Slow life, slow food, and heavenly pleasures

In this week’s #NIAFblog, our guest blogger, Jenifer Landor – founder of Live and Learn Italian  offers a fascinating look into the culture and traditions of small Italian towns in the Apennine hills.


A large rotating vat  – which looks almost like a cement mixer – slowly turns in the back room of the little shop, the oldest dolciaria in Molise. Here, confetti ricci are being produced from a recipe unique to the Carosella family. They have been making dolce here since 1839.

Photo Credit: Gabriella Ricci

Photo Credit: Gabriella Ricci

Fire is still at the heart of most of the town’s artisan work, and creating confetti ricci is no different. It takes 7-8 hours of slow rotation over the flame to fully coat Sicilian almonds in the special syrup, one ladle at a time. Although high in the Apennine hills, where temperatures usually remain very pleasant, this summer was hotter than usual, so Roberta began working through the night. The basin holds about 15 kilos of almonds, and with all those summer weddings, work is pretty constant.

Most small businesses in Molise are passed down from father to son; in this case, it was from grandfather to granddaughter. Roberta grew up seeing her grandparents hand-make all the confectionery. She would come to watch, and play, and – of course – to taste, and in time, she knew she couldn’t see the business pass into the hands of an outsider, so she took it on herself.

Photo Credit: Gabriella Ricci

Confetti, sugared almonds, are famous all over Italy, but the Carosella version are soft and chewable (and, I think, much more delicious then traditional ones). Roberta told us that during the war, confetti were impossible to get hold of, and because of the longstanding tradition – you have to have confetti to bring luck to the bride and groom – the townsfolk would bring her grandfather whatever they had; hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds – imploring him to make them into confetti.

So his grandfather devised a method to sugarcoat the nuts, and the result was not a hard coating, but a soft one – confetti ricci. These are now the most famous product of the Dolciaria Carosella, today sent all over the world. Unlike confetti, confetti ricci are fresh, and need to be consumed within 10 days, so orders have to be carefully scheduled. Anna, Roberta’s assistant, deftly makes up beautiful little bags, 10 in each– white for weddings, blue or pink for a christening, and red for a graduation!

Photo Credit: Gabriella Ricci

Photo Credit: Gabriella Ricci

Photo Credit: Gabriella Ricci

Photo Credit: Gabriella Ricci

Other specialties of the house are mostaccioli – little chocolate biscuits filled with sour cherry, Le Paste Imperiali – created for a visit to the shop from Vittorio Emanuele himself, Le Ostie di Agnone – wafers filled with chopped nuts, chocolate, orange peel and honey (allegedly created by a nun who, when she spilled her cake ingredients, scooped it up with a communion wafer), and a hot favorite of mine, tegole – in the shape of terracotta roof tiles; almonds, miraculously woven into a light, crunchy biscuit! All the fruit is from the family orchards, recipes have been passed down the generations, and presentation and packaging is sublime.

On a tour of the local shops, our guests meet craftsmen, shopkeepers and food producers, getting to know some of the town’s stories and history. Carosella has it all – a beautiful old shop, a family story, long traditions, and excellent quality products, generously offered to us for tasting.

You can visit their website here.


  LIVE AND LEARN ITALIAN offers language and culture holidays in the small historic town of Agnone, Alto Molise, far from tourism. Mature students of Italian come to live among a friendly community to practice, improve, listen and engage.  Cook with the locals, visit family businesses, and discover the culture and history of a beautiful region.

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La Madonna di Loreto

In this week’s #NIAFblog, our guest blogger, Jenifer Landor – founder of Live and Learn Italian  offers a fascinating look into the culture and traditions of small Italian towns in the Apennine hills.

We go up the mountain road, to 1421 meters, putting on an extra layer of clothing as the car climbs. Every three years, hundreds from around the world are welcomed back to honor the Madonna di Loreto over three days of festa, in the little Apennine paese of Capracotta. Following World War II, they suffered massive immigration that decreased the population, but the Capracottesi remain profoundly attached to their town.

Although once a prosperous place of shepherds and sheep, it was still a very hard life. Since ancient times, each autumn, thousands of sheep were herded down the tratturi (the wide mountain paths) to the plains of Puglia for winter. This was called la Transumanza.

Families in Capracotta, without their menfolk during the freezing winter months, were drawn together; the shepherds supported each other far from home. Those ties remain strong today across generations and continents, the passionate connection to their land, is moving to witness.

At dusk on September 7th, the statue of the Madonna is taken in a solemn procession from its sanctuary, at the entrance of the town, to the chiesa madre, Santa Maria Assunta in Cielo. Escorted by 30 horses and 10 donkeys, she is carried by the townsfolk, men and women. Names are drawn to select 466 people, who are then divided into 79 “porter teams,”  throughout the 3 days. Alongside daily processions and mass, the streets are full of market stalls, food, games, band music, and dancing.

We went on the final day, to see the Madonna carried down the hill, back to the sanctuary. The accompanying horses and donkeys were in what can only be described as “fancy dress!” Elaborate, hand-embroidered blankets, lace coverlets, headdresses and harnesses, created each year by family teams. It’s a long-standing tradition to embellish the horses with the finest mantels and fabrics possible, as an offering to the Madonna.




It is sobering to note that in times gone by, the end of the festa meant the shepherds would start their trek down the mountains, leaving families through the long winter. Today, Capracotta still produces fine cheeses, but the small remaining herds are kept warm inside throughout the cold months. A stunning, dramatic, unspoiled landscape; winter offers cross-country and downhill skiing and trekking, in summer, rock climbing, hiking and horseback riding. A simple life – ancient traditions, hard work and beautiful nature bind this unique community.

The proceedings were humble, and in some way unsophisticated – rough almost. Shiny little blue capes, worn by the porters, covered simple attire, but lent a dignity and gravitas. The pride of the citizens and love for their Madonna was extraordinary to witness. Another incredible event of the summer, in a region full of tradition and history.


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. 

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Finding Family

The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) is proud to have the Sant’Anna Institute – a study abroad and language course program in Sorrento, Italy – as a corporate sponsor of our foundation. Read on for a story from one of Sant’Anna’s Italian American students, Torri Dupuis from Worcester State University, who attended their summer 2017 program. 

On June 25, 2017, I embarked on my journey to Spain and Sorrento, Italy. Just a day before my trip, my uncle mentioned that I might have possible family members in Artena, which is just a short train ride from Rome. After my uncle made a few calls, I was messaging with my new cousin, who happens to be my age, via Facebook Messenger.

While in Spain, I communicated back and forth with my cousin, Danny, who is the only one out of the LARGE side of my Italian family that speaks any English. We instantly made plans to meet once I arrived in Italy, and counted down the days until we would be able to communicate face-to-face.  Finally, the weekend arrived. I hopped on a train from Sorrento to Naples, and then another from Naples to Rome, and got off along the way.

It was crazy – these people had no idea who I was, but only cared about one word: family. I was welcomed as if I had known them my whole life. Upon arriving I met Danny, his friend (who is now also my friend), Elisa (his sister), my cousin (also named Elisa), his brother, my cousin Cristian, their mother, my aunt, Cristina, and their father, Daniele (my uncle).

We spent the first few hours trying to communicate and understand each other. Although Google Translator was used a few times, we enjoyed every minute and laughed nearly the entire time. Later on that night, I met even more family members. My great-uncle cried as we were introduced. Unfortunately, there were too many of them to remember all their names. They were just as happy to meet me as I was to meet them. We hugged, laughed, and took all the pictures of this memorable evening.

Afterwards, a few of us went to the beautiful village of Artena; it was late, but they didn’t seem to care. they were content and I was too. They were excited to show me parts of their lives even if we had just the one weekend. I couldn’t believe the love that filled the entire house.

The next day, after visiting the beach with my cousins, we returned to the house to cook. It was so much fun, and I did as much I could without them having to help, so that I could engrave the recipe into my mind. Danny gave me directions and Aunt Cristina overlooked with a helping eye.

Our final result: Spaghetti Carbonara, which I MADE! It was better than any carbonara I have ever had. Of course, we went out for gelato afterwards (I’m pretty sure my family eats gelato AT LEAST twice a day).

Afterwards, Aunt Cristina showed me photo albums of times that meant so much to the family. They were inviting me into their life, and I was so grateful.

The final day eventually arrived. As we prepared for my departure, there were as many tears as there were hugs. I kissed Aunt Cristina, cousin Elisa, and Uncle Daniele goodbye. Then Cristian, Danny, Matteo (their friend) and Elisa, made our way to Sorrento. We spent the day together. My friends and I showed them the beautiful Regina Giovanna before making our way to the festival that was taking place in Sorrento that night, and later enjoyed a delicious dinner. We parted ways afterwards, which had us crying again.

I found a family and a home here in Italy, and a part of my heart will reside here as I head back home to the United States later this week. Saying goodbye was so very hard, but we have each other for the rest of our lives now. What happened to me and what I experienced is usually something you only ever hear about, and being able to live it myself was incredible. They taught me so much in such a short matter of time, and without having met my Italian family, my experience studying abroad in Italy just wouldn’t have been the same.

Torri Dupuis

To learn more about the Sant’Anna Institute and its study abroad programs, click here. NIAF student members receive a 20 percent discount on spring or fall semester study abroad programs, as well as a 20 percent discount on five-week long study abroad programs. Also, five NIAF Student Members will receive 50 percent off on Sant’Anna Institute’s two- or four-week long language course and a 10 percent discount on their accommodations during the program. You can learn all about NIAF Student Memberships here!

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The (Italian) Declaration of Independence

On the 4th of July, it’s important to remember that a key stone in the foundation of our country’s understanding of democracy was put in place by none other than an Italian by the name of Filippo Mazzei.

Born just outside of Florence in 1730, Mazzei practiced medicine in Italy and the Middle East for several years, before moving to London to take up a new career as a wine merchant. While in London, he befriended Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Adams, who would eventually persuade Mazzei to travel to the British colonies of the New World. Mazzei settled in the Virginia countryside, where he introduced the cultivation of vineyards, olive groves, and other Mediterranean fruits. He soon became close friends with Thomas Jefferson (who lived nearby) and the two would actually go on to open the first commercial vineyard in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

These two Renaissance men spoke often on the state of society and government. Jefferson was an educated man with a great deal of interest in Italy, Italian culture, and – as seen at Monticello – Italian architecture. He and Mazzei discussed the idea of democracy, and how one’s government should uphold it. Mazzei frimly believed that “Tutti gli uomini sono ugualmente liberi e indipendenti.” Jefferson admired his friend’s philosophical beliefs so much, that they would go on to be incorporated in the Declaration of Independence itself: “all men are created equal.”

In 1779, in the midst of the American Revolution, Mazzei returned to Italy as a secret diplomatic agent for the State of Virginia, working on behalf of the Revolution by purchasing arms and seeking to borrow money for Virginia from the Grand Duke of Tuscany, as well as gather any useful political or military information for the state. He also spread and publicized the Declaration of Independence and newly-founded Constitution throughout Europe via translations and public presentations. Later, Mazzei would write a full, political account of the American Revolutionary War, and he became widely known as one of the greatest Italian American patriots of his time. Later on in years, Mazzei returned to his beloved Tuscany, where he cultivated a farm and wrote until his death.

Today, Mazzei is remembered as a major influence on the Declaration of Independence, and American ideals of freedom and diversity. So today, on the 4th of July, be sure to also celebrate Filippo Mazzei – the Italian who helped build some of the United States’ most important beliefs!

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The Legacy of Falcone and Borsellino

Yesterday, NIAF’s 2017 Voyage of Discovery (VOD) program – a group of Italian American college students brought to Italy by NIAF on an all-expenses-paid, two-week trip to rediscover their heritage – visited the Mayor of Palermo, Leoluca Orlando, as well as law students from the University of Palermo and the Fulbright-Fondazione Falcone-NIAF scholars in the Sicilian city of Palermo.

Our VOD students learned about the legacies of Judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino and their impact on Sicily’s judicial system, which was especially poignant, as yesterday was the 25th anniversary of Paolo Borsellino’s death at the hands of the Mafia.


At the University of Palermo Law School there is a special plaque dedicated to all the people who graduated from the Law School and who were eventually killed by the mafia. Giovanni Falcone, Paolo Borsellino and Francesca Morvillo are among the names.

The Fondazione Falcone was founded in December 1992 after the assassination of Judge Giovanni Falcone, who was killed by the mafia in May 23, 1992 alongside his wife, Judge Francesca Morvillo, and three escort guards. The principal aim of the Fondazione is to promote the values of the rule of law and legality among young people, and to combat the presence of the Mafia culture in today’s society. NIAF and the Fulbright Program have partnered with the Fondazione Falcone to create the Fulbright-Fondazione Falcone-NIAF Program, which allows one Italian student and one American student to study law and criminology in each other’s countries for a full year.

Our VOD students had the opportunity to meet with one of our award recipients, as well as hear both Judge Giuseppe Ayala – a magistrate who worked alongside Judge Giovanni Falcone – and Mayor Orlando speak.  In their speeches, both men expressed the sentiment that “Palermo was once the Italian capital of the Mafia. But in 2018, Palermo will be declared the Italian capital of culture.” 

Judge Ayala spoke on the importance of collaboration with public prosecutors Rudy Giuliani, Charles Rose, and Louis Freeh back in the 1980’s and 90’s. It was with this international partnership and open line of communication that the city of Palermo – and other parts of Sicily – was able to begin deconstructing the Mafia network.  That connection was fundamental in the fight against the Mafia.  And while Sicily has not defeated the Mafia completely, they have at least given it “quattro schiaffi in faccia;” that is, they are slowly breaking the organization down.

For our VOD students, hearing the words of these incredibly brave and important local leaders in Sicily was especially important, as the purpose of the Voyage of Discovery program is to reconnect our young Italian American students with their heritage. Much of the discrimination against Italians and Italian Americans that our community struggled with (and continues to struggle with) stems from the history of the Italian Mafia. We are both vilified for its connections to our culture, but also placed on the silver screen and celebrated, in television shows like The Sopranos. Understanding the damage that the Mafia has inflicted on local communities in Sicily showed our VOD students the realities of what the Mafia is, as well as the efforts that Italians and Sicilians make in their continued fight against the organization.

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A Celebration of Shared Democracy

Italy and the United States share a long history mutual influence and support. From Filippo Mazzei, who influenced Thomas Jefferson’s ideas on liberty and democracy, to the vast influx of Italian immigrants who contributed to American culture, to modern Italy’s role as one of the U.S.’s most important allies, Italy and the U.S. have a longstanding friendship.

This month, Italy celebrated its 71st Italian National Day, also known as Republic Day, or la Festa della Repubblica, and the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) was honored to join in its celebration at the Embassy of Italy on May 30th as well as at an event at the White House on June 2nd.  This national holiday commemorates results of an institutional referendum which was held in 1946. After years of struggle with the Second World War, as well as the fall of fascism and the monarchy, the Italian people came together after the end of the war to decide on what form of government they wanted from that day forward.

Taking to the polls, 10,719,284 people voted for the monarchy, but 12,717923 people voted for a republic. As a result, the royal House of Savoy was sent into exile, and the Republic of Italy was officially established. Today, the holiday is celebrated by a grand military parade in Rome, where the President of Italy, the Prime Minister, the President of the council of Ministers, ambassadors, and military leaders are all in attendance to mark this example of democracy.

This year, in addition to the annual celebration at the Italian Embassy hosted by the Ambassador of the Italian Republic to the United States, the White House held an event in the historic Roosevelt Room in the West Wing to mark this holiday and honor the enduring relationship between our two countries.

Members of NIAF’s board and leadership council; Ambassador of the Italian Republic to the United States, Armando Varricchio; Italian embassy staff; members of the White House staff of Italian American descent; members of the Italian American Congressional Staff Association, as well as other special guests, came together in the West Wing to celebrate these deep bonds that define our two nations.

Several White House senior staff are of Italian descent including Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, who spoke about her memories of being raised by her Italian American mother and aunts and the example of hard work they instilled in her.

Assistant to the President and Director of Social Media Dan Scavino spoke about the President and First Lady’s recent trip to Italy for the G-7 Summit in Taormina and to the Vatican, and read President Trump’s statement recognizing Italian Republic Day, which highlighted how America’s founding fathers studied Italy’s earliest history when debating the form of government our new nation would take.

“We cherish the contributions of the more than 17 million Americans who claim Italian heritage,” stated President Trump. He acknowledged that our bonds “extend beyond sentimental and cultural,” but also to the protection of our two nations’ security through our military alliance and joint efforts to combat terrorism and make the world safer.

Also in attendance at the June 2nd event were Florida Attonry General Pam Bondi and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who spoke about his Italian American mother and the importance of family. Andrew Guiliani, also a member of the White House staff, introduced his father, former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani, who addressed the experience he had of meeting with President Ronald Reagan in the Roosevelt Room over 30 years ago as an attorney in the Justice Department.

NIAF’s Vice Chair of Cultural Affairs, the Hon. Anita Bevacqua McBride, who assisted White House Deputy Director of the Office of Public Liaison (and fellow Italian American) Stephen Munisteri in the planning and execution of the event, was one of NIAF’s representatives at the White House on June 2nd. She presented two gifts to Ms. Conway for the President, including the “Make Sunday Italian Again” ball cap designed by NIAF President John Viola, and a copy of the “Italy in the White House” book published by NIAF and the White House Historical Association.

“We are honored that NIAF was asked to help organize this memorable event in the White House to celebrate Italy’s national holiday and the special and historical relationship between our two countries,” stated the Hon. Anita Bevacqua McBride. “Along with our prior  invitation in April 2017 for our Board to attend the joint press conference between Prime Minster Gentiloni and President Trump in the White House East Room, we are confident that the dialogue and partnership between NIAF and the new Administration will continue to grow even stronger.”

For many there, celebrating Italy’s Republic Day in the United States – specifically, in the White House itself – was a momentous occasion. For decades, Italian Americans struggled after immigrating to the United States. Forced to fight discrimination and lack of representation in both American culture and government, it was not too long ago that the idea of an Italian American in a high-ranking public office was nearly inconceivable.

Today, Italian Americans make up a large portion of our nation’s leadership, as we see often at our NIAF-organized Italian American Congressional Delegation events. NIAF continues to encourage and help facilitate a positive relationship between Italy and the United States, creating a community that still holds strong to our Italian values and culture. As Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson stated on June 2nd, “This deep and enduring friendship, founded on mutual respect, trust, and affection is not one we take for granted,” and NIAF is proud to help build that bridge.

When discussing the Italian American community in the United States at the Embassy of Italy’s celebration of Republic Day, Ambassador Varricchio warmly addressed the Italian Americans in the audience, stating, “I do consider you to be fellow ambassadors of Italy, here in the United States.” NIAF is proud to be ambassadors of our culture not only on the grand, national holidays of Italy, but in our daily lives and communities, celebrating our heritage and Italy’s legacy in the United States every day.

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Book Review: The Girl from Venice

In need of a good beach read this summer? Check out Martin Cruz Smith’s novel, reviewed by NIAF in our Ambassador magazine

In Martin Cruz Smith’s most recent novel, the author makes a departure from his usual mystery writing and delves into the world of historic fiction, set against the backdrop of occupied Venice in World War II. In “The Girl from Venice,” the war is ending, but Venice remains under German control, making life difficult and dangerous for its inhabitants. Cruz Smith’s story follows the life of a Venetian fisherman, Cenzo, who finds the body of a young Jewish girl named Giulia floating in Venice’s lagoon, and rescues her. Cenzo’s decision to hide Giulia from the Nazis rather than turn her in suddenly entangles him in political games between Germans, Fascists, and the Italian resistance movement. 

Cruz Smith takes the reader from the muddy shores of Venice to the palaces of Salò with captivating storytelling, but the novel’s strength comes from its excellent balance of war and character development. As Cenzo and Giulia’s relationship grows from one of happenstance to love, the stakes of their actions and of the war itself become much higher. There have been many novels set in Italy during World War II, but this one offers a refreshing read for those interested in World War II fiction that explores the effects of war on ordinary people, rather than the movement of nations.

– Review by Danielle DeSimone, NIAF’s Social Media Manager & Assistant Editor. 


This review appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of NIAF’s Ambassador Magazine.

The Girl from Venice by Martin Cruz Smith. Simon & Schuster Publishing. 305 pages; $27.

For more information on the novel or its author, visit

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Sicilian Food: A Global Diet

What are we talking about, when we discuss “Italian food?”  It’s the age-old question: Italian vs. Italian American. We get so caught up in the details of what the difference is between the food of Italy and the food developed by Italy’s immigrants that we often forget about the behemoth of cuisine that sits just at the toe of Italy’s boot: Sicily.

Sicilian food is contradictory, just like Sicilian culture. It is an odd mixture of Italian, Greek, Arab, French, Spanish, and North African. Its dinner plates are living odes to the number of peoples that have conquered, colonized, settled, ruled, and emigrated here. Every region in Italy has its own unique culinary traditions, but to lump Sicilian food under the over-arching category of “Italian food” does a disservice to this island’s culture and proud history.

The first recorded example of Sicilian food comes from the 5th century B.C., from a cook named Mithaecus. His writing on his native land’s cuisine was the first documented cookbook in Greece – and the first cookbook in the world in which the author’s name is known and identified.  Sicily was first inhabited by an “ancient people of Italy,” with small groups from Egypt and Spain as well. However, the island was not really put on the map until it was colonized by the Greeks. They left behind grand ruins and theaters in places like Siracusa and Taormina, but also – significantly – brought olives and grapes with them, introducing some of the most important crops to the region and to what we know of Sicily and Italy today. The Greek diet – which today is so affectionately called “the Mediterranean diet” – leans heavily on fresh fish and vegetables.

From there came the Germanic tribes (hence, Sicily’s love of meat dishes), Byzantine conquests, and Arab rule. Under the Sultan, Sicily was introduced to things like oranges, lemons, pine nuts, sugarcane, eggplants, and a love of spices such as saffron and cinnamon. Arab influence on Sicilian food runs deep. Arancini, for example, are a Sicilian favorite and it’s no wonder: balls of risotto, stuffed with cheese, meat, tomatoes and peas are breaded and then fried, creating a Mediterranean dish reminiscent of fried mac’n’cheese (but infinitely better).

There are endless variations of what can be put in arancini, but the risotto is constant. And many claim that it was the Arab settlers that first introduced Sicily to durum wheat, which is crucial to making risotto and pasta. The original recipe for arancini supposedly dates back to the 10th century during the Kalbid dynasty.

Panelle – those golden slivers of fried chickpeas – are some of the best of Sicilian street food, and both its ingredients and preparation styles are very similar to Middle Eastern chickpea dishes. They let out a satisfying crunch and ooze of grease with each bite, as you stroll under the arches and domes hand-crafted by caliphates long gone.

Later came the Normans. And then the Holy Roman Empire. And then the Spanish, and with them, discoveries from the new world, such as tomatoes, peppers, and – of course – chocolate. With these new additions, famous dishes such as Pasta alla Norma (fresh tomatoes, fried eggplant, basil, and ricotta salata) became Sicilian staples.

Under the unification of Italy in 1861, Sicily technically became “Italian,” but its culture – particularly that of its food – remained steadfastly siciliana. There are countless pasta, fish, meat, vegetable, and dessert dishes that are incredible, undeniably Sicilian, and too many to mention in order to truly do justice to the Sicilian food culture. It is the chaotic combination of all of its cultures, coming together to be shared on a table with friends and family, which makes Sicilian food just that: Sicilian.

These are the culinary traditions that many Sicilian Americans still celebrate today, bonded by a sense of community at events like the Feast of Saint Joseph’s Day. Sicilians and Sicilian Americans alike still pride themselves on this unique heritage; the knowledge that they are not from the mainland of Italy, but from a place unique in its diversity.  It still elicits a kind of burning, fiery pride, and we here at the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) are proud to call Sicily our 2017 Region of Honor this year. We are excited to continue celebrating this region’s incredible culinary and cultural history!

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Stories from Sorrento

The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) is proud to have the Sant’Anna Institute – a study abroad and language course program in Sorrento, Italy – as a corporate sponsor of our foundation. Read on for a story from one of Sant’Anna’s Italian American students, Michael Bowman from Alfred State College, who is currently enrolled in their spring semester 2017 program.

I was raised by an Italian family. My childhood memories are centered around watching my Nonna (grandmother) make fresh food from scratch, while other family members would be chatted in the kitchen, and later gathered around the dinner table as one family to share a meal. Being raised by an Italian family meant every morning waking up to my mother’s soft voice saying, “Michael, it’s time to go to Nonna and Nonno’s house” as the start to my day. At an early age, waking up at 6:30 in the morning wasn’t easy, but now looking back, I realize the importance of spending those days with my grandparents.

Every day was the same. Nonna would have a bowl of cheerios already made for myself and my grandfather; each morning with Nonno was an Italian language lesson. My Nonno hoped that teaching me some Italian would prepare me for the day that I would finally go to Italy. He somehow always knew that one day I would go. In the summer of 2013, I was granted that opportunity and went with my Nonna, Aunt, and cousin for three weeks. Who would have known that three and a half years later, I would be studying abroad in Sorrento, Italy? At the time, my mind couldn’t grasp the beautiful blessings my family had to offer, as well as the unique, rich, and genuine Italian culture I experienced. But you don’t have to be Italian to appreciate what I’ve seen while studying abroad.

When I first arrived in Sorrento, excitement and jittery feelings rushed through my veins as I wondered what would this orientation day consist of. I will always remember my first day at Sant’Anna Institute. All the students were seated in a room while the professors introduced themselves and indicated what class they taught. All the professors were genuine and welcoming with open arms, which reminded me of my family. As most of the professors proceeded to walk out the classroom door welcoming the students, I said, “Grazie, piacere di conoscerti,” meaning “Thank you, it is nice to meet you.” Immediately, all the professors’ heads swiftly turned to me and they asked if I spoke Italian. We had a brief conversation on where my family is from in Italy, and how I learned Italian. It made me happy to know that my grandfather’s lessons had paid off, and I know he would be proud.

The thing that I love most about Sant’Anna, is that it doesn’t matter if you know all the Italian in the world or if you don’t even know how to say “ciao.” The staff at Sant’Anna wants their students to have the experience of a lifetime. Every morning, when students walk up the stairs to purchase coffee, all staff members smile and say good morning, even if they don’t know the student personally. When I am inside the walls of Sant’Anna, I don’t feel as if I am in a college, I feel at home.

I love seeing professors laughing and making jokes with the students about the weekend trips. At the beginning of this semester, I only knew the fifteen students from my college in New York attending the program. As for the other students, I had no clue who they were, what state they came from, or even their names. Luckily, it only took a few days to become friends with all the other students. As time progressed, we exchanged phone numbers, connected on social media, and soon were making dinners with each other, traveling to other countries, and going to the English Inn in Sorrento to eat big meals as one school. The way I see it, we became a family.

Studying abroad is a unique, beautiful, but also privileged experience. One must come to the realization that not everyone is fortunate enough to have this opportunity. Students that can study for a whole semester in another country should make the most of it, not only for themselves, but for the ones who couldn’t go. It’s important to immerse yourself in the local culture while studying abroad. I’ve studied here in Sorrento for a semester and I really believe that it is important to try to adapt to the surrounding culture. You should try to absorb what the country offers.








I have met so many locals here that I consider good friends; these people have helped me out in times of need when I didn’t know where to go for help. They will drop everything that they are doing to make sure I am having the best time I can in their country. Those are the characteristics of the culture that I will be bringing back to my home, not just for me to be a better individual, but also to pass the experience onto my friends and loved ones. In doing so, I’m hoping that one day, other students will want to experience what I’ve experienced in Sorrento, Italy, studying abroad at Sant’Anna.


To learn more about the Sant’Anna Institute and its study abroad programs, click here. NIAF student members receive a 20 percent discount on spring or fall semester study abroad programs, as well as a 20 percent discount on five-week long study abroad programs. Also, five NIAF Student Members will receive 50 percent off on Sant’Anna Institute’s two- or four-week long language course and a 10 percent discount on their accommodations during the program. You can learn all about NIAF Student Memberships here!


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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!

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