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More February finds with an Italian connection:
Mario Cuomo, the former three-term Governor of New York, who left us last month on the first day of our New Year, personified the Italian American immigrants “American Dream” come true. Born in New York City in 1932, he was the fourth child of Andrea and Immacolata Cuomo.
His parents, penniless and unable to speak English, had come to the United States from the province of Salerno, south of Naples, in the Campania regione of Italy.
When Mario and his wife Matilda Raffo Cuomo visited Italy in 1993, they were warmly greeted and applauded everywhere they went, but Mario didn’t take it personally, he explained they were really clapping for themselves. Following are Mario Cuomo’s thoughts on the trip, as printed in the pages of L’Italo-Americano upon his return home:
“Matilda and I were fortunate to visit Italy recently as the guests of the Italian government. The trip was designed to build on our “Due Case, una Tradizione” agreement, and has produced some significant achievements, including agreements to collaborate on health research, promote educational and cultural ties, and expand tourism and trade.
New York is already a major trading partner of Italy. We account for 10 percent of all that the United States exports to Italy. We receive 40 percent of all Italian imports to the U.S. The two offices we’ve set up in Milan and Rome are sure to increase these investments.
In addition to our official duties, Matilda and I were afforded a wonderful personal experience, and I would like to share some of my thoughts on the trip.
Italy is a country of lavish history, culture, art and manners. We are quite literally bathed in all of it, and it is difficult not to feel generally soothed and improved by the experience.
Throughout the visit, I was struck by the beauty and power of the place: The view of Rome’s glorious antiquity from the terrace of our hotel room early one morning. The clean, crisp modern beauty of Milan, built alongside its ancient magnificence. The thousands of years of Italian history. The spectacular beauty and impact of its art. The self-assurance and dignity of its people, all of them- the mightiest in their splendid, palace-like homes; the stylish men and women on their way to work at a Rome bus stop; and the people of Nocera and Tramonti, where my parents are from, with the sun-creased faces and their rough, strong hands. All of them, cumulatively, had a tremendous impact on my emotions and my mind.
We visited by mother’s house, the bottom floor of which is dirt, with no running water and no electric lines. It was damaged by the terrible earthquake in 1980.
We visited the village where my father’s father was born in 1868 in mountains outside Salerno. Cuomos and Giordanos, my mother’s people, were in there parts for thousands of years.
A tremendous sense of reverence and belonging passes through your mind when you stand in front of your mother’s home or the church where your father’s family went and the family before them.
As productive as the trip was from an official standpoint, and as enjoyable as it was to Matilda and me, one of the most memorable and rewarding aspects was our reception from the Italian people, who overwhelmed us with their attention, affection and respect. Wherever we went, crowds sought to shake our hands and wish us well.
I have thought a lot about why we were so well-received throughout Italy and I’ve concluded that they saw in me someone who has achieved a measure of success and who has never denied his Italian heritage, and in fact, they were cheering themselves, a strong, proud people who have contributed so much to the world.
Mario Cuomo Governor, New York State
Mario recalled that although there wasn’t a lot of “palship” he had a happy childhood. His mother and father owned a grocery store that was never opened less than eighteen hours a day.
Mario’s’ father went to a dinner once in his life at the request of an Armour salesman. He never went to a ballgame. He never did anything but work for the kids. He recalled that “the day I got married they were still in the store. As a matter of fact, the Saturday morning of my wedding, my brother Frank and I stood in the store in our tails and waited on customers. We were there just for kicks. And the store was open during the wedding. We brought some people in to run it for a few hours. My father went back in the afternoon, but incidentally, I don’t ever remember meeting anyone from my family-and work-oriented neighborhood who needed a psychiatrist.”