Joseph Sciame (Chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major IA Organizations)

Ieri, oggi, domani nella comunità italomericana: ne parliamo con Joseph Sciame

Jan 30, 2014 3877 ITA ENG

Browsing the web from Italy searching for everything Italian in the USA, attending as many meetings as you can we you go there, talking and chatting with everyone who has something interesting about the Italian community in America, you end up recognizing a few names that constantly recur. Only a few, who - is easy to understand - have dedicated their whole life in serving the Italian Americans: giving their contribution in many places, ways and times; participating in assemblies, boards and institutions; leading the community in remembering, defending and helping Italy and the Italians in the US.

Joseph Sciame is definitively one of these few names. He provides effort and credibility in representing the Italian American Community in New York and not only there. We're glad to meet him and to introduce him to the few who already do not know him.

President Sciame, you are chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations. Please tell us something about it

Yes, it is true that I have been the Chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations for the past three years and proud of it. As to my own wish list, I would hope for more funding in order to establish an office, a possible staff, an interactive website and more. Now a seasoned conference for 40 years and founded in 1974, we have responded to any variety of concerns over the years. Led by individuals who inherited the challenges of what I personally consider the "Rebirth" of the I-A community in the 60's, the Conference has, among many issues, led the fight thwarting off the seating of other nations such as Germany and Japan at the UN Security Council with over100,000 signatures delivered to the White House; the ongoing years of joint activity with the late Joseph Grano in obtaining the Gold Medal for Constantino Brumidi; the ongoing concern and raising of funds for the Advanced Placement testing in Italian, just to name a few. The Conference has been there.

You've been national President of OSIA, the Order Sons of Italy in America, from 2003 to 2005: you've worked very hard into this association for a long time. Both for its history and for the spreading of the several lodges all over the US, OSIA is a bit different from NIAF and UNICO, the two other big associations that represent the Italian Americans. Why is that?

You ask about the Order Sons of Italy in America and I was and am always very proud of my National Presidency from 2003-05, for it culminated at that time some years 35 years for me in the Order at that time. The OSIA is a "grass roots" organization and community based. It is a generous organization with charitable giving for Cooley's Anemia, Alzheimer's, Wounded Warriors among some, but has given over $100,000,000 to charities since the formal start of our Sons of Italy Foundation in 1959, although we were founded in 1905, and who could ever recount all those early years with those donations to Italy for earthquakes and natural disasters. Our major difference in the OSIA is that we are fraternal based.

You were born in Brooklyn, home of many Italian Americans. How would you describe being an Italian American from Brooklyn back in the days?

In terms of my growing up, I knew I was of Italian heritage as it was inculcated in me from my early days as an Italian American who came from four, Sicilian grandparents, all of whom put America first. I/we knew little prejudice or bias because in post WWII things were different. Once we entered the 60's, life did change and we all seemed to become more aware of our "Italianità". As I was in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, I understood other people and respected them, and now later in life I wound up becoming even the Chair of the Kupferberg Holocaust Center of Queensborough Community College, CUNY, first non Jew to do so and first I-A.

Among the things you do, one of the most important is the Vice Presidency at St. John's University, in Queens ...

As for St. John's University, I have served there since 1962, studied at night and graduated in '71. In two major areas and roles as VP for Enrollment Management and now VP for Community Relations, I have intertwined my Italianità in many ways, and for the past 20 years I have been a member of the Advisory Board of our University Italian Culture Center and Chair these past five years. Owing to my role with the OSIA and wider cycle of contacts, I have been able to coordinate events related to Italian Heritage and Culture Month each October at our Queens, Staten Island and Manhattan campuses. Each of these boroughs now celebrates the month.

It is clear from your very impressive resume that religion has been and is a very important part of your life and your career. It actually has been fundamental for the whole Italian American community during the decades. What's your thought about this?

Religion is very, very important to me, for I was steeped in it from my youth, living across the street from out Parish of St. Malachy on East New York, Brooklyn. My mother was devout as were her parents. And my father became just as she. I attended all Catholic schools from elementary thru college and so my faith, I think, is strong. I am a Vaticanologist in my reading and defend our faith. Beyond that, I have been honored by the Church with the papal conferral of Knight Grand Cross of the Holy Sepulchre, an honor I hold treasured. In fact, one highlight of my life has been when in 2004 as the OSIA celebrated its 99-100th anniversary year, I was with 100 members in Rome as Blessed, soon to be sainted, John Paul II blessed us by saying to me as he held my hand: "God bless you and God bless the Sons of Italy!" What a memory to have with faith. And so yes, religion is important to me and I must say to many around me in my wide circle of family and friends.

You are the recipient of several recognitions and orders of merit awarded by the Italian institutions: those rewards are something the Italian Americans are obviously very proud of. Sometimes there's a clear difference between Italian Americans and Italians regarding our own being Italians – and being recognized as Italian citizens, not to mention being institutionally awarded for our success. We think that, sometimes, we the Italians who live in Italy should admire and learn from the Italians Americans how and why to feel proud of our common country. What do you think?

Well. I am not sure exactly how to respond to this question because all I know from some 8-9 times in Italy is that I have met people who are proud of their country regardless of the changes in government and challenges that exist today. At the same time, I have been fortunate to have met some great people and my involvement in the I-A community has led me to be recommended first as Cavaliere in the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy and then elevated to Ufficiale. What a great honor! These honors are a reflection of who I am and where I came from, that is Italy, a rich cultural heritage. And those award have led to other decorations with the Order of Merit and Order of SS Maurizio and Lazzaro of the ancient House of Savoy and this past year with the Order of St. Michael of the Wing by the Duke of Braganza. These honors fill me with personal and family pride as I continue to live the motto of our administration building at St. John's University that states it so well: Ministrare non Ministrari ... to serve and not be served, to give back to the community, to be just and to insure justice, to seek peace and bear peace.

I thank you for this opportunity to share these few thoughts as we journey together in achieving out lofty goals, and not better said than by the motto of the Order Sons of Italy in America: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

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