(Photos by Terry W. Sanders) On Thursday, May 5th the National Organization of Italian American Women’s Annual Luncheon was held at the Tribeca Rooftop + 360° in Manhattan. The theme this year was “Intermission is over, welcome to the next act”, which perfectly coined the inspiring and joyful celebration, following the cancellation of its usual in-person gathering due to the Covid pandemic. And what a next act it was. The honored guests were none other than what was affectionately referred to throughout the event as the “the trinity”: Patti LuPone, Tony, Olivier and Grammy Award winning actress and singer; Gina Argento, President and CEO of Broadway Stages Ltd.; and Angelina Fiordellisi, producer, actor, and Founder and Executive Director of the Cherry Lane Theatre.
The event was opened by Dr. Donna Chirico, Professor of Psychology at CUNY York College, as well as Secretary of NOIAW’s National Board of Directors, in a wonderfully jovial tone.
Following an astounding rendition of the national anthems of both Italy and the United States by Eugenia Copland, Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello, Pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel – Annunciation parish, led guests in prayer recognizing the hard work of Italian immigrants in the US that preserved their heritage, and asking for peace, especially in Ukraine.
Among the honored guests, was the Consul General of Italy in New York, Fabrizio Di Michele , who was the first to speak: “Last year, I remember that I took part in my first celebration of NOIAW online, and I said in concluding my remarks, ‘I really look forward very much to meeting in person next year.’ It’s happening.” He then went on to remark on the origin and the development of the organization over its past 42 years, not only in New York, but across the United States, recognizing that from its inception, it has remained unique, as it is the only national organization of Italian American Women: “Every time that I meet with the Italian American community, I hear repetitively about ‘the hard work that we’ve been through to get where we are.’ Now, we do have to recognize that Italian American women have had to work twice as much as their husbands to be where they are today, and we have to acknowledge this. The purpose of this organization, to me, was and remains, very important, which is to claim the rightful place of Italian American women, not only within the Italian American community, but within the American society. But let me also add: your role is a bridge towards Italy, and Italian women, be it here, in New York, in the tri-state or in Italy. So, I have already acknowledged in the past the important role of the bridge between Italy and the United States. I cannot but praise all the organization does in supporting the development, the education of many Italian American women, the scholarships and mentoring programs and cultural initiatives.”
The Consul General Di Michele then introduced, Massimo Garavaglia, the Italian Minister of Tourism, who had this to say: “I represent the commitment to unite and connect women with the Italian culture to educate, inspire and empower youth. The Italian culture and language in the United States is essential for bringing our countries closer and closer every day. It’s now time to restart tourism. The Ministry of Tourism is offering new tools and opportunities for tourists to enjoy and diversify and personalize their experiences. We want tourists to discover places well known […] but also villages, rural and mountain areas. Italy is now, more than ever, committed to welcome you back you home.”
In an effervescent tone and commanding presence, Patti LuPone, award-winning actress and singer, took the podium to accept her NOIAW award, stating, “I’ve been very fortunate in my life and in my career to be recognized for my work, but this is the first time I’ve been honored for my blood line. When I think about it, my Italian ancestry has formed not only my ability to sometimes navigate at times treacherous waters of show business, but also all of the characters I’ve played. I’ve always felt that being Italian as having access to my emotional life is the reason my profession chose me, rather than the other way around. And even though I haven’t played many – or actually any Italian women–all roles I have played by dint of me playing them have been just that, unmistakably just that. Evita was Argentinian, but she was Italian, Fantine in Les Miserables, was French, but she was Italian, Maria Callas was Greek, but she was Italian. I’ve been lucky to have been able to take all the volatility and passion that is in my blood and channel it into my work.”
Upon accepting her award, Gina Argento, President and CEO of Broadway Stages Ltd., reminded the audience about the influence that Italian Americans have, and continue to have, in the arts, and the meaning behind family owned businesses connecting heritage and community: “As Italian American women, we all share similar traits; extremely passionate, caring and family oriented. You know what you want and you go after it. I am passionate about my community and the environment, making a lasting impact for future generations. I am privileged to not only be Italian American, but also to be a part of New York’s thriving film and television industry. As a family-owned and operated business founded almost 40 years ago, we understand the role we play in representing our heritage. From the start, our business philosophy has been based on principle, tradition and community focus; characteristics that are common with our Italian heritage. We feel a sincere responsibility to not only meet the needs of our clients and industry, but also to help bring equity, inclusion and well-being to places in which we live and work.”
The final award recipient, Angelina Fiordellisi, presented by close friend and best-selling author Adriana Trigiani, began her acceptance speech by taking a moment to take in the “collective part, mind, and spirit” of the room and thanking the founders for creating NOIAW, now in its 42nd year of existence, continuously “dispelling the insidious stereotypes of Italian Americans.” Ms. Fiordellisi fondly remembered her Italian ancestors, and remarking that her greatest privilege is to serve the theatre community. Acknowledging the “fierce women of her tribe”, her closest friends and collaborators in theater, among them Joyce DeNicola Friedman, Carolyn Rossi Copeland, Pamela Perelli, Laura Caparotti, the founder and executive director of the Cherry Lane Theatre took an important moment to “acknowledge the fierce, fabulous, talented, beautiful, soulful hard-working, brilliant humanitarian young women” in her tribe that give her “great hope for our future.” – a nod to the future generations of Italian American women.
Towards the end of the luncheon, seven scholarships were presented to emerging Italian American women who are blazing their own trails within the community. Between dessert and raffle tickets to raise money for the organization, excitement, joy and an overall great positivity filled the room – a renewed and contagious enthusiasm.