The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), the largest and most faithful representative of the over 20 million Italian American citizens living in the US, has celebrated its 42nd anniversary at the beginning of November with a weekend full of events, which ended in Washington with the NIAF Awards ceremony. To get to know the NIAF better, we have interviewed Patricia de Stacey Harrison, co-chairpeople of the Foundation.
Mrs. Harrison, how long have you been working with NIAF for?
I have been on the Board of NIAF since the 90”s in one role or another.
How do you feel, knowing that you are working at the highest level of an organization that represents 20 million American citizens with an Italian heritage?
I am surrounded by men and women who have achieved as so many levels in business, government, the private and public sectors. They are an inspiration and carry on the values instilled long ago by our parents, grandparents and great grandparents.
Nowadays, Italian-American citizens are no longer victims of discrimination and prejudices and, slowly but surely, we are moving away from the negative stereotypes. During your extraordinary career, has your Italian background represented an asset?
I have always felt that my Italian heritage has provided me with so much to draw upon. Our rich heritage is documented in art and music, books, politics—every area of life. I am also inspired by my parents and my grandfather who came from Salerno as a young boy of 15. He helped to guide me, many times giving me advice on how to respond to a challenge that was going to be in my future. Our Italian American heritage provides us with an appreciation for life, a commitment to achieve and contribute and a desire to make our families proud.
You have had a long career in communications, but an important chapter of your life was also dedicated to politics. How much of your political experience did you bring to NIAF, which has strong ties to the US Congress, the White House and some of the most important international institutions, including the European Union, as well as to the Embassies in Rome and in Washington?
NIAF is the premier Italian American organization based in our nation’s capitol and focused on promoting Italian culture and educational opportunities for young people. There are so many Italian Americans serving in Congress, the White House, as leaders of organizations and businesses, who interact with the Foundation. I was fortunate to be nominated for the position of Assistant Secretary of State by President Bush, and honored to serve under Secretary Colin Powell. Prior to that I ran for the office of Co Chairman of the Republican National Committee and served at the RNC for four years. In both cases, I was fortunate to work with men and women who wanted nothing more than to serve their country.
Every year, NIAF invests almost a million dollars in scholarships opportunities for young American students. Are you hoping to raise a new generation of Italian-American leaders?
We see this happening now as the young men and women we provide grants to talk about what their Italian heritage means to them, how they see this “inheritance of values” as preparing them, as the successor generation to succeed.
What are the goals that you hope NIAF will accomplish during your mandate?
Gabriel Battista and I serve as Chairs of NIAF and our goal is to sustain and grow this organization to strengthen ties between the United States and Italy, to promote Italian culture, to convene thought leader discussions that provide opportunities for Italian American writers and filmmakers, leaders from business and government, to connect to new generations, sharing their expertise, and to ensure Italian American youth reach their educational potential and contribute at the highest levels to our civil society.
by Francesca Macchia