By New Hampshire State Senator Lou D’Allesandro, reprinted from the New Hampshire Union Leader.
AS an Italian American, I look back at our U.S. history and see how much those of Italian descent have done for this country.
The list of Italian-Americans who have changed the course of this country, in big and small ways, is endless. From the well-known names of Frank Sinatra, Antonin Scalia and Joe DiMaggio to lesser-known figures like Lee Iacocca and Geraldine Ferraro, Italian Americans have been at the forefront of industry, science, and politics in many ways. The leadership of these individuals and of many other Italian Americans across our country and throughout time is something that should be honored — as we should strive to do for all sectors of our culture. Regrettably though, all too often, that is not the case.
I think of my upbringing in Boston, Massachusetts, in an Italian neighborhood surrounded by relatives and friends, many of whom came from the same towns in Italy as my grandparents. My grandfather passed away at an early age, and my father became the head of the family. Many young Italian boys I knew found their direction in life by initially turning towards boxing or through some other kind of athletics. My father was at the forefront of this and was always involved in public service. He looked to help these young men find their path in life by founding the East Boston Athletic Club. This club provided scholarships to countless young men regardless of their heritage or background, unquestionably changing the course of their lives all while they faced societal challenges.
The discrimination against Italian Americans manifested in the United States well over one hundred years ago when Italian Americans in New Orleans were accused of a violent killing, put in jail, and then unceremoniously hung in the street. No one was ever accused of these murders, let alone held accountable for this horrific act of violence.
My young life was riddled with taunts by others insinuating that Italians weren’t accepted in certain areas and should seek their own neighborhoods.
Italian Americans were not considered to be equal citizens by many. When I came to New Hampshire and enrolled at the University of New Hampshire, I did have an unusual name. Many had difficulty pronouncing it, but I was accepted as a part of the community, which regrettably is not the reality for many minority groups even today. After graduating, I decided to seek public office in order to serve those in need, as many previous Italian Americans had done in their communities. I worked hard to overcome the fact that my name was very different from other candidates and was elected to serve on the Executive Council. Inspired by my own father and other great Italian American figures, I’ve always remained fiercely committed to public service and leadership throughout my life. As I sit here in my office in the New Hampshire Senate, I reflect back on my decades of service and the gravity of my role as Dean of the Senate. The mantle of being the Dean is one I do not wear lightly, and it pushes me to fight every day for decency among my colleagues and for solutions to the very real problems Granite Staters face.
With all of this in mind, I believe that honoring Italian Americans who have done so much for this country in the fields of science, public service, and many other aspects of American life is essential. Italians have done their share to foster the American dream. I am extremely proud of what Italian Americans have achieved and will continue to contribute to this country. We must take the time and space to honor Italian Americans who continue, to this day, to be a part of the great tapestry of our nation.
Italians are so much more than a stereotype; we are leaders, helpers, healers, and defenders of American life and that is why today I am honoring all Italian Americans who have come before me and all those still yet to come.
Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, represents Senate District 20.