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Articles by: Letizia Airos
Fatti e Storie
Come ha vissuto il mondo della ristorazione negli Stati Uniti la prima ondata del virus? Quali sono i timori per l’inverno e soprattutto la seconda ondata? Come si muove un imprenditore della ristorazione a New York? Quali sono le sfide, i problemi ma soprattutto lo spirito che accompagna chi vive in questa città? Questo, ma anche tanto altro al centro dell’intervista con Michele Casadei Massari.
In partnership con Finanziamenti News, Assocamerestero e ITALPLANET GROUP. Iniziativa di Your Italian Hub con i-Italy
Fatti e Storie
Quali problemi ha rappresentato e sta rappresentando il covid per il sistema universitario statunitense? La didattica a distanza è diventata predominante anche negli USA? Le Università statunitensi erano pronte organizzativamente e con mezzi adeguati per affrontarla? Ci sono stati dei contenziosi per il pagamento delle rette universitarie? Quanto i giovani hanno recepito la gravità del problema? Quali le conseguenze per studenti e insegnanti stranieri per la sospensione dei visti fatta dall’amministrazione Trump? Cè’ stata collaborazione e coordinamento tra le università americane in questo periodo di emergenza? Come cambierà l’Università americana una volta usciti dalla pandemia?
Queste alcune delle domande al centro dell’intervista.
In partnership con Finanziamenti News, Assocamerestero e ITALPLANET GROUP. Iniziativa di Your Italian Hub con i-Italy
Fatti e Storie
La notizia è questa. Nel Decreto Rilancio è stato inserito in extremis un emendamento che stanzia ulteriori 5 milioni di euro a sostegno della rete delle Camere di Commercio italiane all’estero “per promuovere l’Internazionalizzazione, anche con metodi innovativi come le piattaforme elettroniche”. Potrebbe essere un significativo aiuto alla internazionalizzazione delle piccole e medie imprese italiane, partendo dalla valorizzazione della già radicata presenza italiana nel mondo: le Camere di Commercio all’estero (CCIE) sono infatti 79 e sono presenti in 56 paesi.
Prima firmataria dell’emendamento è Fucsia Nissoli, deputata eletta in Nord e Centro America.
Le Camere di Commercio nel mondo erano praticamente una realtà quasi dimenticata e lei ha posto il problema…. L’abbiamo raggiunta per telefono.
“Sono molto orgogliosa di come l’emendamento al Decreto Rilancio, a mia prima firma, sia riuscito ad unire maggioranza, opposizione e Governo nel riconoscere il valore delle CCIE e incentivarne le attività per lo sviluppo del nostro export”.
Partiamo da queste parole sue parole per una riflessione che supera il contenuto dell’emendamento di per se stesso.
La parlamentare, cresciuta a Treviglio in provincia di Bergamo con una madre di origine siciliana, ma negli Usa da molti anni, con questa iniziativa attira ancora una volta l’attenzione della politica italiana su quella che è l’attività troppo poco conosciuta degli italiani all’estero.
Inizialmente le camere di commercio nel mondo non erano state considerate dal decreto. Forse il riflesso di una mancata consapevolezza dell’importanza degli italiani all’estero per il successo del Made in Italy e per il suo rilancio in questa fase post-Covid.
“Le camere di commercio erano rimaste fuori dal piano, sono stata sollecitata da tanti. Ora sono previsti fondi per l’internazionalizzazione con metodi innovativi, anche attraverso piattaforme elettroniche.” Due innovazioni positive, dunque, se si considera la tradizionale debolezza italiana sul fronte del digitale.
Il tessuto economico italiano vive di piccole e medie imprese che possono e devono essere internazionalizzate e rilanciate nel mondo.
“Sono proprio le camere di commercio all’estero, da sempre vicine a queste realtà, le più adatte a farlo”, dice Nissoli. “Lo so che può essere un argomento delicato, anche nella rete delle CCIE c’è chi si è comportato bene e chi no, come succede ovunque. Ma la maggior parte delle volte sono state loro a far penetrare l’attività commerciale delle aziende italiane nel tessuto economico del Paese dove operano. E se si rafforzano loro si rafforza il Sistema Paese, si rafforza l’Italia”.
Dunque Fucsia Nissoli ha dato un input importante su questo tema, incontrando speriamo una mutata sensibilità nel Parlamento e nel Governo.
Certo sarebbe stato sconcertante se ci si fosse dimenticati ancora una volta non solo delle Camere, ma in generale degli italiani all’estero.
Se si fosse continuato a trascurare quell’Italia fuori dai confini, che soffre ancora di un’assenza quasi totale di “informazione di ritorno”.
Ancora oggi pochi in Italia sanno chi sono gli italiani all’estero, cosa fanno, come vivono, cosa rappresentano per il Paese che li ospita. Sono questi italiani, fuori dai confini, i veri “ambasciatori” e al tempo stesso le sentinelle di una presenza italiana che abbraccia il mondo intero. Si tratta di “eccellenze”, ma non solo. Si tratta anche di gente comune che vive lo stile di vita italiano fuori dall’Italia e lo promuove, spesso inconsapevolmente, ma in modo più che convincente.
Non si può, specie in questo momento, dimenticare l’incredibile potenziale rappresentato da decine di milioni di italodiscendenti e da cinque milioni di cittadini italiani residenti all’estero tra cui tanti studenti, imprenditori, manager e professionisti.
Certo, questo emendamento offre un primo importante riconoscimento di questa realtà attraverso le Camere di Commercio, ora occorre spendere bene questi fondi, delinearne bene i compiti, le linee da seguire e i risultati che si intendono ottenere. Si tratta in poche parole di avere una visione e di gestire un processo anche complesso, ma vitale per il rilancio del Paese nel tempo.
Ed è importante che una forte sollecitazione alla politica in tal senso sia venta da un parlamentare eletto all’estero. Bisogna creare un asse tra maggioranza e opposizione, sostiene Nissoli, con l’intento di “guardare al raggiungimento dell’obiettivo a prescindere dallo schieramento politico“. E aggiunge: “In questo difficile periodo storico, occorre far stare meglio le persone e non fare propaganda. Occorre capire insieme cosa si può fare per salvare l’Italia. Per ricostruire l’Italia insieme, l’Italia all’estero è una incredibile risorsa.”
Come ogni crisi anche quella legata al Covid19 può aprire nuove opportunità. Le Camere di Commercio, come tantissime altre realtà italiane consolidate fuori dal Paese, dovranno ora mostrarsi all’altezza della sfida nell’impegno per rilanciare il Made in Italy in un’ottica integrata, di sistema.
Art & Culture
I’ll tell you a story that got me thinking on a day like many others.
Fall is approaching and life in New York begins to slowly pick up again for those who, like me, focus on the Italian presence in the City and in the United States. Summer tends to slow down Italian activities in New York. After the holidays, I then go back to visit my friends who share our publication’s mission to bring our culture to the attention of American audiences. The first among them is, and has been for years, Stefano Albertini, the Director of Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò.
The atmosphere there is vibrant as always, I am immediately offered a slice of cake to celebrate the birthday of one of the collaborators, Kostja Kostic. Then, I walk across two rooms to get to the director’s office.
They are in the midst of hanging an exhibition that inevitably grasps my attention. It consists of the drawings and writings of Carlo Levi. Many of them. With intense calm and precision, one man is positioning a series of frames that trace a rarely addressed narrative of the great author’s life.
However, this story, which I learned walking around his works, brought me back to another southern Italian location: to Sicily, to San Pier Niceto, close to Milazzo. To the countryside, between the Peloritani mountains, among the smells of a land that is part of my family's history, surrounded by citrus fields, orchards, colorful vegetable gardens, almond trees, and mulberries.
Nino Sottile Zumbo is the name of the man hanging the exhibition. He’s a lawyer by trade but also, as I quickly learn, deeply passionate about art. We start talking. He doesn’t know I’m a journalist and begins his tale, with great passion and simplicity.
“These drawings and writings were in a barn near Milazzo!” he exclaims. He’s perfectly aware of having piqued my curiosity and continues:
“I walked passed the chickens and they were there, in the coop, between straw and hay. 145 drawings.” Made with pencil, ballpoint pen, pastel. They were made by Carlo Levi when he began to suffer from retinal detachment. During this time, he partially lost his vision and had to go through delicate surgical procedures.
But how did these drawings end up in Sicily? Here, we get to the story within the story, the one that ties Carlo Levi to the farmer Nino Milicia.
Nino Sottile Zumbo tells it, looking still incredulous himself as he speaks. It feels as if I’m watching a movie unfold. The images blend together, imagination mixes with reality.
Antonio Milicia is a Sicilian farmer who emigrated to Switzerland. There, he met Levi during a meeting for immigrants. The writer-painter, then a parliamentary, takes the stand and entrances him. “Farmers have a profound dignity because they carry the weight of the cross into their land,” this sentence was forever carved in the memory of the young Antonio Milicia. “He gave me dignity, he gave us peasants dignity.” Back in his homeland, he decides to buy an entire collection of his works.”
They remained in the dark for a long time. But their communicative power lies in a play of light and shadows, in a fascinating journey of the mind, traced by graphic marks and texts.
“Levi is a figurative artist - the lawyer-curator tells us - but he has the suggestive capacity of abstraction. I handle contemporary art and this brings me closer to these drawings.”
These drawings were created between light and darkness, during different phases of Levi’s illness, “They had built him a special instrument that allowed him to write and draw without seeing, made out of light wood, with a zipper that opened where the Pigna notebook paper went. It had little strings delineating his range of movement.” Within this cage, invisible to him, Levi searched for a tactile dimension through which to resurface the words and figures from his memory.
But as we know, the memory of the blind can often recall the details that we all fail to notice seeing.
For Nino Sottile Zumbo this was a deeply emotional experience: “He quizzed me on the life of Levi when we met. He wanted to make sure I was the right person, but eventually we became friends.”
“Antonio Milicia couldn’t receive a formal education, but he has a profound intellectual dimension within him,” he fervently proclaims.
And, after our conservation, I can’t help but think of Teresa Bellanova, our new Minister of Agriculture, attacked for not having a college education and wearing the wrong clothes, targeted especially on social media before even starting. She too labored on the fields, then becoming a trade unionist, showcasing both strength and sensibility. My most sincere wishes go out to the farmer Antonio Milicia, to Teresa Bellanova, and to this wonderful exhibition.
There are different types of blindness, unfortunately.
Carlo Levi's Disegni della Cecità
Curated by Nino Sottile Zumbo
With the participation of Antonino Milicia
On view through December 13
Arte e Cultura
Vi racconto una storia che mi fa riflettere, in un pomeriggio come tanti.
L’autunno si avvicina e piano piano riprende anche la vita newyorkese di chi, come me, si occupa della presenza italiana negli Stati Uniti.
L’estate addormenta un po’ le occasioni italiane a New York. Dopo le vacanze quindi, torno a trovare i miei amici che condividono con la nostra testata l’impegno di portare la nostra cultura all’attenzione degli americani. Primo fra tutti, ormai da anni, è Stefano Albertini, direttore della Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò.
L’atmosfera, dentro la sede dove lavora, è come sempre frizzante, mi offrono subito una fetta di torta per festeggiare il compleanno di uno dei collaboratori, Kostja Kostic. Poi attraverso due sale per raggiungere la stanza del direttore.
E’ in allestimento una mostra che non può che attirare la mia curiosità. Si tratta di disegni e scritti di Carlo Levi. Sono tanti. Un signore, con precisione e calma, dispone diversi quadri che incorniciano un percorso, piuttosto inedito, nella vita del grande narratore del 900.
Scrittore, pittore, attivo antifascista, Carlo Levi, noto soprattutto nel mondo per "Cristo si è fermato ad Eboli" ambientato in Lucania, é una pietra miliare nella letteratura mondiale.
Eppure la storia, che ho scoperto, tra un quadro ed un altro, mi ha riportato in un altro luogo del sud Italia, in Sicilia, a San Pier Niceto, vicino Milazzo. In campagna, tra i monti Peloritani, nei profumi di una terra che fa parte anche della mia famiglia, tra agrumeti, frutteti, orti colorati, mandorli, gelsi.
Nino Sottile Zumbo, è il nome del signore che allestisce la mostra. E’ un avvocato di professione ma anche, scoprirò, un appassionato amante dell’arte. Inizio inevitabilmente a parlare con lui. Non sa che sono una giornalista e comincia a raccontare, con passione e semplicità.
“Questi disegni e scritti erano in una stalla vicino Milazzo!” esclama. Sa perfettamente di aumentare la curiosità dell’interlocutore e continua:
“Sono passato tra le galline e poi erano nel covile, tra paglia e fieno. Ben 145 Disegni.” Realizzati con lapis, penne a sfera, pastelli, feltri colorati. Sono realizzati da Carlo Levi, quando venne colpito dal distacco della retina. Fu un periodo in cui perse la vista a tratti e venne sottoposto a delicati interventi chirurgici.
Ma come mai sono finiti in Sicilia questi disegni? Ecco la storia nella storia, quella che unisce Carlo Levi a Nino Milicia, un contadino.
Nino Sottile Zumbo la racconta e mentre parla è ancora incredulo. Mi sembra di seguire la sceneggiatura di un film. Le immagini si allineano, tra immaginazione e realtà.
Antonio Milicia è un contadino siciliano emigrato in Svizzera. Incontra Levi lì, in una riunione per immigrati. Qui lo scrittore e pittore, allora parlamentare, prende la parola e lo incanta. “I contadini hanno una profonda dignità perché portano il peso della croce nella loro terra”, questa frase rimane scolpita nella memoria del giovane Antonio Milicia. “Mi ha dato la dignità, ha dato a noi contadini la dignità”. Tornato nella sua terra decide di cercare e comprare un’intera collezione delle sue opere.”
Sono rimaste in ombra per un lungo periodo. Ma la loro forza comunicativa è fatta di ombre e luci, in un percorso affascinante della mente, tra tratti grafici di matita e testi.
“Levi è un autore figurativo - ci dice l’avvocato- curatore - però ha la capacità suggestiva dell’astratto. Mi occupo di arte contemporanea e questo mi avvicina molto a questi disegni.”
Sono disegni e scritti realizzati - tra luce e buio - in diverse fasi della malattia di Levi, “Avevano costruito per lui una struttura che gli consentiva di scrivere e disegnare senza vedere, di legno leggero con una cerniera che si apre dove inserire un foglio dei quaderni Pigna. Aveva delle cordicelle che limitavano l’azione.” In questa gabbie dello spazio, che non vedeva, Levi cercava una dimensione tattile per recuperare parole e figure nella sua memoria.
Ma lo sappiamo, una memoria senza occhi per vedere può ricordare ancora di più dei dettagli, quello che tutti noi non ci accorgiamo di vedere.
Per Nino Sottile Zumbo è stata un’esperienza emotiva molto forte: “mi ha fatto una sorta di esame sulla vita di Levi, quando l’ho incontrato. Voleva essere sicuro che ero la persona giusta, ma poi siamo diventati amici.”
“Antonio Milicia non ha potuto studiare nella sua vita, ma ha dentro una dimensione profondamente intellettuale” esclama emozionato..
E non può che venirmi in mente, al termine della nostra conversazione, Teresa Bellanova. Il neo Ministro dell'Agricoltura attaccata perchè "non laureata e con i vestiti sbagliati", presa di mira, soprattutto sui social, ancora prima di cominciare. Anche lei è stata bracciante nei campi, esperienza durissima, poi sindacalista con grande sensibilità. I miei migliori auguri, al contadino Antonio Milicia, a Teresa Bellanova e a questa stupenda mostra.
Ci sono diversi tipi di cecità, purtroppo.
Carlo Levi's Disegni della Cecità
Curated by Nino Sottile Zumbo
With the participation of Antonino Milicia
On view through December 13
Life & People
July 20, 1969. Blue eyes on the screen. Small eyes and big eyes, drowsy, but forcibly kept open. Sitting on the family’s sofa, a father and daughter are surrounded by the silence of the town. This was a vacation night unlike any other.Everyone in the apartment is sleeping. The pendulum on the wall marks the minutes, every half hour or so the church’s bells accompany it but they are not all in sync. The bells were still not able to chime simultaneously and yet man was about to make history. At least at that time. There was no Internet, there weren’t CDs, Apple hadn’t invented anything yet, and there weren’t even cell phones.The little girl who was not yet eight years old had not yet turned 8 thought about the images from her school books, the pictures of the moon in different phases, sketches but also scientific research. She was filled with the desire to know and the dream to experience it with her father. “I’m going to the moon, too. Dad, will you come with me?” Happy to know how to read, she tried to capture the subtitles on television.
Nestled close to her father, she wanted to understand, but she could ask very little. The pact was to remain standing, being careful not to wake her little sister, mom, grandparents.
The black and white TV images sent from the United States take her to the moon. The moon is so far away but not much further than America in the mind of that child – the America of her grandfathers’ friends who returned to the town on vacation with green cards. Grandfather Salvatore looked at them with dreamy eyes, proud. His friends had made it!How far away America was! And if the Americans managed to get to the moon, they were at least as far away as the inhabitants of the earth’s satellite. At least, that’s what the little girl thought.
But were there really men on the moon? There had to be for sure. Perhaps they were hidden in those holes, for which she had recently learned the correct term: craters.
Beside her was her father, about thirty-five years old. There was hope for the future in the air, hope that was so palpable in the ‘60s. He had just bought a new house in Rome, he was succeeding in his career. The return each year to the town of his birth was nearly triumphal for him.He was the son of a laborer who was able to study and who had “made it.” He no longer suffered that hunger that so many remembered indeed! Yes, even for him, everything seemed possible, conquerable with hard work. Even the moon.
And finally her heart jumps into her throat, but for only a second.... “It has landed,” says the reporter Tito Stagno. From the U.S., his colleague Ruggero Orlando responds, “It has not landed.” Shortly after, it’s confirmed.
The Lem, that strange mechanical animal with feet, is really on lunar soil. Along with two other reporters, the bigwig Italian journalist, Andrea Barbato, provides commentary. But the little girl does not know this at the time.
Those sleepy eyes awaken, in search of images. The first images arrive upside down, but only of the moon. Perhaps the moon is upside down? Instinctively, she turns her head upside down.
It will be a long night for the father and child, a night full of thoughts, comments, and emotions, and so many dreams.
All this unfolds until the moment in which Armstrong places the first human foot on the moon. He utters that historic phrase that makes us reflect: “It’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
It’s a sentiment that is still moving today but it does so in a way that they would have never imagined back then – both the father who is no longer here and that little girl who remembers him more than the moon.
Life & People
The name Lidia Bastianich is synonymous with exquisite Italian cuisine. Many people know the talented chef from her fine Italian restaurants and her various television programs throughout the years. However, Ms. Bastianich’s professional accomplishments are only one component of her intriguing and significant personal history. As a child, Lidia grew up between three different worlds–each one having a significant impact on her and her future. i-Italy had the pleasure of sitting down with the world-renowned chef in order to better understand her roots and to help share her story.
Beginnings in Istria
It was February 1947; World War II had ended, and the Paris Peace Treaties were about to be signed. Until that point, the Istrian peninsula was primarily under Italy’s control following World War I. Despite having Italian governance, Italians living in Istria had a very difficult existence; many of them faced violence or death during the Foibe massacres occurring near the end of World War II. The Paris Peace Treaties, however, were a final nail in the coffin for many of those individuals as the treaties granted control of the Istria to Yugoslavia. Istrian-Italians knew they either needed to adapt to a new way of life or to emigrate from the peninsula. Many chose the latter option, so many, in fact, that the time period was known as the “Istrian Exodus.”
That same month, February 1947, Lidia Matticchio (later Bastianich) was born in the middle of the political unrest. Her family resided in Pola, and she would live there for the first nine years of her life along with her parents and her older brother–three years her superior. Lidia recalled that life in Pola during that time meant change for many of its residents. People were changing their names, changing the language they spoke, and even changing religion. She shared with an anecdote about her grandmother: “My grandmother would discreetly take me to church, and she would discreetly speak to me in Italian. All of these things, you really felt them as a young girl. It was difficult to exist in this uncertainty.”
Moving Across the Border
When Lidia was approximately ten years old, her parents decided that they could no longer raise their two children in that environment. During that time, it was not possible to simply leave Istria as a refugee; those looking to escape had to truly run away. Fortunately, the Matticchio family had relatives in Trieste, Italy. Lidia’s parents decided that she, her brother, and her mother would go to Italy to visit their family. Her father, however, had to stay behind in Istria. Lidia recalls, “They didn’t let the whole family go. They always held one as a hostage.” This system was enacted to ensure that those who went abroad would always return for the family member left behind. However, two weeks later, Lidia’s father fled Istria and arrived safely in Trieste.
The events of this tumultuous time stuck with young Lidia. She remembers her aunt who lived in Italy and who brought her son into the woods to avoid the Foibe massacres, but he never returned. Work in Italy was scarce and did not provide a secure life; Lidia’s father worked as a chauffeur for a the Rossetti family, and her mother cleaned houses. Again, Lidia’s parents felt compelled to make a change.
Crossing the Atlantic
Anyone who was interested in emigrating from Italy needed to enter into a refugee camp. Lidia’s parents had been contemplating entering the camp in Trieste, San Saba, for a few months before they finally decided to sign up. Lidia shared with us a bit of her experience there: “I remember that as soon as we entered, they put us in quarantine. Quaratine meant that they stripped you of your clothes; they took everything from you, and they looked to see if you were healthy. Then they put us in a rather dark room, and they put my father in another because they separated the men. Even now I remember it because there was this small window, and I was looking between the bars to see if I could see my father coming. After 40 hours, they reunited us, and we were all much more relaxed.” Lidia and her family stayed in this camp for two years. She recalls waiting in line for food every day with her small plate and living in a big room divided into small sections. The family left the camp’s grounds from time to time in order to visit Lidia’s aunts and uncles; however, in order to remain in line for emigration, the Matticchio family needed to continue to reside in the camp.
Finally, in 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower opened up immigration to America, and the Matticchios were among the first to arrive in the United States. They first entered the United States through Idlewild Airport in New York City, which is known today as John F. Kennedy International Airport. Their journey was assisted by both Caritas and the Red Cross. Lidia recalls that as young children, she and her brother felt the United States was a place with beautiful music, beautiful homes, and artists. However, her parents found the experience to be a bit more frightening as they did not know anyone in their new country, and they did not speak the language. After living in New York City for two months, Lidia’s family found a job for her father as a mechanic, and they relocated to North Bergen, New Jersey.
The Foundation of a Culinary Career
After Lidia’s family finally felt some stability, her own career began to take off. Her roots, however, always remained fundamental to her success. Lidia remembers that when she was a child, her mother would often leave her in the care of her grandmother. Lidia told us: “I was her little helper; I went behind her, and I would cook with her. I remember when the goats were milked, she made me ricotta with a bit of honey on it, and that was my breakfast. It’s great! When arrived in Trieste, I knew we wouldn’t be going back. I felt like something was ripped away from me because I didn’t say goodbye to my grandmother or my friends, nothing. We just left, and that was it. I believe food remained as my connection and my tie to my grandmother. The scents, the flavors, everything. I continued cooking in order to keep her close to me.” Lidia’s also stated that father was very nostalgic, and he loved to make traditional baccalà mantecato from Veneto. To this day, Lidia still makes this dish on Christmas Eve because it feels as if her father is there with her.
Lidia first began cooking at home. When she was in school, she started working part time at a bakery; she enjoyed the work, and it gave her a chance to develop her skills. Subsequently, when she was attending Hunter College, she began working in restaurants and she felt that she was on the right path. Lidia’s husband, Felice, was also another important part of her successful culinary career. Felice was already involved in the restaurant industry. The two met when Lidia went to visit a distant cousin in Astoria, Queens. They married, had their first child, Joseph, and opened their first restaurant, which was in Queens. They hired a chef, and Lidia worked closely alongside him for ten years as a sous-chef.
In 1981, after making several trips back and forth to Italy, Felice and Lidia opened Felidia in Manhattan. Lidia became the chef, and she made the switch from preparing Italian-American cuisine to cooking genuine Italian regional cuisine. Today, the head chef of this East Side gem is Fortunato Nicotra, and the menu is as eclectic as ever.
Words of Wisdom
We asked Lidia if she had any advice or perhaps a positive message for those who are going through difficult times. She told us, “I would give strength and opportunity to someone who is looking to restart his or her life and looking to find a stable place to live. If you give that helping hand, once you’re gone, those people are then able to help themselves, assuming they have the desire to. You need to give someone the opportunity when he/she needs it, just like my family and me were given. We’re a perfect example of what can happen when someone seizes this opportunity. Naturally, yes, we worked very hard; yes, we made sacrifices along the way. Yes, my grandmother, my mother, and my father cried on several occasions. Yes, to all of these things, but in the end, you make something beautiful for yourself, a great opportunity.”
Don't forget to tune in to NYC Life (Channel 25) on Sunday, Febraury 26th for our exclusive conversation between Letizia Airos and Lidia Bastianich.
Art & Culture
Thanks to the extraordinary work of two hard working mothers, Stefania Puxeddu and Benedetta Scardovi-Mounier, Italian children will have a chance to study Italian in public schools in New York City. In the 2018-19 school year two Dual Language Program will take off: one at PS242 in Manhattan (West Harlem) and the other one at PS132 in Williamsburg.
At an institutional level, their initiative has the full support of the Consulate General of ltaly in New York and the Italian American Committee on Education, by spreading the word among Italian families with pre-school children and by allocating funds received by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation to be spent for the salary of teachers and for the purchase of didactic material.
“Several events are going to be organized – says Ilaria Costa, Executive Director of the Italian American Committee on Education (IACE) – to inform Italian families about the right to have a Dual Language in public schools and to encourage them maintain the Italian language and culture alive in the academic life of their children.”
The objective is rather hard to achieve. “The biggest obstacle is finding teachers that are bilingual and that have the qualifications required by the Department of Education (DOE). Teachers must be able to teach the common core curriculum both in English and in Italian, and the various diplomas such as Ditals 1 and 2 have little to do with the elementary public school curriculum, which has to align with the common core imposed by the NYDOE and with the right linguistic knowledge of Italian”.
Ilaria Costa adds: “On top of that, it is very important that the interested families take concrete steps by enrolling their children in the public school that offer a Dual Language Program because it is necessary to have at least 10 Italian students in order to activate a bilingual class in a public school”.
But let’s meet the two moms, the super moms, which successfully started this very important process for themselves and many more families like them.
Benedetta Scardovi-Mounier from Imola and Stefania Puxeddu from Cagliari answered our questions.
Is yours a multicultural family? In the house how many languages do you speak?
B: “I’ve been married with my French husband for 13 years and we have three kids:Gaston (almost 9 years old), Leelou (7) and Adele (4). In the house we espeak 3 languages. Since the kids were born we chose the One Parent One Language approach: I always speak Italian to the kids, while my husband speaks French to them. My 2 older kids are enrolled in 3rdand 1stgrade in the French Dual Language Program of PS84 in Manhattan and we are very pleased with how their knowledge of French has been solidified in the writing and reading on top of the spoken aspects”.
S: “My husband is from New Zealand, but speaks Italian well, we have one 9-year-old child, Matteo. We try to keep both languages at home - I also studied German, my husband did modern Greek and we both speak Spanish. When I can, I take Matteo to Italy and London, UK, where he was born and where we still have family and friends. My objective is to have him experience European culture whilst encouraging good quality family time".
How important is it for you that your children speak Italian?
B: “For me it is very important that my kids speak Italian and that they are able to communicate and feel comfortable when we go to Italy for our summer vacations. Knowing the language, the traditions and the Italian culture is part of our family identity”.
S: “I want Matteo to speak and read Italian and also to learn about the complex history of my country not just because he has an Italian grandmother, uncles, aunts and cousins to speak to, but also, because, overall, he has so much to learn from Europe".
When did you decide to actively carry out the campaign for the introduction of Italian in the American public schools? Where did this idea spring from?
B: “When it came to enrolling our children in school we quickly realized that in Manhattan there were no resources for Italian quantity and quality wise compared to other languages. When last year I met Stefania during a meeting for Greenness and Sustainability in District 3 Schools, she got me on board with the idea that we had to do something to fill this void”.
S: “Besides not being able to learn and speak Italian at school, we have had to deal with the huge cultural gap between New York and the rest of the anglophone countries, whose culture we have been and continue to be exposed. I have always been very sensitive about cultural barriers and all those ‘unwritten rules’ which emerge when a family moves to a place such as New York City.
I am sure we can all easily agree that New York has a lot to offer, however, it is also true that not all the families are willing to spend a lot of money for all those services. When I found out that the DOE gives the chance to start a bilingual program at public schools, I realized that my bilingual and multicultural expectations were not so unrealistic and I decided to inform the Italian families of their bi-literacy rights.”
And very few parents know that…
S: “Many of those families who move from Italy are not aware about the bi-literacy offer of the DOE. I would like to be able to launch an after school ‘enrichment’ program in Italian at NY public schools, for those children who have missed the chance to attend a DLP.”
How did you get organized?
S: “Most of our work is done by juggling different commitments at our children’s schools: for instance, I volunteer at the garden committee but also at the school library and am a member of the School Leadership Team. I represent the ELL of my school at the District 3 meetings.
And of course we have a life and freelance jobs to take care of. Benedetta and I talk on a daily basis to share ideas, find solutions and plan ahead. Our logo has been created by my Milan-based sister following our suggestion: we wanted something which could resemble the sketchy style typical of our children.
We wanted a logo which could simply represent Italy’s cultural diversity. A group of parents who are video producers suggested the idea of a video (and what a video!); a father from another district volunteered to distribute our flyers; a mother helped us pick up a donation of second hand books in excellent conditions… I think I can speak for Benedetta when I say that the community of Italian families is a major added value to New York famous melting pot.”
Who is helping you?
S: “Our ELL District 3 representative Lucas Liu and Teresa Arboleda (CEC Citywide) have always been supportive, even before Benedetta became involved. The delightful DOE Director of Bilingual Programs Cynthia Felix and Yalitza Vasquez, chief of staff for the department's Division of English Language Learners were immediately enthusiastic at the prospect of an Italian DL. We speak to them fairly regularly.
The many Italian families with preschool children, who have recently moved to New York; our Consulate has been extremely supportive: meetings, events and workshops have been organized, during which we were able to announce the DL initiative. Resources have been donated and along with IACE, funds have been allocated to host workshops for teachers and scholarships.
Even the representatives of other language communities have shown their support: the French with Fabrice Jaumont and Russian mum Olga Ilyashenko have encouraged to continue this campaign. We would like to thank you, Letizia, for your hospitality, Stefano Vaccara and Anthony Tamburri, the italophone community, We The Italians, the ANSA press agency, ilSole24Ore (the equivalent of the WSJ and the FT) and several other newspapers of the Emilia Romagna region, which wanted to voice our campaign.”
What do you want to achieve?
S: “We want to start a DL program and an after school program in many more public schools and be able to prove that the New York based Italian community is longing for actively participating in the multicultural activities which the Big Apple has to offer.”
What are the biggest challenges that you have encountered?
S: “After the intense family recruitment process we carried out in the past few months since March, now we are looking for qualified teachers that are certified by the NY DOE. The DOE imposes very strict requirements for the candidate teachers in NYC public schools but at the same time, under the guidance of Chancellor Carranza, an ELL himself, it is promoting a significant expansion of the Dual Language programs. In the school year 2018-19, 48 new DL programs will be opened in various languages.
Given the lack of candidates with a solid knowledge of Italian, we are directing our efforts towards those candidates that have a good level of Italian and that are interested in pursuing the NY State Certification, rather than those who are already in the DOE database but lack the fundamental requisites to teach a curriculum in Italian.”
Let’s talk about the video which you are using to advertise your campaign.
S: “The video has been shot and produced by three Italian parents (Luca Fantini and Veronica Diaferia Fantini with Vanessa Manca Barbot). The idea was to promote the DLP during a picnic which we organized in Central Parkon May, with the objective of getting to know each other after we exchanged emails and messages on Facebook.
The event was a huge success and many families joined us from Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. We have been asked to organize more, which is something we are already thinking about.”
Ilaria Costa is quite optimistic: “We are very hopeful and optimistic because we know that the NYC DOE is strongly committed to expanding DL programs to make them available to different language communities. We also realize that we need to take advantage from the momentum and continue to encourage the “bilingual revolution” in many more areas of the Big Apple.
This does not come without challenges - finding teachers with the right degrees and certifications is one of them. We also need to continue to fill those classes with native Italian speaking children. However, we trust the determination of parents such as Stefania and Benedetta and we will work towards the increase of programs so as to offer the Italian DL to more NY children."
If you are interested please contact Benedetta and Stefania via Facebook >>