, in what is now our children’s section, and you could hear the laughter from outside. It was one of the happiest days of my life.

It became a little tradition to have Tomie come in late fall to the bookstore, and we did signings in 2016, 2017, and 2018 (at IDEA Boston). Every time, several hundred people showed up, patiently braving the cold, just to have a few minutes with Tomie. It was almost overwhelming to see so much love concentrated in the few square feet of our bookstore.

NIAF Staff Member Julia and her fiancé Sean meet Tomie dePaola at his signing at I Am Books during 2018 IDEA Boston.

Every year that Tomie would come by, he would see the bookstore grow, with more and more books filling up the space. By 2017, we could proudly call ourselves a bookstore. And that was in large part thanks to him and the many books of his we were able to sell.

Most importantly, though, I think Tomie dePaola showed all of us the power a good book holds. And how many hearts that book can touch. A well-crafted story will accompany you for the rest of your life. And so will the memory of Tomie. It will be here, in my heart, for eternity.

Nicola Orichuia is a former journalist originally from Rome. He opened I AM Books, the first Italian American bookstore in the United States, in Boston in 2015, and launched the Italian American-centric festival IDEA Boston in 2018. 

The bookstore is currently running a GoFundMe campaign to help cover immediate and unforeseen costs during the coronavirus pandemic:


Tomie dePaola (September 15, 1934 – March 30, 2020) had written and/or illustrated more than 270 books, including Strega Nona, Tomie dePaola’s Mother Goose, Oliver Button Is a Sissy, and 26 Fairmount Avenue. Nearly 25 million copies of his books have been sold. Tomie dePaola and his work have been recognized with the Smithson Medal from the Smithsonian Institution, and the Society of Illustrators Original Art Show Lifetime Achievement Award. The American Library Association honored him with the Caldecott Honor and Newbery Honor awards, and the Children’s Literature Legacy Award (called the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award until June, 2018) for “substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.”

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