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:
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 people 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?
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?
This 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 descendants 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 my 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!