Italian American Future Leaders 2: Rise of I Giovani

Jan 31, 2024 1302

BY: Jenna Peccia

Within the Italian-American community, there is an ever-present concern that younger generations simply aren’t interested in their Italian heritage, a sentiment echoed among the older generation like a haunting refrain. The question, “How do we engage the youth” has been asked time and again, but until now, no one ever cared to answer it.

Last January, the inaugural Italian American Future Leaders Conference (IAFL) was held in Florida, bringing together over a hundred young, passionate Italian-Americans. While their mere presence disproved the notion
that young people aren’t interested, it was their enthusiasm, ambition, and Italianità that ushered in a new era for Italian-Americans.

Italian American Future Leaders is a nonprofit organization dedicated to uniting Italian America by empowering its youth. The first was such a success that people were clamoring for the second one. Again, nearly 200 Italian youths from across the country gathered in Florida for IAFL2 last month. There were plenty of new attendees (fellows) eager to learn and share their passion; several alumni from the first year, ready to meet new people and take their seat at the table; and a handful of mentors, excited to pass on their wisdom and inspire the next generation of leaders. While the majority came from the Italian-heavy East Coast, youth from all over the country were in attendance. Dominic Ursetta was one of only two representatives from Colorado and he says the event exceeded expectations.

Born and raised in North Denver, Dominic grew up with a strong connection to his Italian heritage. “I was raised Italian-American by my father and surrounding family under the principles that if you work hard, you can achieve anything.” After hearing about IAFL2 on the Italian American Podcast, Dominic knew he wanted to apply. The chance to share his own experience as a Colorado Italian (with Calabrian roots) while collaborating with other Italian youths was too good an opportunity to pass up. Throughout the conference, Dominic was busy networking, making friends, and promoting Colorado’s Italian community. IAFL2 gave him plenty of goals for the future and he plans to return next year. He also encourages others to attend to learn new ways to grow our community.

IAFL is open to all “visionaries, disrupters, creators, and can-doers” between the ages of 21-35 who want to help unite and lead Italian America. Most expenses - hotel stays, meals, and entertainment - are paid thanks to the generosity of sponsors and grants obtained by Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations (COPOMIAO) President, Basil Russo, and IAFL Conference Chair and President, John Viola. Fellows need only pay for travel, which can be sponsored by a local Italian organization. The weekend begins with a welcome reception. On Saturday, attendees spend the day at Amerant Bank Arena to give a SWOT analysis on the greater Italian-American community and listen to presentations. One such presentation, entitled “Italian America in Brick and Mortar,” featured three women (including Colorado’s own Marianna Gatto) and their experience managing Italian museums/cultural centers. The evening ends with a pasta dinner and premium lounge seating for a Florida Panthers game! Sunday involves Mass offered by one of the mentors, Father Leo Camurati, O.P., a social media challenge, and more presentations. The conference ends with the famous Italian karaoke night, where you’ll see people waving il tricolore, shouting/singing the Italian national anthem, and dancing the Tarantella.

E quindi? The youth had a fun weekend–big deal. Actually, it is a big deal because the alumni who returned had great things to report. Salvatore Circosta and Dario Gagliano, for example, founded the Sons of Italy St. Padre Pio Lodge in Springfield, MA and had an excellent first year with a sold-out gala and the return of the Maria SS. dell’Assunta feast. Chiara Parisi and Cristina Carabetta submitted a letter to the federal government recommending a “European Mediterranean” minimum category when collecting racial/ethnic data since Italian-Americans don’t quite fit into the “White” category. Here in Colorado, we started the Mile High Paesani (a
social group for Italians aged 18-45) also thanks to last year’s IAFL. The paesani typically meet once a month for lowkey happy hours/dinners. A Colorado chapter of Filitalia International is also in the works. As anyone can plainly see, the youth are indeed passionate and they execute when given the opportunity.

E quindi? The youth still aren’t in charge of anything. Actually, yes they are. The IAFL organizers aren’t just talking the talk, they’re walking the walk. This year, alumni who attended the first IAFL were placed on committees: Finance & Budget, Selection, Government Relations, etc. Those present at IAFL2 met with their respective committees to discuss the next steps. Eventually, the torch will pass to alumni and they will be the ones responsible for the future of IAFL. Patrick Ross Campesi of Louisiana and Gianna Pileggi of Pennsylvania were elected Chair and Vice Chair respectively. As anyone can plainly see, the youth are ready and willing to lead.

All in all, it’s time for the broader Italian-American community to step up or be left behind. It’s time to follow in the footsteps of IAFL and give the youth a voice and a seat at the table–not only to use them for their strong backs and computer skills. Let them lead. In perhaps the most stirring speech of the conference, Mr. Basil Russo said, “Italian Americans never understood the concept of being one people. We need to find ways to collectively work together to identify who we are, to preserve who we are, and to celebrate who we are…and to make sure that our accomplishments, our history, our heritage, and our values are preserved.” Punto e basta

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