Welcome to Las Vegas La Voce!
For the first time in American history, a woman will become Speaker of the House of Representatives, second in line of succession to the presidency. And it's not just any woman, it's Nancy Patricia D'Alesandro Pelosi, an Italian American woman (married to an Italian American man) whose father was Mayor of Baltimore and a Congressman in an era when there were few Italian Americans on Capitol Hill. She's sixty-six years old, and although she has represented California's Eighth Congressional District for almost two decades and is well connected on the Hill, she never ran for office until she was forty-seven years old and her five children were grown. She also has six grandkids, the last one born as she was selected to be Speaker. In fact she was ready to leave before the election results were in to be by her daughter's side if the call came. This year started with Republican nominee Samuel Alito becoming the second Italian American to be a Justice of the United States Supreme Court, and it's ending with Speaker.
Pelosi as the highest ranking official in the legislative branch in American history and possibly the first woman to hold the office of President of the United States. I'd say it was a good one for Italian Americans and a better one for America.
And make no mistake about how the Speaker views herself. In an interview with Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News which took place at Cabrini College outside of Philadelphia the morning after the election, the following exchange took place:
Williams (to Pelosi) : "Let's talk about history because I know history was riding along with you as you watched the results last night. I know you have thought today about your mother. I know you have thought today about your father, your own children and grandchildren."
Pelosi : "Well, as you may know, I was raised in an Italian Catholic family in Baltimore, Maryland. Our faith was very important to us, our patriotism, love of faith, love of family, love of country. We took pride in our Italian-American heritage, and to be the first woman Speaker of the House and the first Italian-American Speaker of the House, it's quite thrilling for me."
Readers, let's remember that this was not said in an interview with La Voce or some Italian American biased broadcast or publication. THIS WAS NATIONAL PRIME TIME NETWORK NEWS!! What a Christmas present to all members of America's fifth largest ethnic group (according to the 2000 Census) who share in her pride. And to think that it only took two hundred and thirty years to accomplish! Practically overnight, right? Qualche minuto! Una mica! At times like these we all should reflect on what a great country America is and how our ancestors paved the way – and the streets and sidewalks – for the success and progress that we have today. But the thought occurred to me, especially after realizing that there isn't a single Italian American in President Bush's Cabinet and that Melissa Hart, former Republican Congresswoman from Pennsylvania and an Italian American, was defeated by her Democratic challenger and fellow Italian American Jason Altmire that the President may not know much about Italian American women. And so I take this opportunity to write an open letter to him to offer some insight that might become very valuable in dealing with Commendatoressa Pelosi.
Dear Mr. President :
Although I have never written to you before I feel it my duty as an American to do so now. This letter is not intended as a critique of your administration or historic domestic and foreign policy, as I do not feel myself competent or sufficiently informed to provide you with any constructive criticism. In the big picture my ideas probably wouldn't be any more or less effective or productive than yours and I'd have to battle with my Republican partners and friends about making La Voce “political”, something that we try not to do.
I am, however, far more knowledgeable and experienced than you are when it comes to dealing with Italian women – companions, mothers, aunts and grandmothers. My experience started at birth five dozen years ago, so I have no fears as to my superiority in this soon to be very important to you matter and only wish to help you. I just examined the composition of your Cabinet at www.whitehouse.gov/government/cabinet , and seeing not a single Italian-American surname, I am certain that no one around you can do better than this, although you could always check out my comments with Justices Scalia and Alito if you wish. They'll be easier for you to find than Rick Santorum these days. Just consider this letter as my Christmas present to you, or as we say in Italian un regalo per Lei.
Like most Italian Americans, my experience started with my mother, Filomena Maria Greco Gentile, and her sisters. And my grandmothers, Grazia Santarsieri Greco and Rosa Pietrandoni Gentile, of course, who were among those intrepid young women who left their little villages to come to America with a unifying, inherited spirit that lives within every Italian-American woman even today. Grandma Grace never learned to read or write English, but she could count better than anyone I've ever met. Grandma Rose attended Mass every morning and more diplomacy was employed in her kitchen than in any President's administration. Between them they prayed six sons back from two wars, raised twenty law-abiding and successful children in Capone-era Chicago and managed their families while allowing their husbands to take credit for it. Italian women have a knack for letting men do that, Mr. President, which I'm sure you and Senator Reid will soon learn.
My grandmothers were preceded by the most renowned Italian-American woman of the 20th century, Maria Francesca Cabrini, who arrived at Ellis Island from San Angelo, Italy at the age of thirty-nine, speaking no English. All she ever did was establish 14 American colleges, 98 schools, 28 orphanages, eight hospitals, three training schools, and become the founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. When she died at age sixty-seven in 1919 women didn't as yet have the right to vote (much less become Speaker of the House). In 1949, Mother Cabrini became the first American citizen to be canonized a Saint by the Catholic Church. You might want to learn as much as you can about her spirit and determination, as I believe there is someone in your life these days that has the same tenacity and determination. Luigi Greco, my nonno, once had a quarrel with her and lost!! And he was a tough guy!!
While you're at it, Mr. President, study up on Ella Tambussi Grasso and Geraldine Ferraro. Yes, I know that we're talking Democrats here, but I am sure that they were among the Speaker of the House's role models, along with her parents and grandparents, of course. Mrs. Grasso was, after all, the first Italian-American woman elected to Congress. She served from 1970 until 1975 when she was elected as the first woman Governor of Connecticut. She was born the year Mother Cabrini died and definitely blazed a similar trail in a different environment. Geraldine Ann Ferraro was the first woman Vice-Presidential candidate on a national party ticket. In 1984, she ran on the Democratic presidential ticket with Walter Mondale which lost to Ronald Reagan. Born in New York in 1935 of Italian immigrant parents, she excelled as a student and graduated high school at 16. Attending college on an academic scholarship, she worked as a second grade teacher in the New York City public school system while putting herself through Fordham Law School at night. She represented the Ninth Congressional District in Queens, New York from 1979 to 1985 in the House of Representatives.
You might be well served to know that Speaker Pelosi and Ms. Ferraro are both on the Board of Directors of The National Organization of Italian American Women (NOIAW). A former Republican Congresswoman, Margaret Scafati Roukema, is also a Director. NOIAW members include doctors, lawyers, artists, scientists, nurses, businesswomen, educators, writers, judges, and women working in the home. It is the only national membership organization for women of Italian ancestry. NOIAW sponsors educational, cultural and social events and focus on issues of interest to Italian American women and is committed to preserving Italian heritage, language, and culture while simultaneously promoting and supporting the advancement of women of Italian ancestry. The programs recognize and promote the accomplishments and contributions of women of Italian ancestry as well as acknowledge women as keepers of the culture.
So it shouldn't have come as a surprise to you that Speaker Pelosi told Brian Williams that she was proud to be the first Italian American woman to be Speaker of the House. You see, like all Italian American women, she knows that she is a little different from other women, and proud of it. You can expect her to be e motive but controlled, display a devotion to her causes with the same principled, sometimes ferocious, intensity as she does in her devotion to her family. An Italian American woman has an abundance of self-esteem. Do not trifle with her or be fooled into thinking that the kindness and charm that she displays is indicative of weakness. As a my friend and business partner always says regarding Italian American women “They're right. Even when they're wrong, they're right. You don't stand a chance.” He is a staunch Republican, and he learned this from his mother, so you can trust them even if you doubt the word of a Democrat. Italian American women have spent over one hundred and fifty years being role models for Italian Americans, male and female alike. And the good news for all other Americans is that now it will spread to them. Yes, Mr. President, you can be sure that she will inspire even those who disagree with her. Perhaps even yourself. I assure you that Italian American Republicans might assail her political agenda but will support her persona. They know “She's right. Even when she's wrong, she's right. You don't stand a chance.” Listen to them!
One more thing I want to mention. I know that you are aware that the Department of Justice recently published its conclusion that despite the movie, print and broadcast media depicting otherwise from time to time, only .0025 percent of the more than 26,000,000 Italian Americans have any arrest record. That's about 65,000, and it represents one of the lowest rates among identifiable ethnic groups in America. However, from time to time we still have to put up with the negative stereotype of the shoulder holstered mobster in media advertising hawking soft drinks, dairy products, beer, food containers and the like. And the Sopranos will be back for another season. Don't let these things fool you. You needn't be concerned about Speaker Pelosi being armed with a gun. She is an Italian American mother and grandmother, for goodness sake!!