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Articles by: Roberta Cutillo

  • Facts & Stories

    The Pope Dedicates Via Crucis Celebrations to Migrants

    The celebrations of the Via Crucis, which recall Jesus’ journey from the moment of his betrayal and capture to that of his crucifixion, take on an additional meaning on the night of Good Friday, as Pope Francis draws a parallel between this Biblical plight and the one endured today by migrants and other victims of power and self-service.


    At each of the 14 stations of the cross, the Pope recites a meditation written by the head of the 'Slaves No More' Association, Eugenia Bonetti, an 80-year-old missionary who has devoted her life to helping the victims of human trafficking and sex slavery.


    These meditations are strong and to the point, calling out governments, legislations, all those who are in power to stop the suffering of their fellow humans but choose to remain indifferent. “Deserts and seas have become the new cemeteries of today,” one of them reads, “there are no answers to these deaths. There are, however, responsibilities [...] while governments argue, locked inside the palaces of power, the Sahara fills with the skeletons of people who have faced pain, hunger, and thirst.”


    Through God, Bonetti invokes the people holding positions of power, asking them to listen to those who are suffering, “those without a home, the young without hopes, without jobs, and without perspectives.” She also brings up “the immigrants forced to live in shacks on the margins of our societies, after having suffered unspeakable hardships,” noting how these are “unsafe camps, burnt and destroyed along with the dreams and hopes of thousands of men and women.”


    The missionary also discusses the tragedy of human trafficking, the issue to which she has devoted her life. “Everything is for sale,” she condemns, “even the bodies of children.” The meditations point out how we are all responsible for what is happening, how indifference is the real enemy. This also means that we have the power to change the situation.


    Bonetti urges everyone to welcome diversity because ‘the other’ is “not a problem, but a precious resource for our blinded cities.” and recognizes the volunteers and NGOs who “during these last months, have risked their lives, particularly in the Mediterranean Sea, to save those of many families in search of safety and opportunity.”


  • Art & Culture

    Creating a Global Network of Young Italians

    These 115 young Italians, selected by the Com.It.Es, the Committee of Italians Abroad, and by the regional committees for emigration, will take part in a series of encounters aimed at establishing a global network that they will then go on to activate and develop across the world. The goal is to mobilize all communities of Italians abroad and to reinforce the existing institutional networks worldwide.


    Palermo was chosen to host this event for having been the Youth Capital in 2017 and the Capital of Culture in 2018 and local institutions such as the Municipality of Palermo and the Region of Sicily fully endorsed the project.


    The Regional Minister for Education and Formation of Sicily, Roberto Lagalla, declared “The Government of the Region of Sicily has gladly welcomed this seminary, ours is a land that is always ready to share and favor exchanges between various communities.”


    The Mayor of Palermo, Leoluca Orlando, who is also the President of the Teatro Massimo Foundation, shared in this sentiment, stating “Creating a network of young immigrants starting from Palermo is a way to confirm that our city has adopted the international community as its own flag [...] There are no migrants here. Everyone is a Palermitan citizen. And that’s the message that these young people have to spread into the world.”


    Representatives from national institutions were also present to express their support for the initiative. The Undersecretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Riccardo Merlo, addressed the young delegates, stating “You will be the leading class of the future. That’s why I want to give you some advice: push the cause of Italians abroad. Occupy the positions of power and the institutions that can be the instruments to access them, bringing change. You should synthesize this encounter united and organized.”


    The Director General of Italians abroad and migration policies, Luigi Maria Vignali thanked all the participants who came from all over the world and believed in this project. “We have several objectives to achieve, including dialog, and the need for awareness in order to become proactive and give young people the chance to build their own future. As Pier Paolo Borsellino said: true love consists of what we do not like in order to change it. Even from abroad, help us to change Italy for the better.”


    The Secretary General of the CGIE, Michele Schiavone, also pointed out the relevance of choosing Palermo, which has always been a crossroads where different cultures met and exchanged ideas, beliefs, knowledge, while also being the perfect place for these young Italians living abroad to reconnect with the richness of the Italian culture and history.

    “The current historical period renders their need to inherit and acquire the testimony of their fathers even more urgent and necessary to point to the direction in which to proceed in order to give a new sense to what it means to be Italian abroad,” he stated.


    “For years we have been talking about young Italians abroad without ever hearing those directly concerned,” remarked Maria Chiara Prodi, the President of the VII Commission of the CGIE ‘New Migrations and New Generations’, stressing how this event provides the opportunity to change the perception of the issue.


    “All the delegates attending the Seminary will have the chance to meet and exchange information. It will require careful and demanding work that over the coming six months will produce a research document for young Italians abroad,” she concluded.


    Tomorrow, the young delegates will meet again, this time in the Royal Theatre of Santa Cecilia, focusing on using Open Space methodology to determine the reasons and the ways in which to begin building the network.


    Their work can be followed on the Seminary’s website: https://www.seminariodipalermo.it/


  • Facts & Stories

    Honoring Italian American Women at NOIAW’s Annual Luncheon

    This year’s edition of the Annual NOIAW Luncheon recognized the achievements of two remarkable Italian American Women, Sandra L. DePoalo (Global Head of Anti-Money Laundering)  and Judith A. Salerno (President of the New York Academy of Medicine), as well as the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, which received the Friend of NOIAW award.


    As Roma Torre, award-winning TV news anchor, theatre critic and the event’s emcee, remarked, “For nearly 39 years, NOIAW has remained steadfast in its mission of uniting, inspiring, celebrating, and empowering women through Italian heritage and culture.” She thanked the organization, of which she is a member, for “having allowed me to connect with other Italian American women and reflect on my own legacy through my mother and my ancestry and how it impacted me personally and professionally.”


    Maria Tamburri, Chair of NOIAW’s National Board of Directors, then came to the stage to thank this year’s honorees, as well as the members of the board, and even members of the distinguished board, such as former first lady of the State of New York, founder of the Mentoring USA program, and founding member of NOIAW itself, Matilda Cuomo, who was present at the event, along with her daughter, Dr. Margaret Cuomo.


    The Consul General of Italy, Francesco Genuardi, expressed his gratitude towards the organization and the work it does, acting as a “pillar for those nearly four million Italian Americans in the Tri-State area” and “a bridge between the generations, between the different layers of Italians and Italian Americans here.”


    Both honorees remembered the stories of their families, of how they came to the United States from Italy, facing hardships and working hard to ensure that their children and grandchildren would have a better life. Sandra DePoalo explained how, thanks to the example set by her parents and grandparents she and her brother “learned that through hard work, commitment, and our family’s support, we can achieve anything that we put our hearts to.”


    She also stressed the importance of mentoring younger generations, stating that “There is no greater joy than seeing another young woman achieve more than she ever believed possible. And what NOIAW does through its mentoring program and through its scholarships reinforces that very same message.”


    The second honoree, Judith Salerno, also acknowledged the Italian American women who inspired her throughout her life, such as her mother, a child of Italian immigrants who, as the eldest, had to work to support her family and later to provide a better education and a better life for her own children, as well as her Italian grandmothers, with whom she shared a bedroom growing up, and whom she thanked for bravely crossing the Atlantic, thus providing their descendants with more opportunities for a better future.


    It was then the turn of the Queens College (CUNY) John D. Calandra Italian American Institute to accept the 2019 Friend of NOIAW award. Founded in 1979 with the aim to redress imbalances in treatment of Italian Americans in higher education, the Institute now follows its mission to further explore and promulgate the experience and foster the education of and about Italian Americans throughout numerous activities.  


    Dr. Anthony Tamburri, the Dean of Calandra, stressed the importance of having the support of the community and of maintaining a dialog with Italy, through local Italian Institutions. “It’s important for us to understand the Italy of the past through our own historical immigration experience, and it’s important for us to understand the Italy of the present with regarding what Italy is going through now with their own immigration issues,” he stated.


    Like every year, scholarships were then given out to six young Italian American women in order to support the studies they are carrying out across a variety of fields. Each of them had expressed what their Italian heritage means to them.


    Finally, Torre concluded the event by asking everyone present, honorees and guests, to give themselves a round of applause for showing what it means to be true Italians, “shattering the awful stereotype that has too long dominated the perception of what it is to be Italian in this country.”


  • Facts & Stories

    Italian Research Day in the World

    Italian Research Day in the World was established last year on April 15th, the anniversary of the birth of Leonardo da Vinci, the emblem of Italian genius and inventiveness. This initiative was launched by the Ministry of Education, University and Research in partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Health with the goal to promote the image of Italy as a country that produces high-quality science and innovation.


    On the occasion of the second edition of this recurrence, President Sergio Mattarella gave a speech highlighting the important contribution of Italian innovators to the wellbeing and competitiveness of their country. “Their talents deserve to be supported by adequate investments in research, which are investments in our own future and generators of wealth that will ensure a more prosperous and sustainable future for younger generations,” he proclaimed.


    The President remarked on how Italian scientists and researchers are involved in many of the world’s most significant international experiments and discoveries. Just to cite an example from a few days ago, Italian astronomers contributed to the groundbreaking project that led to the first-ever image of a black hole.


    He went on to recall that the promotion of scientific research has always been amongst the objectives of the Italian Republic, ever since its constitution. “A particularly farsighted understanding, based on the unity of knowledge - humanistic and scientific - and now more relevant than ever, following the example of Leonardo,” commented the Italian head of state.


    Italian Research Day in the World was celebrated across the globe, through initiatives carried out by Italian institutions abroad, including a conference on Leonardo at the Italian Cultural Institute in Tokyo, a short film at the Italian Embassy in Finland, a talk at the Embassy in Dublin, and the photographic exhibition “Life as a Scientist” held by the Italian Embassy in Washington DC.


    The latter, organized in association with the Bracco Foundation, is part of the “100 Women Against Stereotypes” initiative launched in 2016 by the Osservatorio di Pavia and the Gi.U.Li.A Journalist Association and features a series of portraits by the famous photographer Gerald Bruneau. The exhibition is aimed at dispelling the prejudice often associated with women’s work in science and technology and to inform the public of the achievements of Italian women in those fields.

  • Art & Culture

    Celebrating Manhattan’s First Italian Dual Language Program

    Parents, students, institutions, companies, and various supporters of the initiative gathered this morning in Harlem’s Public School 242, to celebrate and officialize a new Italian Dual Language program, the first in Manhattan.


    “This is a very important day, it means so much. It reinforces the message that the Italian language is present in American public schools,” commented the Consul General of Italy, Francesco Genuardi, who, along with Consuls Silvia Limoncini and Irene Asquini, delivered an Italian flag to mark the official launch of the program. “We owe this accomplishment to all of the Italian community, who organized itself spontaneously.”


    The project to bring this program to PS 242 came from InItaliano, a grassroots initiative that promotes Italian language and culture in various public and private educational settings, conceived by three Italian parents with the aim of filling the lack of resources for Italian speakers within the school system.


    “We are excited that our students will be learning Italian,” said Denise Gomez, the Principal of PS 242. “It’s extremely important. We are an IB authorized school so one of the expectations is that we teach our students a second language so that they become global-minded citizens and respect other cultures and beliefs.”


    Some of the students are already taking part in an unofficial Italian program launched by the school, where they are learning, amongst other things, Italian songs, such as the one performed by a group of kindergarten students (none of them native Italian speakers) during the ceremony.


    A significant aspect of these Dual Language programs is that they also expose non-Italian students to the Italian language. “It’s not only important for the Italian American community but for society in general,” remarks Jack Spatola, Principal of PS 112, a school in Lefferts Park, Brooklyn, where the city’s first Italian Dual Language Program was launched in September 2015.


    “We’re on to our third edition in Brooklyn, there’s a great demand from parents who want their children to learn Italian,” he explains “The problem there is space.”


    Various organizations and companies attended the ceremony to show their support for this initiative. “It was a true team effort,” said the Consul General, explaining how New York Italian institutions, companies, and media came together to accompany and facilitate the hard work undertaken by the dedicated parents at InItaliano.


    One of those supporters was the Italian American Committee on Education (IACE), a non-profit organization founded in 1975 for the purpose of promoting the study of the Italian language and culture within the tri-state area.


    “The strategy we use to promote language is to bring the kids outside of the classroom and have them experience ‘made in Italy’ first-hand,” explained Ilaria Costa, the Executive Director of IACE. “We bring them to Eataly, to the Ferrari showroom, to the Coney Island Luna Park because it was designed by the Italian Zamperla, to PepsiCo, where the major designer is Mauro Porcini. This way the kids become passionate about ‘Italianity’ and go back to their school saying ‘Italian is cool.’”

    Livia Senic-Matuglia from Rizzoli was present as well. “As an Italian bookstore with an important history in New York we thought it was important to be here to support such an important project for the families that are trying to maintain the Italian language,” she explained.


    “The next step is to spread awareness, not only to Italian families but to anyone wishing for their children to experience the Italian language and culture,” remarked Francesco Fadda of the InItaliano association, adding that the program will start officially this coming September “so if there are any families with children aged pre-k to first grade they can come here and enroll their children to experience the Italian language.”


    The demand for Italian language programs is growing in New York and more schools are starting to offer the opportunity to study in the language. Another Public School in District 14 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is working to start an Early Immersion Italian program.


    For more information and updates you can visit InItaliano’s website.


  • Regalbuto, Sicily. Historic centre of the town. All photos by Serge Tesker.
    Facts & Stories

    One-Euro Homes: Repopulating Italian Towns

    Back in 2008, the prominent Italian art critic, cultural commentator, politician, and TV personality, Vittorio Sgarbi, began promoting the initiative to sell houses for one euro in the Sicilian town of Salemi, of which he was then Mayor. The objective was to favor the restoration of abandoned homes in order to repopulate the town, whose population had been steadily decreasing.


    The project faced some issues relating to the state of some of the buildings, which were deemed unsafe. Sgarbi faced charges but was ultimately absolved in 2016. Meanwhile, the idea was taken up in other municipalities across Italy since many towns face problems similar to those of Salemi.


    The project doesn’t appear to be very organized, with different actors acting independently and disparately. An estimated 20 municipalities are carrying out the initiative, though not all of them have released official public bans. The idea is that those wishing to inhabit the houses year-round are prioritized in the selection process compared to those only wishing to use them as vacation homes, but it isn’t quite clear whether or how this rule is enforced. In some towns, only a few houses are available, while in others the offer is broader.


    However, the initiative is garnering a lot of enthusiasm and was taken up in other countries as well, including France and the United Kingdom. A one-euro house in the town of Gangi was featured in an episode of the popular TV show House Hunters International and the Canadian photographer Serge Tesker realized a photo series featuring a few of the Italian towns adhering to the initiative.


    The series, which was exhibited in Toronto in 2018, captures the beauty and melancholy of these lonely “borghi,” shaped and marked by the numerous lives spent there, generation after generation, throughout the centuries.


    A much-needed and inspiring initiative with the potential to bring new life to beautiful yet neglected corners of Italy, the one-euro project is ongoing and expanding. You can find more information on the dedicated website.

  • Facts & Stories

    A Tiramisù Fit for a King

    Born in Feltre, near Treviso in Northern Italy, Andrea Ciccolella is not a professional chef, nor baker, he's a factory worker at the prominent Italian eyewear company Luxottica. In 2017, his friends convinced him to take part in the first edition of the Tiramisù World Cup. Despite some initial reluctance, Andrea finally accepted and was awarded Best Original Recipe, officially becoming the World Champion of Tiramisù.


    The competition takes place in Treviso, which many consider to be the birthplace of tiramisu. There is however much controversy over the origins of the popular dessert. Many towns and regions claim it as their own, but the two most credible and fierce contenders are Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia. Andrea is, of course, on the Treviso team.


    For him, the secret to making the best tiramisu consists in using high-quality ingredients and very rich mascarpone but also requires lots of passion and training. He trained rigorously in the months leading up to the competition, eating vast amounts of tiramisù and “forcing” his friends and family to help him out.


    Now, Andrea hopes to turn his passion into his career and open his own bakery. He continues to work on his baking and recently came up with a beautiful new creation: a golden tiramisu. This delicate dish is made following his original recipe and adding 24-carat gold leaves on top, which Andrea assures are 100% edible. Additionally, he mixed gold dust into the cocoa powder to make it even shinier.


    This new version was conceived as an homage to the beloved dessert, which holds a special place in Andrea’s heart for having helped him open up this new chapter of his life. It is golden just like the medal it awarded its creator.  


  • Facts & Stories

    Seeing the Unseeable: The First Image of a Black Hole

    The groundbreaking image, realized with “a telescope the size of the Earth,” shows a black hole located in the Messier 87 Galaxy, inside the constellation Virgo, about 55 million light years from us. It is the result of two years of computer analysis of data gathered from eight radio observatories located across the globe, which form part of a network that constitutes the Event Horizon Telescope or EHT, the international project that rendered this image possible.


    An “event horizon,” the term from which the network takes its name, designates the edge of a black hole, the final point at which light and matter can still be observed before disappearing into it. Black holes, which were first theorized by Albert Einstein, are in fact abysses that completely absorb everything that gets sucked into them, including light. For this reason, they are by definition unseeable.


    How then were EHT astronomers able to obtain this image? Combining data coming from eight radio observatories located on six mountains across four continents, the international team (which included Italians from INAF and INFN) was able to capture the "accretion disk" surrounding the event horizon, that is a swirl of matter and energy which pulls in photons (light particles.) 


    That’s why the image looks like a ring of light. Think of it as a negative, the black hole is actually the dark spot in the center. "Now we can finally observe them," commented Luciano Rezzolla, a member of the EHT Collaboration Board. "Today we are opening the first page of a book in which it is possible to make increasingly accurate observations of these objects, whose existence Albert Einstein predicted a century ago.”


    Einstein himself was reluctant to accept what his very own equations revealed, which is that when too much energy or matter is concentrated into one place it causes matter to collapse, thus forming what we call a black hole. Their existence is now however widely accepted within the field.


    This image shows how far we’ve come in such a relatively short time: in the 64 years since Einstein’s death, we went from refuting the existence of black holes to being able to “see” the unseeable. The EHT project is also a shining example of global teamwork. By bringing together researchers from around the world, it showed how this type of international collaboration truly is the way of the future.


  • Life & People

    Celebrating Past And Future Accomplishments at the NIAF 2019 NY GALA

    The annual National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) 2019 New York Gala took place last night at Cipriani 42nd Street to celebrate and promote Italian American excellence across various fields. This year’s honorees were Judge Frank M. Ciuffani, Lorenzo Zurino, and Marylou Delfino Berk. The event was presented by NIAF's Celebrity Ambassador and radio host Joe Piscopo and entertainment was provided by the talented Romina Perri, a ten-year-old singer from New Jersey.


    The evening began with a cocktail reception, during which guests had the chance to meet with celebrities and honorees, mingle, sip on Cipriani’s famous Bellinis, and bid on a selection of items included in the Gala’s silent auction, which is organized every year to raise funds for the Foundation's initiatives, mainly the awarding of scholarships to Italian American students.

    "It's a fantastic moment, very anticipated here in New York," commented the Counsul General of Italy Francesco Genuardi, "A further demonstration that the New York chapter of NIAF is alive and kicking, full of vitality and awareness of how much this organization contributes to the city."


    It was then time for the seated award ceremony, introduced by a video dedicated to the region of Molise in Southern Italy, which was selected as the NIAF 2019 Region of Honor.


    The ceremony was presented by show business performer and TV personality Joe Piscopo, who enthusiastically introduced the special guests and honorees of the night, and entertained the guests with a heartfelt interpretation of the classic song New York, New York.


    Further entertainment was provided by the adorable ten-year-old Italian American singer Romina Perri, whose remarkable voice stunned the audience as she sang the Italian and American national anthems and later moved the crowd with her interpretation of the classic 1940 Italian song by Cesare Andrea Bixio “Mamma Son Tanto Felice” (Mom, I’m so happy).


    The first honoree to take the stage, Senior Managing Director and Head of Commercial Real Estate at LeFrak, Marylou Delfino Berk, gave an inspiring speech as she accepted her award, sharing with the audience her most important word: determination, which she had printed out on paper cards placed at each seat.


    She was followed by Judge Frank M. Ciuffani, General Counsel at Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, P.A. and Chair of the firm’s Alternative Dispute Resolution practice, who amongst numerous accomplishments served as a judge on the New Jersey Superior Court on several occasions and presided over various key cases in the regions of New York and New Jersey.


    Finally, came the turn of Lorenzo Zurino, founder and CEO of The One Company, one of the first Italian companies specialized in the internationalization of businesses, which has become a special reference point for many of the largest Italian industrial companies in the Food sector. Zurino, who is also Director of Import at Nastasi Foods, humbly accepted his award, in a moving speech in which he expressed his gratitude and pride in receiving such recognition and acceptance from the Italian American community.


    It was overall a heartwarming and inspiring evening, an occasion for Italian Americans to come together and celebrate their traditions as well as their accomplishments, past and future, all while doing, as presenter Joe Piscopo put it “what Italians do best: eat.”



    The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that promotes Italian American culture and heritage. NIAF serves as a resource for all things related to the Italian American community, offering educational and youth programs such as scholarships, grants, heritage travel, and mentoring.

    NIAF is also the voice for Italian Americans in Washington, DC, working closely with the Italian American Congressional Delegation and the White House. NIAF’s mission includes advancing US-Italy cultural, political, and economic relations, complete with a business council that encourages networking among corporate leaders.


  • Bolzano (Image via Lonely Planet)
    Facts & Stories

    A Ranking of the Best Italian Cities to Live In

    The factors to consider and numerous and “Avvenire”, who realized the study in collaboration with the Scuola di Economia Civile (School of Civil Economy) and with the support of Federcasse (the Italian Federation of Cooperative Banks), adopted a multi-layered approach to determine the best Italian cities to live in.


    They began by organizing focus groups to identify the factors that influence people’s well-being and the situations in which citizens are better able to express themselves, reach their potential, and influence the lives of others.


    The results of these focus groups were then integrated with a more traditional measure of well-being realized by researchers from Roma Tor Vergata and Lumsa Universities, under the supervision of docents Leonardo Becchetti, Luigino Bruni and Vittorio Pelligra, based on specific  indicators such as demographics and family, health, civic engagement, environmental factors, tourism and culture, personal services, lawfulness and security, employment, economic inclusion, human capital, and hospitality.


    Using a point system, they calculated an average for each indicator. They then produced an overall score for each city by giving more weight to the categories identified as more significant during the focus groups.


    The (not entirely unexpected) results revealed that the autonomous provinces of Bolzano and Trento, in Northern Italy are apparently the best places to live, followed by Pordenone (in the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia), Florence, Parma, Pisa, Milan, Bologna, Gorizia (near the border with Slovenia), and Udine.


    Some of the key points to emerge are, first of all, that all top 10 cities are located in the septentrional part of Italy, while the cities that scored to lowest (Reggio Calabria, Vibo Valentia, Naples, and Crotone) are all Southern, confirming an imbalance that Italians are all too familiar with.


    Another element that comes out of this list is that medium-sized towns tend to score higher, whereas larger cities, though richer in opportunities, lose standing due to factors such as lower environmental quality and the lack of interpersonal relations.


    However, “Avvenire” itself acknowledges that there are some elements that would appear to contradict these findings, such as the fact that cities like Trento, Bolzano, and Milano have higher rates of alcohol dependency, psychic disorders, and suicide.  


    Rankings such as this one, whether they are done on a local or global scale, are always controversial, people often disagree and sometimes take offense. Italian cities rarely obtain high scores on global and European scales (northern cities such as Copenhagen or Vienna usually come out on top), in response to which Italians tend to argue that these rankings are incomplete because they don’t give enough weight to factors such as the weather and beauty of cities.   


    The truth is that identifying the best city to live in remains a challenge, in Italy and elsewhere, mainly because the factors that are more important in determining well-being vary from person to person and even throughout one’s lifetime. With this in mind, “Avvenire” gives readers the opportunity to see a breakdown of their ranking and adjust the weight of each indicator in order to try and determine their own personal ideal city.

    You can find it here. (currently only available in Italian)