Saverio Nestico (President of Filitalia International)

Dalla città dell'amore fraterno all'amore per i fratelli e le sorelle italiani

May 05, 2024 1655 ITA ENG

Ten years ago a museum of exceptional passion for our country dedicated to Italian emigration was born in Philadelphia. It was Filitalia International that created it, a wonderful organization founded by a remarkable man, Pasquale Nestico.

Today his son Saverio heads Filitalia, and he is one of those leaders who guarantee the Italian American community a bright and successful future. I am grateful to him and to all my friends in Filitalia for what they do, and I welcome them all to We the Italians, wishing them all the best for the ten years of their fantastic museum.

Saverio, first of all please tell me something about the Italian roots of the Nestico family

It’s with great pleasure to talk about the Nestico family and our Calabrian roots. The lineage of my roots is a straight path and rather easy to follow. Both my parents are from the same town in the region of Calabria, the town of Isca sullo Ionio in the Province of Catanzaro. My father came here to the USA in 1966 at the age of 21 and my mother came here in 1968 at the age of 24. Both came to South Philadelphia, PA where all of their siblings, parents and many Calabrese immigrated. South Philadelphia became our home.

But the roots are never forgotten! We celebrate all the same traditions, speak the language, eat all the foods and most importantly my parents and my family always remind us of the amazing stories of growing up in Calabria. I love Calabria, not only for the obvious things, but because of the traditions and values that were instilled in my parents that they carry with them everyday and have instilled those values in me and our entire family. Next time I see you I’ll be sure to bring you a homemade soppressata! Haha!

Your father Pasquale is the founder of Filitalia International, while you are now the President. Please help us describing the past and present of this wonderful organization

Yes, my father is the Founder and President Emeritus of Filitalia. He wears many hats for the Organization but none more important than as the “Consigliere” to not only myself but to all of us in the organization. His wisdom, dedication and drive is 2nd to none and is truly contagious.

The past is never behind, the present is moving very fast and the future is bright for us here at Filitalia.

As the 7th President of our organization and being heavily involved since 2011 I have seen and felt such amazing enthusiasm and energy from everyone. We have a balanced attack of young adults to the original members of Filitalia. We like to consider everyone family. Whenever a new leader emerges we gather around them in support and engagement. We like to hold on to them as tight as possible!

In its early years, Filitalia focused on organizing cultural events, educational programs, and community initiatives to strengthen Italian-American identity. One of the key initiatives from the outset was the introduction of Italian language classes. Recognizing the importance of language in preserving cultural heritage, we began offering language courses to individuals of all ages interested in learning Italian. These classes served as a vital link to Italy's linguistic and cultural legacy.

Today, our language classes have expanded even more all over the world in person and online, but our Scholarship Program stands at the top of our pyramid. We have been able to amass over $700k in Scholarship Funds all from the donations of families in the name of their families which are entirely invested in mutual funds. We have over 25 Scholarships from 2nd grade to medical school, law school and other advanced academic education for which we have given out over $1.5 million dollars in Scholarships since 1987 all over the world. What better way to remember a loved one than by creating a scholarship in their name that will last generations.

Moreover, we are 1 of 6 organizations in the county that act as the ENTE Promotore for grants from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MAECI). Through this partnership we are able to facilitate grants to public and private schools across 7 states that offer Italian language instruction. Under the supervision of the Consulate General of Italy in Philadelphia, these grants support educational institutions in promoting Italian language learning and cultural exchange. We currently have 14 schools that we fund and under the leadership of our Immediate Past President (6th President), Paula Bonavitacola who has overseen the program we anticipate significant growth for next year to 25 schools across 7 states.

Then there is the Humanitarian work that we do through our Annual Christmas Seals Program & La Vigilia 7 Fish Dinner. Since 2007 we have been providing families with food, clothes, gift certificates across Pennsylvania and now we are growing that network even more with other Chapters contributing to expand our reach worldwide. Under the leadership of our 5th President, Marc Virga we are on a mission to expand our reach.

We now have three incredible employees known as “TNN”. Trisha Volpe our vibrant Executive Director, Nicholas Santangelo our Assistant Executive Director for the USA and Nicola Pirone our Assistant Executive Director for Italy. Together they are guiding us into an expansion that we could have never envisioned.

There is so much more but I’ll urge everyone to visit our website, social media platforms and join our WhatsApp News Group to learn more about our International Exchange Program, our Citizenship and Genealogy services and our various Committees. It takes a lot to do what we do, all of which is done on a volunteer basis. We are seeing new leaders emerge everyday as our membership has grown by 75% since October 2021.

Filitalia has been the first Italian American organization to have Italian chapters here in the boot. When and where?

The expansion into Italy is incredible and it comes with great vision from our Founder, who discovered the opportunity and amazing people there that wanted to be part of the Filitalia family. The 1st Chapter of Italy was in Milan in 2005. Since then we have continued expansion throughout 5 regions with 12 Chapters spanning from Venezia down to Calabria with many more on the horizon. In January, we officially launched our Distretto Italia “District of Italy”. Because of the growth of the organization and complications between engagement of Italy and USA we decided to create a governance reserved for Italy with a Board of Directors composed of the Italian Chapter Presidents. Now, only the District of Italy President is to participate in the Filitalia International BODs as opposed to a dozen plus. My father, our Founder, is the current President of the Distretto Italia and will remain so for 2 years while we are fully establishing everything.

Not only do we have the Chapters in Italy but we also have Chapters in Venezuela and Cuba. Our International footprint is becoming historic every other day! Our expansion in the USA is reaching new levels as well. We just approved 2 new historic Chapters, with our first Chapter in Manhattan, NY with Maria Theresa Quaranta and our first Chapter out West in Denver, CO with Jenna Peccia. It’s a lifestyle for many of us. It is volunteer work, but we love it! I love it!

Philadelphia has a very rich history of Italian immigration… and  I didn’t use by chance the words “History of Italian Immigration”: that is how ten years ago Filitalia named its museum, in the historic neighborhood of Passyunk Avenue. Back in those days I had the privilege to interview and then present my book with the then Director, my friend Michael Bonasera. It’s a wonderful place, your museum…

Yes Philadelphia has been historically rich with Italian culture brought by Italian immigrants. It was a fight then, and is still a fight today. The Italians did what we do best. They worked hard. They worked smart and they created families and bonds with the community. Our International Headquarters is located in South Philadelphia which is our Language Center and Museum along East Passyunk Avenue. A very vibrant corridor spanning 12 city blocks of restaurants, bars, shops and boutiques. We have been there since 2004 and the Museum has been there since 2014.

On June 2nd, 2024 you will celebrate the anniversary of the Italian Republic and your Heroes Award event… please tell us more

This year we are celebrating our 4th Annual Heroes Award, which coincides with our continued celebration of La Festa Della Repubblica. In addition, we will also be celebrating the 10 year anniversary of our History of Italian Immigration Museum. So it will be a very exciting day for the Italian community. Every year we like to identify and celebrate heroes from all over the world that have shown great leadership in the Italian communities and their respected fields.

We started this in 2021 and it has grown significantly with honorees from all over the world. It’s a hybrid event held at our International Headquarters in South Philadelphia, PA which is our Language & Culture Center and the home of our History of Italian Immigration Museum. All the funds we raise are used towards the mission of Filitalia and to help advance all of our programs. Scholarship Program, International Exchange Program, Language Classes, Ente Promotore, Christmas Seals Program and more.

I asked you about the past and the present of Filitalia International… What's in the future of your important organization?

The future for Filitalia is bright and that is because we have a tremendous foundation, great leaders and amazing emerging leaders. We are a true grass roots organization without ever receiving any public funding and we are a debt free organization.

All of our great accomplishments have not come easy. Many long nights, lots of sweat and money have been invested from all of us, past and present. We are committed to this life. I know there is a “thirst” out there for the heritage, the traditions and culture because I live it everyday and I’ve attempted to have a conversation with every new member that has joined our organization since 2022, over 200 conversations a year. I tell them all the same thing. Filitalia is here to quench that thirst!

Last question: Columbus. Philadelphia has unfortunately been very famous on this topic, because of what the mayor did and the reaction of the Italian American community. I also remember that in 2018 some criminals vandalized the Christopher Columbus statue and also the entrance of your museum, in what seemed to me nothing but a hate crime. I ask you to please briefly summarize what happened, and what are your thoughts about it

We stand tall and firm for Columbus and that is why we have made countless contributions to that fight, both in man hours and financially. We contributed $10,000.00 towards that legal battle. Philadelphia and all the Italian American communities throughout the country won that fight and Columbus statue stands tall and firm and as beautiful as ever.

The vandalism to our Headquarters was a despicable and cowardly act by a lonely man. We were never able to identify the person although we have it all on camera, but at 3am they spray painted our “Remembering A Loved One Tile” sidewalk with crazy words after doing the same to the Columbus Statue in Marconi Plaza. Our sidewalk is dedicated to the many families that have helped us with the Capital Campaign. We raised over $100,000 from the amazing people that wanted to remember their loved one. We gave them a place where they could do that and someone tried to destroy it. The amount of support we received was so overwhelming that we had to turn away help. The damage they caused was easily cleaned up and it disappeared but the exposure it gave to us was incredible. So for that I say thank you!

I tell people that we will let karma catch up to that vandal, but we believe it already has! After all, how empty of a life must you have to do that at 3am.

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