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OHIO SONS OF ITALY STATE CONVENTION “I HAVE A DREAM”
PRESENTATION AT CHERRY VALLEY LODGE
June 13, 2015
By: Francesco Ambrosio Lorenzo Fregiato, Giudice
Ohio Common Pleas Court Judge
I have a dream. I . . . have a dream. These famous magical four words were elegantly spoken in 1963, by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Ma . . . ma . . . miei amici; But . . . my friends . . . that was not . . . the first . . . “I Have a Dream” speech. Our own Sons of Italy founder, Dr. Vincenzo Sellaro, also spoke those same famous words, in New York, in 1905, almost sixty years before Dr. King.
Dr. Sellaro, in his own words, longed to “. . . achieve our rightful place of influence and respect in the role we must
take in making this country greater than ever before. This wonderful country can only become the richer and more cultured as a result of it.”
Dr. Sellaro knew the incredible path we Italians had traversed, and what we had achieved, and what we could achieve. Folks, it has indeed been one incredible journey.
You see, our common roots are truly unbelievable. Though Italy is a new country, only coming into being in 1861, the geographical area we call Italy has a long, rich and diverse history.
You and I, and Dr. Sellaro, together, were there, even before the Romans, in 800 B.C. with the Etruscans. We
then came along with the Latins. And then you and I, and Dr. Sellaro, in 510 B.C. founded the Roman Republic, a model used by our own United States government, over a thousand years later.
Empire, with its highs and lows, followed, being the largest Empire the World has ever seen, the longest period of international peace which has ever existed, accompanied by the construction of tremendous public works, buildings, roads, and aqueducts, leading the World.
Fragmentation followed. Numerous separate nations, city-states, kingdoms, and republics, developed in Italy.
We lead the world again, however, in 1500 out of
Florence, with the Renaissance . . . awakening . . . the entire . . . globe . . . with art, architecture, banking, political
philosophy, economics, science, and world travel exploration.
Risorgimento, Italian Unification, followed in the 1800s with Giuseppe Garibaldi finally leading us to nation status in 1861, for the first time ever, creating today’s Italy, being a kingdom at that time.
The Twentieth Century saw tremendous ups and downs with two World Wars and government moving from short-lived fascism, to a Constitutional Republic in 1946.
But our story in this room . . . is one of immigration . . . and the struggles and successes which followed . . . this long . . . winding . . . road.
Dr. Sellaro . . . though with his dream as a vibrant idealist . . . was also a realist, recognizing the burdens we had to face. He knew of the “. . . fierce and undeserved prejudice and discrimination that we had to suffer . . .” and that the majority of Italian immigrants came “. . . to these shores as the poorest of all Italians, and the least educated of Europe.”
But we had . . . and have . . . a Spezzatura advantage. Dr. Sallero explained “Second to none has been our
contributions of tradesmen, lawyers, teachers, accountants, entrepreneurs, pharmacists, and . . . doctors . . .” What a heritage, what a background we have, in every field that exists, not just in stereotyped art, food, fashion and amore; though make no mistake, we do clearly lead the world in those four areas . . . especially amore by the way. But listen to this shortened list of those of us who have contributed to the world before and after Dr. Sellaro, through the Italian concept of Sprezzatura . . the art and appearance of effortless mastery . . . part of which I have already recited to you in the past:
- Marconi, inventor of the radio.
- Henry Mancini.
- Vince Lombardy.
- Leonardo D’Vinci.
- The Inventor of politics Niccolo Machiavelli.
- Fallopio who discovered Fallopian tubes.
- Sophia Loren.
- St. Francis of Assisi.
- Dan Marino.
- Dean Martin.
- Frank Sinatra.
- Mother Frances Cabrini.
- Siciliano Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia.
- Julius Caesar.
- Yogi Berra.
- Marco Polo.
- Caesar Octavia Augustus.
- Rocky Marciano.
- Romeo and Juliet.
- Mario Puzo.
- The Jersey Boys Four Seasons.
- Producer and Director Frank Capra.
- Lou Costello.
- Enrico Fermi, Father of the Atomic Age.
- Judge John Sirica, who presided over the Watergate hearings.
- Volta, an electrochemist – where the term volts was derived.
- Mario Andretti.
- Amerigo Vespucci, after whom our own country
America, and two continents, were named.
- Lee Iacocca.
- Jimmie Durante.
- Fillippo Mazzei, the author of the phrase “all men are by nature equally free and independent,”
which phrase was borrowed by his neighbor,
Thomas Jefferson, for use in our own Declaration
- Rudolph Valentino.
- Christopher Columbus.
- Al Pacino.
- Montessori, who changed childhood education forever.
- Sacco and Vanzetti.
- Vice Presidential Candidate Geraldine Ferraro.
- America’s Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
- John Cabot, famous explorer, whose name was
changed by British Historians from Giovanni
- Two actual signers of our own Declaration of
Independence William Paca and Caesar Rodney.
- Meucci, inventor of the telephone, not Alexander
Graham Bell, as most of us were taught.
- Joe DiMaggio.
- Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.
- Bruce Springsteen.
- Marcus Aurelius.
- Lorenzo Medici The Magnificent.
- Lady Gaga.
- Even Napoleon, from ethnic Italian based
- And even St. Patrick, from Ireland.
But before we get too carried away with our ethnic selves, and I admit it’s easy to do so, let’s remind each other that I can make another list . . . which is not quite so flattering:
- Il Duce Mussolini.
- Emperor Nero.
- Prime Minister Benedetto Craxi.
- Al Capone.
- The Teflon Don John Gotti.
- Emperor Commodus.
- Michael Corleone.
- And . . . even Pontius Pilate.
I could go on and on, but I think you’ve got the point.
As Gay Talese explained in his famous Italian-American book Unto the Sons, “The Italians were bringing art and culture to the world when the . . . Anglo-Saxons were [still] living in caves . . . and painting their faces blue.” Signori e Signore . . . our heritage . . . is shockingly . . . incredible.
But despite this incredible heritage, Dr. Sellaro nevertheless asked for nothing for himself and asked for nothing for the Italian immigrants. He instead explained that our families did not want “. . . to find a new life, but to earn a better one . . . . [They ask[ed] only for the opportunity to earn a living. [They were] not here to be a burden.”
Dr. Sellaro further explained . . . “We must educate ourselves, and insist that our children receive the best and highest education possible.” . . . so that we will “. . . understand the ways and beliefs of this marvelous adopted country of ours, and be treated as equal and worthy American Citizens.” And as Dr. King added decades later . . . that we must “. . . not be judged by the color of [our] skin but by the content of [our] character.”
We Italian-Americans are a lucky group. We truly are. We live in the greatest country in the world, and in the history of the World, but we are still able to enjoy and celebrate our great Italian heritage.
On one of my many trips to Italy, I was in a small Venetian restaurant. The waiter recognized us as Americani and immediately announced to the entire restaurant that we were Americans. I admit I was a little concerned. He then . . . proclaimed the greatness of America, being, as he correctly explained . . . the only country in the world and in the history of the world to be willing to fight . . . for someone else’s freedom. It was one of the proudest moments of my life.
We Americans are indeed very rich with freedoms and opportunity, something that probably most of us take for
granted. As proud and strong red, white and blue Americans, we are able to enjoy our red, white and green heritage. Folks, we’ve got the best of both worlds. You know it. I know it. And Dr. Sellaro even knew it . . . over a hundred years ago.
But something along the way . . . perhaps . . . may be going astray for many Americans. And that concerns me, as an Italian, as a torch carrier for Dr. Sellaro and Dr. King, and, foremost, as a proud American. Is it now all slipping away? We must be terribly careful . . . very . . . very . . . vigilant.
Because something dangerous perhaps . . . is happening. Why do we Americans not accept individual responsibility and the consequences for our own voluntary actions? We used to. Dr. Sellaro pointed out we were to earn a better life, not to be handed one.
Despite the fact that many of our fellow Americans are grown adults, they claim that their own voluntary adult acts are not their fault: It's the alcohol, it's the drugs, it's the way I was raised, it's my religion (or lack thereof), it's
the government, it's because I'm poor (or wealthy), it's the video games I play, it's my childhood, it's politics as usual, it's the movies or TV I watch, it's my lack of education. But it’s never, or rarely, that "I, as a grown adult, individually, knowingly, voluntarily, made a bad decision."
What ever happened to individual responsibility? Dr. Sellaro recognized it. Dr. King recognized it.
Criminal acts certainly have their consequences to the individuals, and to our families, (domestic violence and drugs for example), and certainly to our communities. But what about the consequences to all of us for non-criminal acts?
Let's be brutally honest, but still trying to be somewhat politically correct . . . so I don't receive tons of hate mail, which I do receive for my "telling it the way it is" approach. Do we really believe there are no individual and community consequences to births out-of-wedlock, or excessive alcohol
use, or disdain for education, or dropping out of high school, or failing to keep a job, or even get one, or drug addiction, or ignoring the old fashioned intangible traits of character and honesty? The possible breakdown of the American family may be destroying the basic fabric of our nation. Our decisions are individual ones at first, but the consequences . . . are widespread.
This is the exact opposite of what Dr. Sellaro . . . and Dr. King . . . envisioned.
Do we really think requiring immigrants to speak English is racist (as I have been told)? It's the total opposite. Knowledge of English will help immigrants integrate and succeed in all aspects of American life. Where would I be today if my immigrant family taught me only Italian, and not English?
Are any of us curious as to why so many of our grandparents are raising our children? Can we not even raise our own kids anymore? Do you realize the out-of-wedlock births for whites in 2013 was 29.3%. In 1960, it was only 2.3%. For blacks in 2013, it was 71.4%. The average for all Americans for 2013 was 40.6%. In 1960, that average was 5.3%. Those figures are nothing short of shocking . . . not . . . not . . . from a moralistic standpoint (that’s not my point), but from a consequence standpoint, which is all of our business, because the statistics show us that out-of-wedlock births result in more poverty, more crime, more high school dropouts, and more alcohol and drug addictions . . . which . . . not surprisingly . . . results in more out-of-wedlock births . . . which . . . in turn . . . results in . . . etc., etc., etc. It’s a vicious cycle . . . which keeps speeding up.
The challenge to you (and to me) is to continue to promote our concerns to our youth. It’s our upcoming young generation that will carry this message, this torch, forward . . . or not. Our individual actions are our individual responsibilities, and they make a difference . . . very small at first, then ultimately huge . . . engulfing us all . . . one way or another.
Though Dr. Sellaro would be so proud of all of us in this room tonight, and what you and I have achieved, who we are, and how we have indeed made America stronger and richer, I believe also nevertheless that he would be concerned about our future.
So we must analyze and ask ourselves what really binds us together so? Why are we even here together today in this room? Why is our ethnicity so important to us? Is it our joint history? Perhaps. But I think it’s more than that . . . it’s simpler . . . and . . . perhaps . . . also . . . more complex . . . all at the same time.
You see, when we speak to fellow Italian-Americans in our communities, as we all do, we connect with each other
at a very basic level, not because of our discussions of ancient Rome, or the Renaissance, or even Dr. Sellaro. We relate to each other because of our families, our childhoods,
the ethnic culture which was instilled into all of us, with the resulting memories . . . and those special “feelings” . . . which we must never forget.
If my theory is correct . . . that is . . . that a large portion of our ethnicity and associated ethnic feelings are based upon the family, then isn’t it a logical concern that if the family is diminished in America, so might be our Italian-American heritage. I fear that these special “feelings” won’t continue into the future . . . if there are no American families to preserve and promote them. I fear that that’s just simple logic.
Without the family and individual responsibility, perhaps go our ethnic heritage, our ethnic memories, and our ethnic future.
Dr. Sellaro’s and Dr. King’s dreams are at risk if we cannot even create or preserve our own families. That’s why all of you are so important. That’s why it is so important we are here tonight, and we are here together.
These special ethnic feelings . . . are not factual, not subject to definition, not capable of an explanation, having been nurtured and developed, without specific intent, by our families, from birth, whether or not anyone was realizing it was even happening.
It’s a way of life, it’s an attitude, it’s a spirit, it’s the concepts, it’s the language: famiglia, mangia, mama, nonna.
It’s gelato, espresso, pane, pasta, olive oil, garlic, formaggio, grapes and vineyards, tomato sauce, cannoli, and of course
vino (and make no mistake, our Chianti Classico Riserva ranks with the world’s best). It’s a gondola, it’s bocce, it’s la musica, the Coliseum, St. Peter’s. It’s Rome, Venice, Florence, Sorrento, Sicilia, Pompeii, Naples, and Toscana. And, of course, as earlier mentioned, it’s amore.
It’s the depths of human emotions and friendships, lifetime friendships, and it’s our Sons, and certainly Daughters, of Italy.
And it’s sitting in a Piazza, if not in person, at least in our hearts and souls. But most importantly, it’s growing up in an Italian family, and the accompanying childhood memories.
It’s undefinable. It’s a feeling. It’s an attitude. It’s our feeling. It was bursting from my sides walking through the remote mountainous town of Cianciana in Sicily finding my relatives and my Dad’s childhood home. And then again, when finding my Mom’s in the tiny secluded town of San Chirico Nuovo in Basilicata.
And for goodness sake, it’s even having to tell your non-Italian friends over and over and over again: please don’t peel the paper wafer off of the torrone – for the last time . . . it’s edible damn it!
And so it’s up to you . . . and to me . . . to preserve these special feelings, this culture, this attitude. As Dr. Sellaro perfectly explained, “It is up to us and what we do today.” What . . . we do . . . today. It’s been a long winding road from the two Regions of Sicilia and from Basilicata for my family, but we’ve made it . . . just as Dr. Sellaro dreamed we would.
And what about the future of our ethnicity? That’s Dr. Sellaro’s real dream. He explained: “. . . I have a dream, and hope that someday, even if it takes a hundred more years . . . our children and their children’s children, even if
they carry a single drop of Italian blood, will be able and proud to continue to carry on our traditions, our culture and our language.” I proudly . . . and emotionally . . . proclaim tonight . . . that Dr. Sellaro’s dream has in fact been realized. But, it’s up to your grandchildren . . . and my grandsons Dominico, Vincenzo, and Giacchino . . . to preserve this sacred “dream” and these special “feelings.” As Dr. Sellaro clearly stated . . . it’s what . . . we do . . . today.
And now, Miei Amcici Italiani, I leave you with three magical words as I have done before. These three words have passed down from generation to generation, from fathers to sons, from mothers to daughters, from famiglia to famiglia and from paesano to paesano.
And over the years, they have only been . . . whispered . . . but whispered ironically for totally different reasons throughout the decades.
In the 20’s and 30’s, we whispered them because we dared not let the ruling class overhear us.
In the 40’s and 50’s and somewhat even into the early 60’s, we whispered them . . . because we were . . . embarrassed.
Into the 70’s and 80’s, we whispered them because we were confused . . . still trying to find our joint footing.
And now we whisper them because we indeed know they are truly magical . . . and we dare not . . . let the spell
. . . be broken.
And these three magical words that I leave you with, which shall be our guiding light, are very simply . . . “Sempre avanti . . . insieme” . . . “Always forward . . . together.”
I am . . . a proud . . . a very very proud . . . Italian-American. Keep the past . . . and preserve it for the future. Protect our feelings and dreams. Amici, that’s why we are here today. As Dr. Sellaro explained . . . it’s now up to us.
Buona Sera e Buona Festa!
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