An Unbroken Italian Heritage Lights the Way Forward

Our forefathers' heritage and ancestors' legacy remind us why our culture burns so brightly today.

By: Tina Palma, ISDA Contributor 

Being descendants of Italian immigrants, we are blessed with a heritage that speaks boldly for itself. Our Italian Ancestors have been forerunners of art, history, food, wine, science, music and literature, to name a few.

That long, slim Italian boot, in the center of Europe, has been a prime source of the world’s growth of Western Civilization, for millennia. Christianity’s roots were established in Rome, Italy. Jesus Christ appointed Peter, His apostle, to establish His church in that ancient city, over 2,000 years ago.

Let’s go through past centuries and single out a few of the many who made our heritage and world richer and wiser because they were here.

Reshaping the World: Italian explorers, artists and innovators 

Christopher Columbus, born in Genoa in 1451, worked as a cartographer (one who produces maps) in Italy. He also was a businessman, trading goods with other countries. He visited England, Ireland, Iceland, Spain, and Portugal, and also traded along the Western African Coast.

Columbus completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean. He was the first to reach the Americas, in his search of the passage to the Orient. He went as far as Nicaragua and Honduras. He died in 1506.

Marco Polo, born in 1254, was an inspiration to Columbus during his search for the passage to the Orient. He was the first European to reach Asia.

Mosaic of Marco Polo displayed in the Palazzo Doria-Tursi, in Genoa, Italy.

Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452 and lived to 1519. He was a real genius. He was a painter, a sculptor, an architect, an engineer, and a botanist. His famous painting the “Mona Lisa” can be seen in the Louvre museum today in Paris, France. Da Vinci also invented many things and explored new concepts, like the calculator, the helicopter, military tanks, and concentrated solar power.

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, just known as Michelangelo, was born in 1475 and lived till 1564. He was a painter, sculptor, engineer, and architect. Michelangelo was very famous during his lifetime and today considered to be one of the most talented artists of all time.

He sculpted the famous statue of “David” which towers at 17 feet. I can attest to how overwhelming this statue is since I was fortunate to see and experience it myself in 2013. I also had the good fortune to see and experience the Pieta statue of Mary holding Jesus after he was taken down from the Cross.

Michelangelo’s Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

This statue is also in Saint Peter’s Basilica along with the Sistene Chapel. The Chapel’s ceiling is the depiction of the Last Judgement, and when I was there in 2013, it had just been restored and the colors were so vivid and bright.

Galileo Galilei was born in 1564 and died in 1642 at the age of 78. He was a mathematician, astronomer, physicist, and engineer and was sometimes described as a polymath. He was from Pisa, Italy.

Galileo has been called the”father of observational astronomy,” the “father of modern physics,” the “father of scientific method” and last “father of modern science.” He improved the telescope and studied the “Milky Way.” With his observation, he noted that the world circled the sun, not the other way around as was generally thought at the time. He also upgraded the military compass with all his findings.

Dante Alighieri, better known as Dante, the author of “The Divine Comedy,” was born in 1265. He influenced generations of poets and authors. The book has been translated into fifty-nine languages since the year 1400. It is written in a three-line rhyme scheme of his own invention. It tells the story of a man who endures the torment of Hell and Purgatory in his quest to reach paradise, Heaven.

Statue of Dante in the Piazza Santa Croce in Florence, Enrico Pazzi, 1865.

Giuseppe Verdi was born in 1813. He was a composer of famous Italian operas. Aida, LaTraviata, and Rigoletto to name a few. He lived to 88, dying in 1901.

Giacomo Puccini was born in 1858, and he composed LaBoheme and Madame Butterfly. He is called “the greatest composer of Italian opera after Verdi.” He died in 1924.

Francesco Cirio developed the concept of preserving vegetables in cans in 1856.

Enzo Ferrari is known for being a race car driver and founder of Ferrari automobiles.

Classic Ferrari 365GTB/4 Daytona sports car driving at high speed in Eindhoven, The Netherlands.

Luigi Galvani was the leader and pioneer of bioelectromagnetics. His discoveries triggered the field of neurophysiology which in turn led to some of the greatest discoveries in neuroscience. Galvani also is known for the galvanic current which is used in skincare for anti-aging.

Salvino degli Armati was the inventor of the eyeglasses around 1284.

Guglielmo Marconi an Italian engineer was famous for his invention of wireless telegraphy.

Another inventor who did not get recognition of his invention was Antonio Meucci, who invented the first telephone. Alexander Graham Bell was the first to patent the telephone.

Antonio Stradivari brought the violin to its highest level of perfection. Ascanio Sobrero was the inventor of nitroglycerine. He received the Nobel Prize not only for inventing dynamite but also for developing a stable application of it.

Alessandro Volta is known for having invented the electric battery. Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and teacher known worldwide for the educational method that bears her name; the Montessori Schools.

Passing the torch

We, the Italian descendants of this great heritage, are humbled to preserve and pass on this great history. Each of us feels a more relevant and personal sense of pride from the struggles and accomplishments of our immigrant parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.

Our grandparents had an overwhelming decision to pack themselves up and move over 5,000 miles away, from the only life they ever knew. Just the fact of being on a ship for two solid weeks gave them trepidation. These ships were not the kind of cruise ships of today with restaurants, spas and ice cream parlors. And I’m sure their resting/bath quarters weren’t any great level of comfort if they even had any.

They were going to a place where people spoke another language and they had no job security. Everything in their daily world was going to be a challenge. All they had was the dream of a better life.

When they finally arrived they weren’t greeted with a welcome wagon, they were actually ostracized socially. They were forced to work in poor labor conditions and they worked hard to ultimately overcome prejudice, poverty, and illiteracy.

They raised good families. They taught their children respect for their elders, their teachers, and the law, as well as teaching them the importance of a strong work ethic. They had a devout Christian faith, that is still being instilled in their children’s children today.

These immigrants with their many traditions were amongst the most loyal and dedicated Americans. Showing love for their country, they enlisted in unprecedented numbers, to fight for America in both World War I and World War II. Our ancestors had little material wealth. They never complained about the plight of life because they believed their labor would provide a better life for their children.

Their strong faith in God carried them through possibly the hardest, most difficult and poorest times of their lives. But through it all, they persevered. They left us, their descendants, with a legacy of love, wonderful customs and rich history.


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