Italian American Activist Joe Grano Raises Question Of Who Is To Speak For The Italian American Community?

At the Fall Conference of Presidents of national Italian American Organizations, held in Washington, D.C., Joe Grano, an Italian American activist and Chair of the Constatino Brumidi Society raised the question of:  WHO IS TO SPEAK FOR THE ITALIAN AMERICAN COMMUNITY IN THE FUTURE? 

1. There will be no presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal to Brumidi in the Rotunda, this year.

2. There will be no resolution in Congress recognizing the 150th anniversary of Italian

    unity, this year.

3. Lessons to be learned: The Italian American community must show a united front led by the Conference.

4. Action to be taken by Joseph Grano regarding the above two issues:

Demonstration at  Capitol on Nov. 16.

Brumidi Ceremony: Despite persistent efforts, all this year, of the co-chairs of the Italian American Congressional Delegation (IACD), (Reps. Bill Pascrell, Jr. and Patrick J. Tiberi), and also of efforts on my part since June, the Speaker’s office will not schedule a ceremony for Brumidi, even though Mr. Boehner’s office was inundated with calls and e-mails. Many organizations wrote the Speaker’s office, including the Conference of Presidents (CoP). I thank the many of you, who responded to my request to contact his office. Holding the event, this year, in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of Italian unity would have demonstrated to the world the unique relationship between Italy and the U.S. However, I believe that the attitude of the Speaker’s Office is that if this ceremony were truly important, it would have heard from Italian American organizations that have offices in Washington (NIAF and OSIA). Also, to make it worse, Speaker Boehner’s Office is simply being unfair in scheduling ceremonies. The Brumidi legislation was passed more than three years ago, but three groups have been moved ahead of Brumidi on the list to receive their Medals, even though their legislation was signed more than a year after Brumidi’s. A group of WW II vets will receive their Gold Medals on Nov. 2 and the three Apollo astronauts will receive their Medals on Nov. 16. The Speaker’s Office can and should schedule Brumidi’s ceremony for either Nov. 30 or Dec. 7.

Italy Anniversary Resolution in Congress: Italy will not be honored with a resolution recognizing the 150th anniversary of its unification, basically because the above co-chairs of the Italian American Congressional Delegation and NIAF convinced the Embassy of Italy that the proper way to go about this was to introduce bills in the House and Senate to award a Congressional Gold Medal to Garibaldi and in the same bills insert language recognizing the 150th anniversary of Italian Unity. (The bills were introduced on Feb. 16). Unfortunately, such bills need two-thirds of the House and Senate members to be co-sponsors. As of yesterday, the House bill has two co-sponsors and the Senate bill has one co-sponsor. I cannot believe that the co-chairs and NIAF thought these bills would ever pass. There are 34 members of the IACD and only four of them are on the two bills. I have spoken to staff-members of Reps. Pascrell and Tiberi and they have told me that this was the agreed upon strategy and it would not be possible to do something as simple as have a senator of Italian descent introduce a concurrent resolution in the Senate recognizing Italy, have it quickly passed and then sent to the House for its quick approval. Though the House has a ban on ceremonial resolutions, I believe that House GOP leaders would make an exception for a resolution on Italy. (This year, a senate resolution honoring Slovenia on its 20th anniversary passed the senate in two days).

Lessons to be learned: First: There will be no Brumidi ceremony because national I-A organizations in Washington did not forcefully advocate for one. The Speaker’s Office expected to hear from them, not me or the co-chairs of the IACD. We were all ignored. Second: In the case of Italian unification, I believe that NIAF backed a very bad strategy and did not consult with the wider Italian American community through the CoP. I believe the CoP would have suggested a more simple approach. If Slovenia was worthy of birthday resolution in the Senate, this year, so was Italy. At very least, we could have had a Senate resolution honoring Italy. Not having Congress recognize Italy this year will be seen as a profound demonstration of the political weakness of the Italian American community. But, rather than weakness, this is, in fact, a demonstration of the fecklessness of Italian American leadership. This is the true cause of the fiasco. My third point is that there is, in fact, is no such thing as an IACD. It is simply names on paper that have little reality. Indeed, NIAF claims that with associate members, this group is “comprised of nearly 200 Members of Congress.” This is a meaningless claim. The reality is that so-called members feel absolutely no duty to follow the leadership of the co-chairs. Most feel little or no obligation to co-sponsor resolutions or bills unless asked to by their constituents. Fourth: Initiatives sponsored by the co-chairs are usually in cooperation with NIAF, but seldom with others. I believe that the perception fostered by NIAF of it being the “voice of the Italian American community while working with the White House, United States Congress and other government agencies” is, simply, unhealthy and at variance to the real needs of the Italian American community. The process needs to be opened. (Quotes from NIAF Website).

In the future, I recommend that the CoP serve as the voice of the Italian American community while working with the United States Congress. Specifically, I recommend that theCoP develop an agenda with regard to what it wants the Congress to do regarding Italian American issues. It should write the co-chairs of the Italian American Delegation to Congress of its agenda and enlist the help of the two national I-A organizations with headquarters in WDC to carry-forth that agenda. In addition, The CoP should contact Members of Congress of Italian descent and ask that they work in concert with the co-chairs of the Delegation and support legislation they have introduced. The CoP should also come up with a list of I-A VIPs who live in each member’s District to make calls when needed.

Action to be taken by Joe Grano: I have received a permit from the U.S. Capitol Police to hold a demonstration in front of the Longworth HOB on Nov. 16 to protest lack of congressional action on the above two issues. (On Nov. 16 the three Apollo astronauts will receive their Gold Medals). With respect to this demonstration, it is my intention to inform the news media of the situation, herein, described. However, in the future, I will abstain from initiating contact with Members of Congress regarding any issue pertaining to the I-A community. I believe it best that the CoP should solely exercise its leadership in creating and advancing an Italian American agenda in Congress and not individuals or other national, statewide or local organizations. Thank you all for your past support.

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