President Biden and First Lady Dr Jill Biden at the NIAF Gala (Photo: Andy DelGiudice)

Another memorable Gala, another extraordinary night. 2023 marks the 48th edition of the National Italian American Foundation Anniversary Gala. And, like many in the past, the event announcement included a promising agenda, distinctive honorees, and an exciting celebration of the Emilia Romagna region. What unfolded was an event that left attendees in awe: just a few days prior, NIAF shared the news that the First Lady, Dr Jill Biden, would be in attendance on October 14th at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington DC. But there was more.

Being the first Italian American serving as First Lady, Dr Biden opened the evening with an emotional speech about her Italian roots and, right before the closing remarks, she made a surprise announcement and welcomed her husband, the President of the United States, to the podium too. 

The First Lady, Dr Jill Biden, speaking at the NIAF Gala (Photo: Andy DelGiudice)

L’Italo-Americano attended some of these forums, seminars, luncheons alongside NIAF members and supporters who traveled from all over the United States and Italy. Among all these events, the report presented by the Italian American Reputation Lab on stereotypes created over the years and their impact on Italian Americans was remarkable. This also included the analysis of how this narrative is now less prominent thanks to the contributions of the new diaspora. On the same note, LUISS University ran a panel on how to rethink this diaspora in order to identify policies, stakeholders, and interests that bring new and different synergies. 

At lunch time, the Ambassador Ballroom hosted Anita Bevacqua McBride, Former Chief of Staff to First Lady Laura Bush, with the presentation of a new book “U.S. First Ladies: Making History and Leaving Legacies”. Mrs McBride was in conversation with Michael LaRosa, former Press Secretary to Dr Jill Biden: the nation’s history has been shaped, among many things, by the role of America’s first ladies. As director of the American University’s Legacies of America’s First Ladies Initiative, Mrs McBride and her team organize seminars, conferences, and conversations with former First Ladies, among whom Michelle Obama, Jilla Biden, and Laura Bush. Those moments allow to highlight not only their positions, but also their accomplishments and influence throughout the years. 

The afternoon program ended with the documentary “Amedeo Peter Giannini – Bank to the Future”. Founder of Bank of Italy and as the son of Italian immigrants in San Francisco, A. P. Giannini supported the local community and low-income residents especially during historic economic crises, like the 1906 earthquakes, as well as infrastructures like the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marshall Plan.

The day went on with the Campari Aperitivo Reception, right before the official kick off of the Awards Gala, to celebrate Emilia Romagna region, the Italian Diaspora, and the 2023 honorees.

Ambassador Zappia was also present (Photo: Andy DelGiudice)

Just a few days prior, First Lady Dr Jill Biden had hosted a reception at the White House welcoming, among others, also a delegation of the NIAF Board Members. Walking on the podium, after all honorees took their seats, she addressed a room with around a thousand attendees: “I am so proud to be Italian American, and to celebrate that heritage together”, she said. “Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Ellis Island, to walk on the little piece of land where my great-grandparents first stepped onto the United States. As I walked into the same great hall they did, it was hard to not imagine how they must have felt, chasing the hope of this country’s unlimited promise”. Dr Jill Biden is descendent of Italians emigrated to the US from Sicily and her last name comes from Gaetano and Concetta Giacoppa, before their ancestors change it into Jacobs. “Even though their names changed, the values they brought across the Atlantic stayed the same: loyalty, generosity, kindness, faith”, she continued. And concluded with words of pride and recognition: “Think of how our ancestors would feel if they saw this room today. This is what they hoped to give us when they signed their names at Ellis Island – a future where we can work hard and reach for every possibility”. As she highlighted the efforts of his husband to follow that example set by many Italian migrants, President Joe Biden walked the stage, paying a surprise visit to the Gala and celebrating Italian Americans. “One of the great honors I got was the Sons of Italy award, given to the Man of the Year. I am the only non-Italian ever to get that award”, he started. “What Michelangelo did is the essence of what Italian Americans have done for this country and done for art and literature for their entire history. They just carve until they set it free,” he concluded.

President of Regione Emilia Romagna, Stefano Bonacccini (right) was also in attendance at the Gala (Photo: Andy DelGiudice)

As the chief of the White House and his wife exited the room, the night kept on going with more memorable remarks by Mr Carlucci, NIAF Board Chairman. Twenty-four hours before the Gala, Rober E. Carlucci had received the “Cavaliere della Repubblica” medal by Ambassador Zappia during a reception at Villa Firenze, alongside another NIAF Board Member, General Counsel Joseph D. Lonardo. Mr Carlucci talked to us on the red carpet and shared his pride and gratitude: “We are very excited for our annual Gala and we always have significant honorees, so we still do tonight. We will be honored with the presence of the First Lady, who is of Italian descent. At NIAF, we are unified, we love Italy. My father always told me Never forget where you come from. And I know my nonni were from Catanzaro, in Calabria. It’s an extremely unbelievable honor and I feel so proud of this recognition. I love to carry the name.”

Veronica Berti Bocelli, CEO of Almud Music Editions, speaks at the Gala (Photo: Andy DelGiudice)

As part of the night, also the announcement of the release in March 2024 of a movie that honors the life of Mother Cabrini. This is the story of Francesca Cabrini, an Italian American religious sister who founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and became the first U.S. citizen to be canonized a saint by the Catholic Church. Per the movie’s press release, Cabrini “fought the establishment and became the greatest social entrepreneur of the 19th century.” The actress who plays Cabrini, Cristiana Dell’Anna, was also in attendance, reminding everyone how Mother Cabrini’s willpower, courage, compassion and business skill allowed her to overcome sexism and violent anti-Italian bigotry.

Among the honorees, Stefano Domenicali, the President and CEO of Formula One since 2021. Mr Domenicali’s biography speaks for itself: born in Imola, he studied in Bologna and started his career in Maranello. Besides an international career at the top of one of the most important brands in the world, Emilia Romagna has always been his home: his career started at Ferrari, before he moved to Lamborghini and ultimately to Formula 1, where he serves as also co-chairman of the F1 Commission and Member of the WMSC FIA. 

Gerry Cardinale, Founder and Managing Partner of RedBird Capital Partners. He was given the Leonardo da Vinci Award in Finance. In his speech, he touched upon the work he has done so far as the owner of Milan: “There’s an old saying that you’re only as good as the people you have around you – or as our friend and former AC Milan player Zlatan Ibrahimovic said recently, ‘the individual comes with the collective, and if the collective does good, then the individual will do good’, he said.

Neil Giraldo, Musician and Songwriter, also got emotional when he remembered his parents,  Anthony and Angela, coming from Sicily. On different occasions, Giraldo recalls his first live performances as playing Italian songs after church for family and friends, alongside his sister Priscilla, who played the accordion.

Veronica Berti Bocelli, Ceo CEO of the Andrea Bocelli Management Office and Vice-Chair of the Andrea Bocelli Foundation, attended the Gala, alongside Sara Farnetti, Medical Doctor and Scientist who graduated with honors in Medicine and Surgery from the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome. Recognizing the intricate interplay of nutrition and health, she specialized in Internal Medicine with top honors at the same prestigious institution. 

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