Elena Sgarbi (Italian Consul General in Houston)

Nel sud degli Stati Uniti l'Italia mostra il suo lato migliore

Nov 24, 2014 5315 ITA ENG

Who knows America just superficially would never imagine how much interest for Italy there is in the southern United States, nor how many interesting things for us who live in the boot happen in that area, with a focal point in Texas, among the wealthier and more growing States, from every point of view.

On December 6, for example, Houston will host the tenth edition of the Conference of Italian researchers in the world: an important event full of personality and contents that honor our country. We talk about this, and about Italy in the southern United States, with the new Italian Consul General for this consular district, Elena Sgarbi, who renews the fine tradition that sees Italy institutionally represented in the USA by skilled and young diplomats, perfectly competent in their fundamental role in the relations between Italy and the areas covered by the various Consulates.

Consul Sgarbi, you have recently been appointed Italian Consul General in Houston: the territory within your jurisdiction includes not only Texas but also Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas. What is your impression from these first few weeks?

Obviously in a few weeks you cannot make a precise and complete idea of everything regarding where you are. Certainly the impression I received from the first moment has been extremely positive: the consular district of Houston, and in particular Texas, is truly very dynamic, full of energy, that communicates enthusiasm and confidence in the future. A place where everywhere you look you notice the beginning of new construction; that every day welcomes thousands of workers from all over the United States and the world, thanks to its great economic growth; where cultural life is very intense, the international community gets wider and wider, with high profile personalities with interesting background; and the society is extremely varied, for what I could see so far.

Is there room for Made in Italy in Texas and the other states belonging to your Consulate? What are the most interesting business sectors, either today and in the future?

At the moment, our presence is bigger in Texas than in other states. As I said, this part of the United States is experiencing a time of extraordinary economic growth. Of course, the driving force of this growth is the field of oil and gas: the so-called shale revolution is really changing many parameters, and not only here.

Besides oil and gas, the primary sector of interest to many Italian companies, there are those connected to it indirectly, including chemical and mechanical. But there is also strong interest in aerospace, biotechnology and high-tech, which is particularly concentrated in the Austin area, defined by some as "Silicon Hills" with reference to the hills surrounding the city. So, there are extremely interesting well-advanced areas that make this part of the world very attractive for the Italian companies. Texas is also a high purchasing power market, so potentially of great interest for the export of Italian products in general: therefore also agrifood, fashion, design and all other more traditional sectors of our exports. It is definitely a new market where to focus, less known than others but in great expansion. Incidentally, one of the advantages of Houston is also the geographical location, which makes it a perfect hub for connections with both North America (up to Canada) and Central and South America. This is a fundamental advantage that many companies are considering nowadays.

The Italian Americans in the southern States: how many are them? Are they distributed everywhere, or mainly concentrated in one area?

They are in all the four States part of our constituency. We do not have precise numbers on the Italian American community, because many of Italian origin but do not have our citizenship are not recorded in our database, and thus not included in our statistics. Certainly we are talking about high numbers.

Regarding the community of Italian citizens registered with our Consulate, they are about 8,000 in the four States, including about 7,000 in Texas, with a strong increase in enrollment in recent years. Houston (together with its neighboring areas) is the zone where the Italian presence is most concentrated; other major points of focus are the areas of Austin, College Station, San Antonio, Dallas and Fort Worth. Another thousand Italians are scattered between Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma, with a presence in Louisiana more focused on New Orleans and, in part, in Baton Rouge.

Is there any place that has had particular importance for our fellow Italians who arrived in the areas of your consular district?

Since I just recently came here, I have not be able yet to know in detail the reality of the consular district, which is really extensive. From the historical point of view, however, two very significant places for the Italian presence in this part of the United States come to my mind.

The first is New Orleans, where for a long time was focused the arrival of the Italians in this area of the country; and where even now there is a community, not very numerous but very active, with a physical point of reference in a place called Piazza Italia, which hosts events, concerts and events of various interest.

The second is Galveston, the other location that welcomed a very big arrival of Italians until the hurricane that hit the city in 1900: after the event the Italian community dispersed throughout the territory around.

Talking about the new Italians recently emigrated to America, we were impressed by the gala organized last August by the Italian Cultural & Community Center of Houston: it is not a common thing to see a warded as many as 21 Italian highly successful scientists and doctors operating in a single State. Are there other Italian excellences, in other fields, in the area of your responsibility?

Sure. Such a presence of excellent scientists and researchers in this consular district deeply and gladly surprised me too: I really believe that what we have here in Houston is an extraordinary reality.

You quoted the Gala organized by the Italian Cultural & Community Center with the awarding of over 21 scientists and doctors. Keep in mind that this number, although significant, is however not exhaustive: in this area we have even more other extraordinary Italians members of the medical international community.

Outside the medical sector we have scientists and researchers in other fields, such as aerospace, biology, bioengineering, biotechnology, chemistry, physics, information technology, engineering, genetics ... so you can see how this is a very qualified presence, which honor very much our country.

They are scientists and researchers working mostly in Texas, but there are excellent Italian professionals also in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas: an Italian presence of extraordinary level that we want to celebrate through the tenth edition of the Conference of Italian researchers in the world, that will be held on December 6.

Thank you, you anticipated my next question ... please tell us something more about the Conference

It is an initiative organized every year by the Committee of Italians Abroad (COMITES) of the consular district of Houston, in collaboration with the CTIM and under the patronage of the Consulate General. The purpose and spirit is to bring citizens closer to scientific research to avoid the traditional contrast between liberal arts and science, as well as to introduce more and more the Italian contribution in a such important area for the development of our society. If possible, this spirit of opening this year will be even more pronounced: December 6 will be an open day to all the scientific communities, and not just a day for insiders or experts.

This initiative involves the participation of leading figures in various fields: medicine, biomedical sciences, physics, engineering, aerospace, geology but also liberal arts. This year in particular will be presented and highlighted the collaboration between the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and the University of Palermo. Together they made a project of higher education and a PhD in international biomedical and neuroscience, a very interesting educational pattern.

Also on December 6 there will be the intervention of the President of Drillmec, Brando Ballerini. Drillmec is a company of Trevi Group, which will present their role in the rescue of the Costa Concordia: a huge project, known and monitored by all over the world, which involved a partnership between American companies and Italian. There will also be a connection with the International Laboratory-Observatory PYRAMID, which is over 5,000 meters above sea level on the Nepalese side of Mount Everest: an Italian jewel universally recognized in the science and study at high altitude field. Then will be given space to the younger generation of research: there will be a Roman physical from the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Texas in Austin, who will present his project for the invisibility cloak. I think that it will arouse great interest!

In addition we are lucky enough to have other excellent guests, including the oncologist Antonio Giordano and the engineer Renato Giordano, who has played a key role in the development of global positioning technology, the famous GPS: I believe that few know that in part of the GPS technology Italy has played an important role, thanks to him.

Finally we will have with us the archaeologist and writer Valerio Massimo Manfredi, who will deliver the literary prize "Scrivere la nuova Europa, editoria italiana, autori e lettori nell'era digitale" (Writing about the new Europe, Italian publishing, authors and readers in the digital age) to the best compositions made by the students of the Italian language in middle and high schools in Texas. A very important project, sponsored annually by COMITES, which aims to develop and reward the study of Italian in our consular district, which is one of the main objectives of the Italian consular network in the United States.

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