One of the most wonderful things about the exceptional tradition that unites all those who have built the history of the Italian American community over many decades is the solidarity, generosity, and brotherhood that has allowed so many Italian Americans to survive and grow in very difficult conditions, thanks to the help of other fellow Italians in the US.
Let us close this horrible year, which we will never forget, by celebrating with pride and gratitude the 100 years of an institution that perfectly represents the heart that has allowed for so long a constant help to those in need. Yesterday, today and also tomorrow, the Italian Welfare League has been, is and will be a symbol of Italian American generosity. We thank Linda Carlozzi, Chairwoman of this wonderful organization, to allow We the Italians to close this terrible 2020 in beauty.
Linda, please tell us something about you. What part of Italy is your family from, and when did they arrive in the United States?
Both of my parents are from a small town near Campobasso, in Molise. The town is Campodipietra. My mother was born in the US but she returned to Italy with her family when she was about 14 months old and remained in Italy until her early twenties. She then returned to Italy to marry my father and they both came to the United States to start their American Dream.
You are the Chairwoman of the Italian Welfare League. Please tell us the story of this wonderful institution, which this year is exactly 100 years old.
The Italian Welfare League began in 1920 assisting Italian immigrants arriving in New York. By the late 1920’s, the Italian Welfare League opened a desk on Ellis Island and held a unique position on Ellis Island - it had become the only aid society exclusively assisting Italians at Ellis Island. The League helped Italians in trouble, particularly detained aliens and immigrants who were being held under warrant of deportation. The Italian welfare League maintained a desk at Ellis Island until the day it closed November 12th 1955 - 66 years ago.
While I was the President of the League, I was researching our history for our 90th Anniversary, and I learned that that a woman, Mrs. Angela M. Carlozzi Rossi, was the executive secretary of the organization from 1934 to 1954 (she retired from the League in 1973). She is not related to me, but you can imagine my surprise to discover this connection when we celebrated our 90th Anniversary at Ellis Island. I met the Historian at Ellis Island, Barry Moreno and when he heard my name, he asked me if I was related to Angela Carlozzi Rossi? I had no idea who she was! I think of her very often and I would love to find her relatives because she was such a driving force of the organization. Barry Moreno wrote the League’s History which is on our website.
During our 100 year history the League has gone from helping Italian immigrants arriving on our shores to find jobs and housing to our present mission of helping special needs children of Italian descent whom we call, “I Nostri Bambini”, initiated after the tragic events of September 11, 2001. The League has raised and distributed more than $2,000,000 to over 2000 recipients.
In times of crisis, the League has always responded to the needs of the Italian community - as it had helped the orphans of World War II, we have supported relief efforts after Superstorm Sandy and provided funds for those impacted by earthquakes that ravaged Italy.
Is there something typically Italian in the passion with which the Italian Welfare League has been helping those who need it most for 100 years?
This is an interesting question. Our Board of Directors is made up of a diverse group of Italian American women, from different professional backgrounds and we have a diverse age range. I think what we share in common is our drive to get the job done! We are all perfectionists in our own ways and you can imagine our board meeting discussions … especially on Zoom!!!
We are all very passionate women with very strong opinions but in the end, the bambini have captured our collective hearts and that is what drives us!
What is the impact the pandemic has had on your initiatives and those you help each year?
As you can imagine, we could not gather this year to celebrate our cent’anni! It was truly heartbreaking but we were able to hold a virtual fundraiser and we are so grateful for the support of our community. Our budget this year has been cut by about 40-50% but thanks to the generosity of some of our sponsors, we were able to contribute to individual children as well as provide grants to 11 organizations we normally contribute to. In addition, this year we were able to distribute gift cards for groceries and necessities to many families who were impacted by COVID-19. The gift card program began at the onset of the pandemic. Like Italy, New York was devasted early on with the number of COVID-19 cases.
I am afraid that the economic crisis due to the covid-19 will mean that there will be need of your generosity even more, once we are out of the pandemic ... am I wrong?
Yes, you are 100% correct. The needs for these families will only increase because of the pandemic. Often times, these families have only one parent working because the other parent is caring for the child’s special needs. When the working parent suffers a job loss, it can be devastating. In some cases, there is only one parent so you can imagine how difficult it is under normal circumstances to make ends meet. When you have a child with special needs, everything is multiplied exponentially. Medical care is very expensive and often times, insurance does not cover all the medical needs and that is where the Italian Welfare League can help. We are in the midst of the economic crisis here in the United States. It will take a long time to recover and for these families, it will take even longer. But we remain steadfast in our commitment to help these bambini.
I hope that this interview will convince our readers to help the Italian Welfare League. For those who want to do it, how can they help?
We would be so grateful for your readers to contribute to our organization. Any donation is truly appreciated. They can donate on our website www.italianwelfareleague.org. It is easy and secure.
I’m going to ask you something that I often ask the American people of Italian origin that I interview. While it is true that thanks to the Italian American community there are already many components of Italian culture in the United States, if you could transplant something Italian into America, what would it be? And vice versa?
I really had to think about this question. To Americans, I seem “very Italian” but to the Italians, I suspect, I seem very “American”.
Yet because I have family in Italy, I have a very strong bond to the country and the culture. I guess I would say Italians have “una gioia di vivere” that I wish I could bring to the United States. Perhaps, it is throughout Europe, but I see it in Italy- this sense of enjoying what life has to offer. In the United States, we sometimes become very obsessed with this idea of success and we work very hard, but we don’t enjoy our successes in the same way Italians do.
I am not sure I would transplant anything from America to Italy but maybe it would be simplifying how things are done. The legal system in Italy is very complicated. I worked with a labor attorney in Torino for a month- jurisprudence in Italy is very different than in the US. For example, it is very difficult for companies to set up operations in Italy as opposed to the US. I think we have automated a great deal more here in the US and we can do most things online which I don’t think you can do in Italy.
I guess that you can't wait for the day you’ll be able to travel again to visit Italy ... is there a place that you have never seen and that you absolutely want to visit?
I cannot wait to travel to Italy to see my family. Up until a few years ago, I would have told you I had never been to Capri but a few years ago when my cousin’s daughter was married in Campobasso, my family took my brother and me to Capri and I love it so I am looking forward to going back. At the moment, Sardegna and Ponza are two places I want to visit in Italy. Maybe the Italian Welfare League will organize a trip next year!!
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