By: Basil M. Russo, ISDA President
Why be proud? It’s a question that deserves serious thought and reflection.
To begin with, every ethnic, racial and religious group that immigrated to America brought with them a unique set of traditions, customs, values and beliefs that they contributed to America’s collective culture. And for those contributions each group can be justly proud.
We, as descendants of Italian immigrants, have been blessed with a heritage that is arguably second to none in the history of the world.
From the time of the Roman Empire, through the Renaissance, to the present day, Italy has produced many of the greatest, most creative and dynamic individuals who have significantly impacted world history: Caesar Augustus, Virgil, Constantine, Galileo, Columbus, Michelangelo, DaVinci, Dante, St. Thomas Aquinas, Machiavelli, Marconi, Fermi, Caruso, and Maria Montessori, to name but a few.
That little boot in the center of the Mediterranean has been the primary source of the growth of Western Civilization for more than 2,000 years.
But although each of us feels a sense of pride as a result of Italy’s great contributions to world history, each of us feels a more relevant and personal sense of pride from the struggles and accomplishments of our immigrant parents, grandparents or great-grandparents.
We are the descendants of poor, oppressed immigrants who were forced to leave their homeland in search of jobs that would allow them to feed and care for their families who were often left behind in Italy.
Our ancestors came to America with nothing. And as harsh as Italy’s expulsion was, America’s welcome was even harsher.
Italian immigrants were subjected to unconscionable prejudice and injustice.
They were ostracized socially, forced to live in squalid conditions in ghetto neighborhoods called “Little Italy,” and only allowed to work the most dangerous and lowest paying jobs. They worked in coal mines, steel mills, sweat shops, dug ditches for tunnels and built roadways, railways and buildings.
But through hard work, and a willingness to help one another through the formation of lodges and societies, our immigrant ancestors overcame prejudice, poverty and illiteracy.
They raised good families. They taught their children the meaning of respect as it relates to their elders, their teachers, and the law, as well as teaching them the importance of a strong work ethic.
They remained devoted to their Catholic faith. They worshiped in churches they built, and they recreated religious processions and celebrations that they brought with them from their homeland.
Despite the many ties to their traditions, these immigrants became among the most loyal and dedicated Americans, showing their love for their new country by enlisting in unprecedented numbers to fight for America in both World War I and World War II.
These are the people who formed Italian Sons and Daughters of America in 1930.
These are the people who had little material wealth to show for a lifetime of hard work.
These are the people who never complained about their plight in life because they believed their toil would provide a better life for their children.
These are our ancestors and it is their stories that provide us with our greatest sense of pride.
It is now our duty to honor their memories and their sacrifices.
We do so by preserving their stories and passing on their values, customs and traditions through our participation in ISDA.
We all have a family story to preserve. Let us work together to make certain that those stories are never forgotten.