Continuing our journey through the United States, we arrive in the northern part of the West Coast, in Washington State. We are a long way from Italy, but here too there are stories from the past, present and even the future that represent our country in its relationship with America.
We talk about this with Elisabetta Valentini, Honorary Consul of Italy in Seattle, whom we thank: she also tells us about a beautiful Cultural Center recently opened where Italy is celebrated and told very well.
From Perugia to Seattle, that among other things are twin cities. What’s your story?
I’ve been part of the Seattle-Perugia sister city Association since the day of the signature of the sister city agreement, almost 30 years ago.
I was a young lady, part of the delegation from Perugia. At that time my father, Mario Valentini, was Mayor of my city and needed an interpreter to sign the agreement in Seattle.
It was 1993 and I still remember the afternoon at Doctor Lehmann’s house on Sunset hill and the ceremony of the signature with Seattle’s Mayor Norman Rice.
It was my first time in the US and in Seattle which, a few years later, became my second home.
The sister city began with Doctor Lehmann, a son of a Jewish family who escaped Germany during second war world and came to Perugia to study medicine. Lehmann always cherished his days in Perugia. To honor his experience, he proposed a sister city hood between the city he settled in, Seattle, and Perugia.
We now have a square named after Perugia “Piazza Perugia” in Madison Valley (a neighborhood in Seattle) and “Sister Orca” a beautiful totem in bronze by Native American artist Marvin Oliver who is shining in a beautiful green area in Perugia. Those are symbols of a great friendship growing strong through the many activities and exchanges that the two cities have been sharing for all these years.
We are now working at an International exhibit “Migration” which will open on September 2nd 2022 at the Museo Civico of Palazzo della Penna in Perugia and who will gather 5 artists from Perugia and 5 artists from Seattle on the theme of Migration. We are very excited about this project. The exhibit itself is a migration of the artists that in Perugia, a city of modern and old art, will come together to honor the principle of sister-cityhood: the concept of “people to people”. People who meet people, people who come from different cultural backgrounds, who speak different languages, and willingly talk to each other in the beauty of friendship.
Recently, a wonderful place representing Italy in Seattle opened. It is called Casa Italiana - Italian Cultural Center. Please tell our readers about this institution.
Yes, we have a beautiful place in Burien/Seattle called Casa Italiana Italian Cultural Center. The story of Casa Italian is one of a kind. The Italian American Community dreamed for more than 50 years to find a place to gather and call Home. The dream came true in 2020 thanks to the hard work and donations of the Italo Americans and Italian Communities. I saw Casa grow under my eyes and become a place of many cultural and social events with a Café, a library, a Gallery museum, and the Office of the Honorary Italian Consulate. Thanks to the generosity of Casa, I have my office there where I meet with Italian and American Nationals and give support to the community.
In May 2021 we were proud to welcome Consul General of San Francisco Lorenzo Ortona for the dedication of Casa and last June the new Consul General Sergio Strozzi who came in his first official visit to Seattle and the State of Washington.
We believe Casa will be a place for all of us, for all generations and a place of many memories to share and enjoy together.
There are many important projects for the future: a wonderful Hall, a professional Kitchen, a school: the dream has just begun.
Can you please describe for us what are the main activities you perform as the Italian Honorary Consul in Seattle?
I am Honorary Italian Consul for the State of Washington-Idaho and Montana under the Jurisdiction of the General Consulate in San Francisco. The Italian Community has grown in the last 10 years in this part of the Country. I support the community with information and fingerprint for passport services. My role, though, it is also to promote Italy and Italian culture and to facilitate networking. The Honorary Italian Consulate, in collaboration with the General Consulate, supports the Seattle Italian Film Festival in November (SIFF CIS Cinema Italian Style), The International children Festival, Festa Italiana, Italian events in the State of Washington, welcomes delegations from Italy. We are so fortunate to have wonderful Italian Clubs and Associations in Seattle and in the States of Washington, Idaho and Montana which I try to visit as much as I can.
Together with the Consulate General in San Francisco, I am also working to strengthen the relations between Seattle and the State of Washington business, tech and scientific ecosystem with the Italian one, also leveraging on the large presence of Italian top managers, scientists and university Professors in our State.
I work as volunteer and I enjoy helping the community especially when I can make a difference with nationals in immediate difficulties.
The Honorary Italian Consul is also part of the Consular Association of Washington.
What is the story of the Italian emigration to Seattle and to Washington State?
The Italian Immigration to Washington State started around 1880 and in 1910 there were about 3.500 Italian in the neighborhoods of Beacon Hill and Rainier Valley. This area, southeast of downtown Seattle, was then called the Garlic Gulch. Italians came from the north and south of Italy to work in coal mines, constructions and then settled in the city. Some of them in farms, others opened food businesses.
Then in the ’70 ’80, ’90, Italian engineers, high tech professionals, researchers, arrived in Boeing and Microsoft. In recent years to Amazon, Facebook, University of Washington and Washington State, Fred Hutch Institute, etc. The numbers of Italians is more than doubled.
Are there many Italian Americans in your area? And how many and who are the Italians born in Italy and then emigrated for work or study in Washington State?
We have both Italian Americans and Italians who are here to work and study. What makes me very proud of and emotional is when I see great-granddaughters and great-grandsons who receive Italian citizenship and their first Italian passport. I can see it in their eyes and hear it in their words: they want to honor their roots, their ancestors and be part of their Country of origin.
Are there any characters or places that have an important meaning in the description of the Italian community in Seattle?
Yes, there are iconic Italian places which mark presence of Italians in Seattle: Our Lady of Mount Virgin (built in 1910, one of the first spiritual centers for Italians), the Rosellini’s floating bridge (Albert D. Rosellini was elected Governor of the State of Washington is 1956), The Pike Place Market (some Italian families were founders of the Market, and the Italian Joe De Simone was also owner for a period of time). The Suzzallo’s library at the University of Washington. Now we have Piazza Perugia, the garden in Madison Valley entitled to the sister city, but then so many gathering places, restaurants, cafes and of course Casa Italiana.
How is Made in Italy in Seattle? Is there room for a greater presence, are there opportunities for Italian companies to seize?
The presence of Italian companies in Seattle spans in a variety of fields with high quality products crafted and presented with the usual Italian passion. Seattle, being one of the most growing cities in the US right now, presents untapped opportunities for Italian Companies. Besides traditional Made in Italy products we are witnessing an expansion toward hi-tech offering where Italian excellence can make a difference. Umbra group is certainly among the most relevant Italian tech-Companies who invested and are present in our State.
Our job, in tight cooperation with the Consulate General in San Francisco, is to increase both the commercial presence and the investments of Italian companies here and of Seattle and Washington State enterprises in Italy.
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