NIAF on Capitol Hill: Vol. 3

At the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), we believe strongly in supporting future generations of the Italian American community. This is why we created the NIAF Congressional Fellowship; with it, we place outstanding Italian American college students, graduate students and recent graduates in the offices of members of the Italian American Congressional Delegation (IACD) on Capitol Hill to encourage and support the next generation of Italian American leadership.

Below, you’ll find the experience of one of our NIAF Congressional Fellows, and what she gained from her fellowship in American government.


“You’re just happy to be here, aren’t you?” I looked to the tour I was leading through the U.S. Capitol to see who had said this to me. It was the boy who had just started fourth grade. He was right.

He was also delighted to be there, himself. As we stepped into the Rotunda—the actual, iconic dome of the Capitol and the hub of its breathtaking art—his eyes shot directly up to the fresco at the dome’s center. Entitled “The Apotheosis of Washington,” I explained that the painting portrayed a heavenly George Washington donned in purple, and that below him, a host of Roman gods featured alongside American historical figures. It was painted by Constantino Brumidi, a 19th century Italian-American artist, as was the fresco below showcasing a timeline of American achievements. One of my absolute favorite aspects of my time in Congress was getting to experience visitors’ first trips to the Capitol with them, and help provide their understanding of its history, functions, and art. And, it meant a great deal to realize that a significant portion of its design and culture is Italian.

Through the Congressional Fellowship, NIAF is proving that the world of government is colored and deepened by culture and language. This is something I had always believed, but never felt was given enough attention by schools which focus on politics and business—even ones with a huge international population, like my own. By partaking in the fellowship program, the consortium of Italian American Congressmen and women presented to us opportunities I couldn’t have imagined. They and their skillful office teams provided us with insight into the functions of a Congressional office, the priority and methods of serving constituents, and countless topics discussed at briefings and hearings, many of which we attended for them.

Amanda Coker, pictured left, with Lisa Femia (center) – NIAF’s Public Policy Manager, and other Congressional Fellows, Sarah Meo and Adrianna Tomasello.

I interned in the office of Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, who, through her pioneering work in education and caring impact on the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, showed me the importance of maintaining courage in politics. I learned how to maintain the front desk, draft response letters, and conduct legislative research. My office also generously made it possible for me to visit the Library of Congress and the White House, and to witness meetings hosted by the Congresswoman herself. In addition, the spirit of Italian inclusivity, care, and festivity is alive and well in the Italian American Congressional Delegation, composed of some of the kindest people to grace the halls of Congress. There I found mentors who completely changed my expectations of what it means to be a leader, a friend, an Italian American, and a student of life.

Walking into our nation’s capital and hanging up my coat is something I thought would become less surreal over time, but I was wrong—that happiness never went away.


Amanda Coker

American University’17

Hometown: Westchester, NY

Intern with Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR)

Applications are now open for NIAF’s Congressional Fellowship. Find more information on the program here!

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

NIAF on Capitol Hill: Vol. 2

At the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), we believe strongly in supporting future generations of the Italian American community. This is why we created the NIAF Congressional Fellowship; with it, we place outstanding Italian American college students, graduate students and recent graduates in the offices of members of the Italian American Congressional Delegation (IACD) on Capitol Hill to encourage and support the next generation of Italian American leadership.

Below, you’ll find the experience of one of our NIAF Congressional Fellows, and what she gained from her fellowship in American government.

When I reflect on what the NIAF Congressional Fellowship has meant to me, the word that best encapsulates this once-in-a-lifetime experience is community. Not only did I have the opportunity to work in my representative’s office and interact with constituents from my district, but I also had the chance to meet a wonderful group of people and become part of the NIAF family. Whether I was working in Congresswoman DeLauro’s office or at a NIAF-sponsored event, I could always feel the strength of the Italian American community.

Working in Representative DeLauro’s was a truly unforgettable experience. One of my favorite parts of the fellowship was getting to give constituents tours of the U.S. Capitol. As much as I valued the exposure to how our government functions, I equally admired the times when I would get to debate with people from

Adrianna Tomasello, far right, with fellow Congressional Fellows and NIAF Public Policy Manager, Lisa Femia, center.

the district meeting with Congresswoman DeLauro and staffers over which New Haven pizzeria is the best as they waited for their meetings. One such person turned out to be NIAF Executive Vice President John Calvelli!

The highlight of the NIAF portion of the fellowship was definitely the 41st Anniversary Gala Weekend. To see so many people from undoubtedly different backgrounds gathered in one place to celebrate the unifying love of being Italian was such a heartwarming event. I even had the chance to reunite with a member of my college graduating class, who happened to be there with her parents for the gala!

Growing up in East Haven (a small town with a large Italian American population) has made living anywhere else somewhat interesting. During my college years in Worcester, Massachusetts it was difficult to find people that knew the proper pronunciation of manicotti and pasta fagioli. Moving down to D.C. I was expecting the same culture shock. My experience with NIAF and working in Congresswoman DeLauro’s office made it much less difficult to leave my hometown because I knew I would be sharing in the undying love and appreciation for our Italian American culture (in addition to properly pronouncing the names of Italian American cuisine).

As I left the NIAF Christmas party last month, I walked cheerfully to hop on the metro, and not just because I had a panettone and copious amounts of Nutella in my gift bag. I was not sad saying goodbye to the people I’ve met through my fellowship experience because I know I am always welcome at NIAF events. This unforgettable experience has been so much more than what I expected it would be, and for that I cannot thank my NIAF famiglia enough.


Adrianna Tomasello

College of the Holy Cross’16

Hometown: East Haven, CT

Intern with Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)


Applications are now open for NIAF’s Congressional Fellowship. Find more information on the program here!

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Cry of Help from an Italian Village

A group of Georgian Court University students have made it their personal mission to help save a small, Italian village named Bedonia, in the Emilia Romagna region. With the economic crisis in Italy, businesses and citizens struggle to keep afloat, but these American students hope to change that.

By building a website and social media platforms for the village, as well as contributing their efforts to promote a GoFundMe campaign to build an outdoor adventure park in the village to draw more visitors, these students are putting Bedonia back on the map.

Below is the personal account of American student Kyle Homer’s time in Bedonia!

Studying abroad is always promoted as a way to approach a culture that isn’t our own, and in our returning reflection against that culture we are supposed to learn more about ourselves. However, what some fail to realize is the immense feeling of sheer responsibility we have when we return back home. Seeing how thin our own culture has been pulled and manipulated by materialistic gains and monetary expectations leaves us feeling responsible for opening up the eyes of our fellow citizens to not only help keep these different cultures alive, but also a hope to bring our own back to its true roots.

My experience followed this notion of conflicting cultures. I was part of a study abroad group, consisting of nine students, from Georgian Court University in Lakewood, N.J. Focusing on a three-week social media project, we traveled to the beautiful town of Bedonia, Parma in Italy to live like locals and truly get assimilated within the culture. While we got the privilege to experience many different things during our stint across the world, our main objective was to help this small municipality build up its social media presence and allow it to have the voice it deserves within Italian tourism.

Bedonia is in the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy. Graced with beautiful architecture and cobblestone streets, this quaint village is preserved within time and stays true to its historical origins. Outside of the town’s visual indulgences there are countless opportunities for locals and tourists alike to enjoy the simple pleasures of Italian countryside living. There are countless outdoor festivals and markets, outings for hiking and mountain biking, plus frequent live music just to name a few of its plethora of charms. Many Italian tourists frequent Bedonia each year to enjoy the fresh, clean mountain air and the beautiful rolling hills they overlook in their daily lives.

With the economic crisis in the Parma region over the past few years, factories have closed and people have moved away in search of work. With the younger generations leaving for the surrounding larger cities, this gem of a town is struggling to survive and the splendor of an authentic Italian lifestyle is hanging by a thread. This is one of the last, genuine spots left in Italy that one can experience living like an Italian without being suffocated by the huge numbers of American tourists. There are no crowds, long lines, or gaudy souvenir shops to muscle the culture out of this amazing community.

The surprising thing about Bedonia not being plagued with the negative influence of traditional American tourism is how centrally located it is around many other interesting spots. For example, after a tour of the Italian Riviera or the Prosciutto factory and Torrechiara Castle, returning to Bedonia for the local food, wine, and nightlife is always a major advantage due to visitors receiving the best of both worlds.

To truly understand how much of a contrast Bedonia was in comparison to Rome, one of the more traditional tourist vacation spots, Villa Tre Angeli brought us to see many of the famous landmarks including the Vatican, the Coliseum, and the Pantheon. We were also treated to a trip to Verona, where we saw the opera “Aida” outdoors in an ancient Roman arena. Our time in Verona ended with a stop at the breathtaking, unfathomably beautiful Lake Garda. When we were finally in Bedonia itself, we saw how prosciutto and Parmigiano cheese were made. We visited castles, tasted some wine, went hiking and horseback riding, ventured to the local swimming hole, and still had time to gawk at the picturesque scenery. We were even welcomed by the Mayor and the Town Council who arranged countless things for us to do.

While in Bedonia, we were graciously allowed to stay at Villa Tre Angeli B&B. Georgian Court University has been working with Villa Tre Angeli to boost Bedonia’s involvement with social media so that in return more American tourists get the rare opportunity to visit an authentic Italian town. Under the supervision of Dr. Gina Marcello Ph.D., we have created a website where people can find information on the town and the surrounding area all in one easy-to-access location. The problem with most of the social media pertaining to Bedonia is not only is it in Italian, but it is not specific enough to come up on a search from an American Internet provider. With the creation of our website, we’ve highlighted the best of Bedonia’s own resources while also adding our own experiences and opinions. Here, one can find pictures, endless lists of things to do, interviews, history, and links to frequently used modern day sites such as Facebook and TripAdvisor. While the website will give people a succulent morsel of what Bedonia has to offer, a true appreciation of this town cannot be captured by mere photos or words.

Strolling into town and enjoying the culture first hand led us to return to the United States with the profound understanding that this tranquil way of life is crucial to salvage and must be experienced while preserving its authenticity. We became locals in a matter of days, and the town now has a bright future due to the unlikely meshing of traditional culture and modern technology.

To see the progress that the students have made, visit All photo credits attributed to Villa Tre Angeli.

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Remembering the Master Copper-Smiths

In this week’s #NIAFblog, our guest blogger, Jenifer Landor – founder of Live and Learn Italian, offers a fascinating look into the heritage of a small Italian town in the Apennine hills, known for its artisan work in copper. 

The little town of Agnone, nestled in the Apennine hills in Alto Molise, home of my ancestors, hides a very proud heritage of artisan craft.  Here, you’ll find the oldest bell foundry in the world, and the only one by Papal appointment. Beyond that, you’ll discover the main industry of the town which brought it wealth and prosperity during the Middle Ages: copper.  Today, sadly, most of the workshops are silent, but at one time the centro storico buzzed with the sound of little hammers deftly refining and decorating the many utensils and vessels. There were once 13 copper foundries and over 300 family botteghe – Agnone was not a town of peasants, but of artisans.

Work started in the foundries along the Verrino river, where water turned huge wheels, pounding the copper into basic shapes.  Cold winters and chilly autumns and springs in the mountains were the only way the craft was possible, as hours were spent in front of a hot furnace or over a constant flame.

Work in the foundries was extremely hard. Rough articles were brought into town to the master copper-smiths to finish by hand. The production was huge, and copper stamped “Agnone”, achieved the highest price in the marketplaces of Italy. This is because the town had brought in strict rules of manufacture, not only for copper but for all the trades – bronze sculptors, stonemasons, jewellers, watchmakers, blacksmiths, tailors, shoemakers, and many more.

In 1457 these regulations became law and anyone found cheating the standard was fined heavily. Thus Agnone was able to maintain its position as one of the 5 cities of Italy to produce the best artisan work. Today every house in Agnone proudly displays inherited copper utensils. Wine, marmalade and tomato passata are still made in vast copper pots, handed down through the generations. Cooking in local kitchens, we get to use these ancient tools – the quality is superb and clearly not just for one lifetime, but for several!

Agnone’s Museo del Rame is right next door to the workshop and shop of master coppersmith, Franco Gerbasi. Franco is 4th generation, and has taught the trade to his sons who work beside him. They sell copper vessels all over the world, the most popular being for distillation, but so many other items, impossible to list.

Franco spent years collecting the copper pieces and archive material, and raising some financial support for the museum. When asked why he simply responds, “Per non dimenticare……….”



LIVE AND LEARN ITALIAN invites you to combine Italian study with exploring the traditions and everyday life of the region, mixing with the community and engaging in local activities. Of course, a visit to the Foundry is high on the list of special events.

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Costumes, confetti, and chiacchiere, oh my!

Carnevale in Italy

By Danielle DeSimone


Every year, before the austerity and penance of Lent, Italy – and, specifically, Venice – comes alive in bursts of colors, costumes, and chiacchiere. This annual festival of Carnevale, known in other parts of the world as “Mardi Gras” or “Fat Tuesday,” is famous for its Venetian masks, elaborate costumes, and parades not just in Venice, but through all of Italy.

Carnevale is quite obviously a Catholic and Christian holiday, as the last day of gluttonous eating and celebration before Ash Wednesday, and the 40 days of Lent, which are often spent fasting before Easter. In Italy, the three biggest celebration of Carnevale are in Venice (in Veneto), Viareggio (in Tuscany), and Ivrea (in viareggio-1Piedmont). Viareggio’s Carnevale began in the late 1800’s as a form of protest against the taxes implemented by the local government and since then, it has expanded into a parade with large floats that are made up of paper-pulp and often designed to look like caricatures of politicians and celebrities.

Meanwhile, in Ivrea, there is the famous “Battle of the Oranges,” in which 9 organized teams throw oranges (quite violently) at one another in Italy’s largest food fight. The origins of such a strange tradition are still somewhat unclear; battle-of-the-orangessome claim that it is a tradition that started in defiance of the city’s ruling tyrant in the 12th or 13th centuries. Originally beans were thrown, then apples, and then finally: oranges. Today, the town goes through approximately 580,000 pounds of imported Sicilian oranges during the battle. Spectators can of course watch from behind protective nets.

And, of course, there is Venice’s Carnevale – a slightly more refined affair, in which participants dress in elaborate, Renaissance-era costumes and adorn themselves in Venice’s world-famous masks. Venice’s Carnevale festivities began in the 1100’s, but only truly took off in the 17th century, when the Venetian Renaissance was in full swing. Today, over 3 million visitors swarm Venice’s shores to celebrate this festival with days of concerts, parties, fireworks, and confetti.mask-1

Throughout all of Italy, children and adults alike enjoy dressing up and eating traditional pastries made of fried dough covered in powdered sugar, known as chiacchiere, bugie, fiocchetti, frappe, galani, or a number of other names, depending on what region of Italy you are in while celebrating.

. . .

As an American growing up in southern Italy, my experience of Carnevale was more of a small-town celebration. In our tiny little city of Gaeta, just on the border of Lazio and Campania, the celebrations were more of a family affair, bursting out of our schools and spilling out onto the streets. We arrived to class in the morning in full costume, armed with bags of confetti and streamers.


Our maestre (teachers) tried to keep up the pretense of school only for the first 20 minutes – soon after, we were allowed to run rampant through the classroom, singing traditional songs, trailing paper streamers behind us, our faces gleefully covered in powdered sugar carnevale-2from the frappe we were allowed to eat at our desks. Eventually, the entire school would convene in the central courtyard, where nuns (sometimes in costumes themselves) would watch anxiously as we engaged in a full-school confetti fight, the multicolored bits of paper and silly string stuck in our hair and our costumes sometimes for days afterwards.

The morning after, on Ash Wednesday, the city would be somber, quiet. The pieces of rainbow confetti would flutter through the streets, forgotten until next year, which was always a highlight of attending Italian school. The inherent nature of the festival is one of rambunctious and unadulterated fun. It is a day where you can be anyone you want, and act any way you want, without any repercussions. It is Halloween in the sunshine. As a child, it was my favorite day of the year.

Today, with no Italian classmates to throw confetti at, I’m limited to eating copious amounts of fried dough and planning my return to Venice, where you can recapture that childhood spirit on the city streets, and put on a mask once more.




Danielle DeSimone is NIAF’s Social Media Manager & Assistant Editor. 

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

NIAF on Capitol Hill: Vol. 1

At the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), we believe strongly in supporting future generations of the Italian American community. This is why we created the NIAF Congressional Fellowship; with it, we place outstanding Italian American college students, graduate students and recent graduates in the offices of members of the Italian American Congressional Delegation (IACD) on Capitol Hill to encourage and support the next generation of Italian American leadership.

Below, you’ll find the experience of one of our NIAF Congressional Fellows, and what they gained from their fellowship in American government.


Last spring, I was studying abroad at the University of Cambridge. Eagerly awaiting my return to Washington DC in the fall, I scavenged the George Washington University political science department listserv for internships and other professional opportunities. One week, I came across the NIAF Congressional Fellowship. Given my Italian American heritage and academic experiences in Italy, I knew I had to submit an application. In June, I was pleasantly surprised when I found out I was awarded the fellowship and assigned to Ohio Congressman Pat Tiberi’s office.

Despite my New Jersey roots, the Congressman and his staff were warm and welcoming the moment I arrived.  I quickly learned the importance of keeping up on the Buckeye games, but avoided the subject of the Cleveland Browns! I was assigned my own desk and rayburnthe full-time staffers coached me on intern tasks. One great part about my fellowship was the incredible exposure I was given to activities typical of a Congressional staffer. My colleagues encouraged me to attend hearings and markups. I very much enjoyed these experiences and would diligently take notes to report back to the staff. Another large part of my job was leading constituent tours of the Capitol. As a history nerd myself, I was happy to read up on the Capitol and plan my own tour route/script. It was fantastic to be able to interact face-to-face with constituents through a Capitol tour. I found these experiences to be extremely rewarding as I learned more about the Congressman’s district and those who inhabited it.

However, the aspect of my internship that I found the most illuminating was the time I spent handling front desk operations for the office. I was privileged to hear hundreds of stories from different Americans in the Congressman’s district. I learned so much about so many constituents. I found out what issues they were passionate about, how they felt about the presidential election, and what bills they wanted the Congressman to support. Moreover, I felt as though I had a pulse on the public.

In close, I had a rewarding experience in Congressman Tiberi’s office. I formed a bond with many of my fellow colleagues and I know they are only a phone call away. One day, I imagine I will return to the Capitol in order to serve the American public.


Daniel Fanelli

George Washington University’16

Hometown: Cedar Grove, NJ

Intern with Congressman Pat Tiberi (R-OH)


Learn more about NIAF’s Congressional Fellowship here!

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Bells of Agnone

In this week’s #NIAFblog, our guest blogger, Jenifer Landor – founder of Live and Learn Italian, offers a fascinating look into the heritage of a small Italian town in the Apennine hills –  where for centuries, the Marinelli family has been making bells.


The third oldest continuously family-owned business in the world is in Molise – in the small town of Agnone – where my grandfather’s cousins have been making bells for over 1,000 years. Bell-making is a proud part of our heritage that has been passed down from father to son in a town famous for its artisans – gold, silver, copper, stone and ironwork among the most important.

At one time, there were six families making bells in Agnone – today, only the Marinelli family continues the craft, creating bells  that are sent all around the world.

As a child growing up in America, my mother used a small Marinelli bell to call us to marinelli-2dinner – it could be heard throughout the entire neighborhood. We knew a little bit of our family’s story, and acknowledged some pride in being related to the “oldest bell-makers in the world.” Our family visit to Agnone one summer left a deep and lasting impression on all of us.

But it is really only now, having spent considerable time in this unique town, that I begin to understand the enormity of this heritage.

Today, La Fonderia Pontificia Marinelli continues to use the original ‘lost wax’ technique of its founders. Artisans first imprint a wax form of the bell design onto a brick structure covered in clay, which is then overlaid with a second layer of clay to form a “false bell.” When the wax inside is melted, it leaves the design imprint on the inside of the false bell.marinelli-3

Using an ancient wood-burning furnace, the molten bronze is then heated to a temperature of 1200 Celsius (2200 Fahrenheit) and poured into the gap between to form the bell.

The process of creating a bell this way, entirely by hand, takes a minimum of 3 months and requires enormous strength, courage and concentration. The mold is placed in a deep pit, where it is buried in sand and soil that has been carefully patted down to prevent the slightest movement.

When molten bronze flows into the space between the ‘soul’ and the ‘false’ bells, a priest says a blessing and the workers come together to offer prayers. As the bell begins to cool, good wishes are exchanged. Later it is sanded and polished, and the clapper is added to produce the correct sound.

In 1924 Pope Pius XI granted Papal status to the foundry – hence, its official name, Pontificia Fonderia Marinelli. 30 years later, the Italian President honored the Marinelli Family with a gold medal for their prestigious work and status as the oldest family business in Europe.


The Marinelli Bell Foundry just after WWII

Some of the famous bells created at the Marinelli Foundry include:

  • 1923: Pompeii –restoration of the Mariano Sanctuary
  • 1950: Monte Cassino – reconstruction of the Church of San Benedetto, destroyed                        during the battle of Monte Cassino in WWII
  • 1961: Rome – commemoration of 100th anniversary of the founding of Italy
  • 1992: Washington DC – to commemorate 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s            discovery of America
  • 1995: NYC – for the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations
  • 2000: Rome – Jubilee Bell for St Peter’s Square, inaugurated by John Paul II
  • 2004: Pisa – Leaning Tower, a 600k replica of the 17th century bell damaged in the bombing of 1944

Agnone is a simple and modest place, and its inhabitants are fiercely proud of their heritage and the traditions of their ancestors. Want to learn more and get an inside look at the foundry? Check out this video here.


The Marinelli brothers today, Armando and Pasquale

LIVE AND LEARN ITALIAN invites you to combine Italian study with exploring the traditions and everyday life of the region, mixing with the community and engaging in local activities. Of course, a visit to the Foundry is high on the list of special events.

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Italy’s Christmas Witch: The Befana Tradition

Perhaps one of the most beloved characters in Italian folklore – at least among children – is that of Befana. Although her origins are not always clear, Befana has now become popular nationwide in Italy, serving as a representation of the Christmas season with her ties to the celebration of the Epiphany.


For those not familiar with her, Befana is an old crone or witch, typically depicted wearing a ragged shawl and riding a broomstick, who visits the houses of children on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany to fill the stockings or shoes of the children with either candy or coal, depending on whether they have been good or bad.

Although there are variations of Befana’s story, a widely-accepted legend has it that just days before the birth of Jesus Christ, Befana was approached by the Magi, or Three Wise Men, who were seeking the Son of God. Befana gave them shelter for the night and the next day, the Three Kings invited her to come 3-wise-menwith them to find the baby Jesus. Befana declined the offer, claiming she had too much housework to do; however, after their departure, Befana changed her mind and decided to follow them and search out the baby Jesus. Sadly, she could never find them or the Son of God, and so she still searches for Jesus to this day, leaving gifts (or coal) to all the children of Italy while on her journey. She rides the broomstick she was cleaning her house with on her search, and reportedly sweeps up each house that she visits (ever the polite Italian guest).

Befana’s name is believed to come from a variation of the Greek word epiphaneia; that is, epifania, or Epiphany.  The roots of the Befana tradition are thought to be a combination of both pagan and Christian customs. Many connect her to Strenia, the Roman goddess of the New Year, whose feast was marked by the exchanging of presents between Romans, but evidence of Befana herself can be traced all the way back to the 13th Century.

Today, Befana is celebrated throughout all of Italy, with children hanging up their chestnutsstockings – similar to the very American tradition of Santa Claus – or putting out their shoes for Befana to fill on January 5, the night before the Feast of the Epiphany. Rather than setting out milk and cookies, many Italian families will set out chestnuts, fruit, salami, and even a glass of wine for Befana to sip on while making her rounds, depending on regional traditions.

The “coal” that she leaves behind is typically a sugar-coated caramel candy of some sort, so even the bad children aren’t left with nothing (although she has also been known to leave garlic and onions in bad children’s stockings). Many Italian cities host Befana parades, with women dressed up as the old witch in her soot-covered shawl, singing and handing out candy to children.

Regardless of whether or not you truly believe Befana flew on a broomstick to climb down your chimney and deliver you candy (or coal) last night, she is a wonderful example of Italian culture, tying together both Catholicism and the legends of the past to form a beloved (albeit a little soot-covered) Italian tradition.


Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Slow Food in Piemonte

As 2016 comes to an end, so too does our year of celebrating our NIAF 2016 Region of Honor, Piemonte (Piedmont). Today, we’re sharing a blog post from our guest blogger team, The Recipe Hunters, on their time in Piemonte during the world-famous Terra Madre – Salone del Gusto, organized by Slow Food.


Terra Madre in Piemonte

“We don’t want fast food…We want slow food!” cheered a crowd of protesters standing at the Spanish Steps in Rome, where the largest McDonald’s store in the world was opening.

It was 1986 and Carlo Petrini, an Italian journalist, had organized his peers to petition McDonald’s by equipping themselves with bowls of penne pasta. 30 years later, the Slow Food grassroots movement has evolved into an international organization with over 100,000 members with local chapters in over 150 countries. The organization’s philosophy is to promote the accessibility of food that is good, clean, and fair.

  1. “Good”, meaning quality food that is flavorsome and healthy;
  2. “Clean” meaning the production does not harm the environment; and
  3. “Fair” meaning accessible prices for consumers and fair working conditions and pay for producers.’

Ever since starting The Recipe Hunters, I have been involved with the Slow Food movement whether it’s as a member, advocate, or my lifestyle choices. So when I was invited to come to Piedmont to celebrate Slow Food, I made the only sensible choice: to buy a one-way ticket to Turin to participate in Terra Madre and to recipe hunt in Piedmont.


To bring the local chapters together globally,  Slow Food organizes a biennial event called Terra Madre – Salone del Gusto. Terra Madre (Mother Earth) is a series of lectures, forums, speeches and discussions and Salone del Gusto (Tasting Room) is a festival of taste-of-kitul-saptastes and flavors from around the world. This year, the event was held throughout the city of Turin, the capital of the region of Piedmont, which rests at the base of the Alps along the river Po and is home to some of Italy’s most important universities, museums, palaces, and piazzas.

The festive event, which took place from September 22nd to 26th, enveloped the city and flooded its streets, piazzas, and historical buildings with events, international food tents, and hundreds of thousands of people: from foodies, food makers, and journalists, to students and politicians.

The lectures and discussions of Terra Madre all addressed key issues surrounding the food movement from what it means to be “sustainable,” to the recent buy-out of panelMonsanto by Bayers. I attended a forum where a panel of Indigenous Peoples from every coordinate of the earth spoke out about the struggles and threats they faced in keeping their age-old traditions and lifestyles intact. I heard from organic food leaders in the U.S. and Europe who debated the present-day labeling system, and the growth of the organic and bio-dynamic food markets. As a group, we discussed the future of Slow Travel and how to promote sustainable tourism. Each forum, discussion, and break out room resulted in high-level conversations, enthusiasm, and optimism for the future of our planet.

The stands at Salone del Gusto offered samples and tastes of rare and indigenous food products which are being safeguarded by Slow Food. Delegates from each country were sponsored to attend Terra Madre and represent their country, region, or tribe at each calabria-cheese-4stand. As for taste testing, I was able to try: traditional, nomadic Mongolian dried cheese curds, a Sri Lankan sap that is extracted from wild palm trees, a drink pressed from the seeds of guarana in the Brazilian Amazon Basin, and a pasta from Puglia made from “grano arso” or “burnt grain,” which historically was the grain that the peasants cultivated after the harvest when the fields were set on fire. Salone del Gusto proved to be the perfect platform for me to connect with locals in countries that I want to recipe hunt in, such as Kyrgyzstan, Ecuador, Kenya, Tunisia, and Japan.dal-massimo-golosso

The most moving experience was marching among thousands of individuals from every age and background though the streets of Turin in a gesture of solidarity towards living and promoting a life that is healthy to ourselves and our planet. I have never before felt such a feeling of camaraderie between strangers.

As Italian Americans, we should be proud that a fellow Italian, Carlo Petrini, was able to create and cradle such a powerful and important movement that has united hundreds of thousands of people together regardless of religion, race, creed, ethnicity. I urge everyone to research Slow Food and get involved in any way that you can!


If you can’t wait until Terra Madre in 2018, Slow Food USA is hosting an event called Slow Food Nations in Denver this summer from July 14-16th, celebrating “slow and sustainable foods.” You may see us there!

Side note: If you are interested in learning a few Piemontese recipe classics, check out The Recipe Hunters’ newly-launched YouTube channel,, where we will be publishing traditional Italian recipes and adventures.


The Recipe Hunters, Anthony Morano and Leila Elamine, travel around the world in search of traditional recipes and the stories behind the people who maintain their culinary heritage. During their time abroad, they volunteer on homesteads and small-scale, organic farms where they learn about the terrain and the region’s seasonal produce, as well as attempt to forge new relationships with people involved in traditional food making, always doing their best to integrate themselves into the local community. You can learn more about them here


Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

By Lisa Femia, NIAF Manager of Public Policy


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.


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.


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.



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.



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.

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment