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!

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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.

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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.


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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


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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.

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Truffle Season

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Gala Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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A Day about Italians Should Be Called Just That

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Un Giorno con Gigi (A Day with Gigi)

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Scholarship Stories

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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