This article, written by Umberto Mucci, appears on We the Italians.
So much pride of being Italian American, so much success: meet Basil Russo, President of the Italian Sons and Daughters of America
It is not easy to gather the Italian Americans in national organizations. They tend to be part of local ones, but to have them together in something bigger is not easy. This interview is about one of the few national Italian American organizations, the Italian Sons and Daughters of America, and its very active President, Basil Russo. Basil is a gentleman who can be the perfect symbol of how the Italian Americans love Italy and, as successful people, also give back to the country that welcomed their parents and grandparents. My guess is that not only the Italian Americans, but also we the Italians who live in Italy need to know better a person like him. We’re very thankful to him for what he does
Basil, you are the President of the Italian Sons and Daughters of America. Please, tell us more about the history of this 86 years old glorious institution
The ISDA is one of the largest and most financially successful Italian American organizations in the United States. Its mission is to keep our strong sense of community alive by uniting Italian Americans across our country, to celebrate our culture and preserve the traditions our ancestors brought with them from Italy.
The ISDA was born in 1930, when representatives of twenty lodges of the Order Sons of Italy met in Pittsburgh, PA, and voted to form a new organization that, in part, incorporated democratic reforms including allowing women to assume a more meaningful role. Hence the new name, Italian Sons and Daughters of America.
Let’s talk about the present. What are your activities? Are you present in every one of the 50 American states?
The ISDA sponsors a myriad of social, cultural, educational and charitable activities that are promoted and coordinated through our wonderful website (www.orderisda.org) and our monthly newspaper, La Nostra Voce.
Each year our organization and its member lodges provide $150,000 dollars in college scholarships to our members. Our charitable activities include assisting children with special needs, and providing social activities for senior citizens in nursing homes. The ISDA also sponsors bocce leagues, bowling leagues, fashion shows, debutante balls, Columbus Day parades and children’s Christmas parties. For a more complete explanation of all the ISDA’s activities, visit our website.
The ISDA currently has members in 48 of the fifty states, as well as the District of Columbia. We are still looking for members in Alaska and North Dakota. So if you live in one of those states, and you are reading this, go to our website and be the first Italian American in your state to join the ISDA!
Please tell us something about the ISDA Fraternal Association and the ISDA Cultural Foundation
The ISDA owns and operates the largest Italian American insurance / annuity / IRA company in America, the ISDA Fraternal Association. Formed in 1960, the Fraternal Association currently has 95 million dollars in assets. Due to the fact that it is not a for profit corporation, our organization is able to pay its members significantly higher interest rates than would be available to them at their local banks. The proceeds from the Fraternal Association secure ISDA’s position as one of the wealthiest and most financially successful Italian American organizations in the U.S.
The ISDA also operates a cultural foundation through which it funds our student scholarships.
You are very active on line, with very impressive numbers. Please tell us something about your strategy, and your vision of what the internet can do and mean for the Italian American community
When I was elected President of the ISDA two years ago, one of my priorities was to create one of the most informative and educational Italian American websites in our country. In the sixteen months since our website debuted, it has grown to the point where we have over 325,000 followers on both our website and Facebook page.
I firmly believe that the future success of our organization is contingent upon connecting with our children and grandchildren, and that the most effective way to accomplish that is through social media. Our website allows us to engage our youth and impress upon them the importance and beauty of their heritage through a medium they can relate to.
Let’s talk about you. Everything about you seems to tell us how proud you are of your Italian heritage. What does being Italian American mean to you, and how did it shape your growth, your successful career and your passion for Italy?
I have always believed that one of God’s greatest blessings is the unique heritage that He has bestowed on each of us. It is an essential part of what defines each of us as a person. As such, I believe we all have a responsibility to preserve the heritage we were given for the benefit of future generations.
I was raised in a traditional Italian American home where my immigrant grandparents had a major impact on my upbringing. I saw the sacrifices they made to insure their children and grandchildren would have a better life. They had little formal education, but instilled in me a wealth of knowledge about what was important in life. I was taught to respect my elders, the importance of a strong work ethic, a devotion to my faith and an unwavering loyalty to our family.
As a result, I have spent much of my life involved in Italian American organizations and promoting Italian American causes. My primary motivation has always been to pay respect and honor to the memory of my parents and grandparents. Read more at We the Italians…