Los Angeles is one of the most significant cities in the United States. It houses one of the most active consulates, which is a point of reference for many Italian people.
We are pleased to host Consul Antonio Verde, who has been representing our country in LA for one year and a half.
How is Italy present throughout the areas of competence of his Consulate General – namely, in South California, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico?
This is a very large area, hosting more than 200,000 Italians (or Americans of Italian origin). Most of them live in Los Angeles, but they are also present in other areas. At an institutional level, Italy is a strong presence. Besides the Consulate General, there are a Cultural Institute, an ICE office, an ENIT representation, and a Commerce Chamber that covers up the entire US West Coast. Moreover, there is a huge network of honorary consulates, which allows us to reach even little-controlled areas. Our Honorary Consuls are very proactive and work-committed: they represent a great resource for us.
I would like to mention also the COM.IT.ES, which was renewed last year and which represents the voice of our compatriots within the entire Consular District. Due to the renewal of such a representatively important body, we started off a new collaboration aimed at planning and developing initiatives and strategies.
What can you tell us about the relationship between our Italian-born compatriots – who have recently migrated to your Consulate District – and the third or four generation Italian Americans living in this area?
They are starting to know each other better, thanks to both COM.IT.ES and several initiatives that are being brought here from Sistema Italia. For a period of time, there was the need to surpass old preconceptions, which were mainly due to these communities' different realities, education, and goes. However, we have to encourage and highlight the common traits between the two communities, as I believe that the experience of the past generations – who arrived here under distressful conditions, but then were able to make it – can be useful for the future generations.
Which are the places in Consulate in which you can most breathe Italy? Any neighborhood, monument, church, park ...
They are quite numerous. For example, San Pedro district is a meeting point for the descendants of our compatriot fishermen, mostly coming from Ischia or Castellammare del Golfo, which, up to 30-40 years ago, accounted for a half of the fishing fleet in Los Angeles. No coincidence that LA is twinned with Ischia, which highlights the common roots and the relationship with the Italian community. There are other areas in which we have a more past-oriented Italian presence, which, still, left a significant mark such as the Casa Italiana and the Church of Saint Peter in downtown LA, which became a Chinatown-like district, witnessing an important change in its demographic composition, due to the increasing Latino presence. The Casa Italiana and the Church of Saint Peter are regularly attended by Italian people, which keep the Italian tradition alive in the city.
Another important neighborhood is the Watts District, which takes its name from the Watts Towers by Simon Rodia, thanks to which the district gained a homogeneous profile. Our compatriot Simon Rodia migrated here armed with patience, will, rough belongings, and creativity, and built up these two towers, which are now symbol of his artistic legacy and of the Italian presence in the area. I am glad that LA is planning on making them a UNESCO World Heritage site, and I hope that such initiative could end up being a great success.
Other Italian American neighborhoods are the coastal areas. For example, in Malibu, streets are named "Castellammare," "Ischia," "Sorrento," or "Sanremo". Then, there is the Venice neighborhood, with his canals and streets, which shows Californians' love for Italy and its architectural and urban peculiarities. At the turn of the 21st century, an American entrepreneur built some canals in the neighborhood, in order for it to recall the city of Venice. Even though the project remained incomplete due to the Great Depression, these canals and other constructions give a sense of "home" to the neighborhood.
I'd like to mention also Arizona – in my District as well –, where the architect Paolo Soleri left us his Arcosanti and Ponte del Sole, in Phoenix. Thinking about Las Vegas, great Hotels are inspired by Italy: the Bellagio, the Venetian, the Caesar's Palace. Some Italians may laugh at those reconstructions, considering them as intentionally kitsch, for Las Vegas was born as a big amusement-park-like city. However, I see them as a great evidence of love for Italian architecture and history, and as an incentive to visit the actual Italian locations, from which Las Vegas's scenery inspires.
Speaking about the Italian-hood of the area, the Cultural Institute is creating "Italy Art LA," both a website and an app (available on iTunes and Google Play Store), which describes the variegated universe of the Italian experience of LA, both from an ethnic and a cultural point of view (including the Mediterranean Diet).
Los Angeles is the homeland of cinema at a global level. Is Italy present in this sector?
Italy is strongly present within the US cinema. Aurelio De Laurentiis, Martha De Laurentiis, Giorgio Moroder and Elisabetta Canalis often come to LA. Moreover there are important filmmakers, such as Pietro Scalia and Gabriella Cristiani, as well as directors of photography such as Dante Spinotti. Many young people pursuing their careers in the US cinema are getting inspired by them. We also organize various Italian Cinema festivals that bring many Italian talents to the American market. Let's not forget, inter alia, some great Italian-American, such as Danny De Vito, Ray Liotta, Thomas Arana, Joe Mantegna, Paul Sorvino, Sylvester Stallone and so on, all passionate about Italy and proud of their roots.
Is there any Italian citizen that held an important role within the history of South California that you would like to name?
Well, first of all, I would mention one of the first explorers of California's bay, namely Father Eusebio Chini, who was active especially in Arizona.
Another important figure is John Ferraro, Councilman of this Municipality for 35 years (from 1966 until his death in 2001) and President for 14 years. It has been a much respected persona amongst his colleagues and citizens. He was a charismatic person. Today Joe Buscaino is in the same Council, representing San Pedro District, and he is considered by many the successful heir of John Ferraro.
Italian people, inter alia, have never been discriminated in California: they soon became the most active and appreciated members of this important community.
Is there any anecdote, place, person, or something more generically Italian, that really struck you while working at the Consulate General of Italy in Los Angeles?
The elements of "Italian-hood" I see here are so many I can't mention just one. So let's say, as I've already told, that I am really impressed by the toponymy of the region. As an Amalfi and Sorrento coasts lover, I like coming across Amalfi Drive, Castellammare Drive, and Sorrento Road on my way to work in Malibu. It reminds me of loving memorable places and, at the same time, makes me feel happy of living here.
I would also like to mention a very special person. He is an American actor, very famous in Italy in the 60s and 70s: his name is Richard Harrison. He acted in more than 70 movies, from western to peplum, from crime dramas to spy stories, all shot in Cinecittà – called "Tiber Hollywood" in the past. Harrison lived in Rome for more than 20 years, where he married a kind Italian lady, Francesca. He currently lives in Los Angeles, where he started off his career as an actor. He speaks very well Italian. I have rarely met a person so in love with Italy as him. Through his stories about our past and present cinema, his passion of all that is Italian – cuisine, culture, the beauty – Richard Harrison is a great spokesman of the friendship between Italy and the United States. I am very lucky of meeting him and many other Italian people, people of Italian origin, and people having no blood bond with our country yet feeling emotionally connected to it. They represent a unique heritage for us, as well as a precious resource to be proud of, reminding us of all that Italy offers to those who love beauty, passion, and joy of living.
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