National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) records
The National Italian American Foundation collection consists of records and materials that describe the activity and growth of an ethnic organization created by a group of wealthy and powerful Italian Americans from both the private sector and public service. This material, spanning the formative years of 1975 - 1976 to 2002, covers the full mission of NIAF, which centers around making Italian American voices heard wherever they are lacking, but also contains material pertaining to public policy, anti-defamation, youth programs, scholarship programs, travel programs, inter-ethnic work, Columbus celebrations, US and Italy relations, and the role of Italians during the Holocaust. A considerable amount of documentation is in Italian, particularly after the establishment of Italy as a NIAF region. The collection measures ca. 56 linear ft. and is comprised of 129 boxes.
Collection consists of meeting minutes, financial records, organizational correspondence, NIAF publications and program development materials, publicity by and about the organization, materials documenting the activities of the regional offices of NIAF nationwide and photographs.
- Creation: 1976-2002
- National Italian American Foundation (Organization)
Language of Materials
Open for use in the Elmer L. Andersen Library reading room.
OWNERSHIP & LITERARY RIGHTS
This collection may be protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright ownership and to obtain all necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials. Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the copyright law.
For further information regarding the copyright, please contact the IHRCA.
In 1975, the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) was formed by a group of Italian Americans from various walks of life. From business to education, politics to labor, this coalition represented leaders in all of their professional fields and a wide range of talents needed to sustain a national ethnic organization that differed substantially from the norm of chapter-based fraternal organizations. Unlike this prevalent method of organization that generally tended to operate at the local level, NIAF instead chose to concentrate at the national level (centered in Washington, DC) to provide Italian Americans with a unified voice. Its mission was multifaceted, reflecting areas that NIAF founding members believed were important to many Italian Americans. Specifically, these goals included helping young Italian Americans with education and careers, working closely with Congress and the White House to promote the appointment of Italian Americans in government, encouraging the teaching of the Italian language and culture in schools, monitoring the portrayal of Italian Americans by the news and entertainment industries, and strengthening cultural and economic ties between Italy and the United States. All that remained was to develop funding from which to operate and achieve the aims of NIAF.
To raise the funds necessary to run the type of organization envisioned, the founders started with an established core group of financial supporters known as the Council of 1000. NIAF sought funds at all levels to assure a sustaining force for the foundation’s finances. Later, C-1000 members were given an advisory role that continues today as the Council of 2000, oftentimes participating in regional events. With its essential structure in place, NIAF held its first large event in, the “Bicentennial Tribute Dinner,” a night in honor of the twenty-nine Italian American members of Congress; it attracted more than 2,000 people from all over the country, a resounding success. Then President Gerald Ford and his Democratic opponent, Jimmy Carter, were both in attendance at this first NIAF event. Over the years, various celebrities from different walks of life, mostly of Italian origin, were honored at the annual Washington NIAF Gala. This would later expand to regional dinners in major cities as well. Special recognition highlighted their achievements in areas such as heritage, sports, entertainment, business, the arts, humanitarian work, or public/government service. Antonin Scalia, Frank Sinatra, Giovanni Agnelli, Barbara Bush, Matilda Raffa Cuomo, Nicholas Cage, Yogi Berra, to name but a few, have been given a particular accolade in recognition of an exemplary reflection of values and the models they have advanced for future generations to follow. Aside from the awards program, the NIAF Gala has also played host to every sitting US president since its inception in 1976.
The early years in NIAF’s brief history were spent cultivating a vast network of Italian American outreach. Due to the efforts and prominent standing of early leaders like Founding Chairman Jeno Paulucci, its first president Monsignor Geno Baroni, Congressman Frank Annunzio, and executive director Joseph Ventura (a former staff director for Congressman Frank Annunzio of Illinois, responsible for the close relationship between NIAF and the Italian American Congressional Delegation), connections in the Italian American community were solidified, and a base upon which to build was established. The result was rapid expansion from a biennial dinner to an annual dinner and early anti-defamation activity into the arena of historical and cultural education, which would become a mainstay program in the years to follow. Conferences were held on various themes, often combining professional disciplines such as jurisprudence and ethics, ethnic politics, and the role of Italians in the rescue and protection of some 80% of the Jews in areas occupied by Italian forces, and in Italy itself, during the Holocaust. The underwriting of Una Storia Segreta: When Italian Americans were ‘Enemy Aliens’, an historical exhibit documenting the internment, exclusion, and restrictions placed on naturalized Italian citizens and Italian Americans during World War II, was particularly successful in helping to bring about Public Law 106-451, the Wartime Violation of Italian American Civil Liberties Act, signed into law by President William J. Clinton on November 7, 2000. Scholarship opportunities also complemented the already full education agenda, and by 1997, NIAF was awarding $500,000 in scholarships and grants. The NIAF grant program, though more recent than scholarships in its implementation, was viewed as no less important a means for preserving Italian American culture. Through its Italian Language Study Grants and its Culture and Heritage Grant Awards, NIAF lends financial strength to private or public schools, community organizations, nonprofit organizations, and individual scholars. Other grants in the program help sustain research projects aimed at documenting and developing new information pertaining to social, cultural, and economic changes in the Italian American community.
Projects supported by NIAF grants include: Italian American Cycle Play Project, a series of ten plays representing the Italian American experience of the 20th century; Sacco and Vanzetti, a documentary film about the lives and cause of two Italian immigrants who were executed in 1927 following a highly controversial Massachusetts trial; Italian Los Angeles, a multimedia online resource and database about the Italian community of the greater Los Angeles area; and Italianissimo, a cultural workshop day for students studying Italian in grades 7 through 12 in Central New York. Within the sphere of educational concerns and issues, NIAF has always made the progress and success of Italian American youth an important goal, and the programs offered since its inception still reflect this intent. In particular, heritage and culture programs are aimed at preserving an appreciation of tradition while preparing young people for the rigors of the competitive, modern job market. In 1991, NIAF executed with Italy a series of agreements aimed at closer relations through student exchange, thereby benefiting not only youth, but international relations as well. Beyond youth programs, NIAF strove to tighten the relationship between Italy and the United States. By involving itself in bi-national relations through an International Advisory Board, the enactment of various international conferences, and its reaching into Italy (thereby creating the eighth NIAF region), the Foundation continues to emphasize the strengthening of bonds between the two countries and fosters greater overall respect for Italy as a geopolitical and economic player on the world stage. Within the context of bettering the image of Italians and Italian Americans, the issue of ethnicity in America continues to reappear as a major NIAF imperative.
In 1987, the foundation held its “Conference on Ethnicity in 2000,” an open-ended discussion of the role that ethnicity would play in the future of the United States. This conference also served as a way to unify the disparate voices of ethnic organizations, and it facilitated a multilateral reaction to any defamatory and/or discriminatory campaigns or actions against any and all races and ethnicities. This yearning for unity of voice directly influenced the establishment and activities of the Geno Baroni Inter-Ethnic Institute. In the mid to late 80s, NIAF developed specific “institutes” to manage activity within the foundation of its major programmatic parts. These institutes represented the objectives set forth in the mission statement of NIAF at its birth. While the institutes approach has since been abolished, the program thrust of each remains largely intact. The Media Institute, the anti-defamation arm of NIAF and oldest of the institutes (est. 1984), dealt with exhibiting positive images of Italian Americans and confronting negative depictions through letter campaigns and direct contact. A Media Newsletter was also printed to alert NIAF supporters to slurs against Italian Americans or to inform the readership of new, positive representations of Italians and Italian Americans. Advocating the appointment of qualified Italian Americans to positions in government, be they cabinet, sub-cabinet or staff, was handled by the Public Policy Institute; the concerns of the Public Policy Institute also included immigration policy and current legislation affecting Italian Americans. In 1999, the Inter-Ethnic Institute tackled the question of affirmative action and was involved with then President Bill Clinton’s “One America” race initiative. This served as a medium for wider networking by expanding the foundation’s list of contacts, thereby enriching its supporters. Since younger Italian Americans were, and continue to be, an integral NIAF focus, the evolution of the Youth Institute was a natural step. Through a variety of programs, including cultural retreats, academic scholarships, and a youth newsletter, the Youth Institute sought to assist in creating career opportunities and in increasing heritage appreciation in the present and future generations of young Italian Americans. The Italian Language and Culture Institute was exactly what its name implies: an Institute interested in retaining Italian cultural traditions/heritage and bringing the Italian language to classrooms, both at the university level and below, throughout the United States. Several other institutes existed before the eventual abolition of the Institutes in 2002, such as the Family Institute, the Labor and Management Institute, and the Professional Institute.
In recognition of expanding professional interest of NIAF supporters, a Medical Council (Italian American doctors), Wall Street Council (Italian Americans in the financial community), and Business Council (Italian American corporate executives) were formed in the 1980s and 1990s. Most recently, NIAF established the Institute for International Law to address the unique interests of Italian Americans in the legal profession. This institute commenced its efforts with a conference at Harvard Law School in 2004 attended by United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. It was followed by a NIAF international legal conference in Rome in 2005. In keeping with many of the other imperatives of the foundation, specifically education and exposure to Italian culture, publications have played an important role in NIAF for most of its history. Ambassador Magazine, a quarterly periodical established in 1985, is the major publication of the Foundation and caters to the interests of NIAF’s members through stories on US/Italy business, travel, fashion, food/wine, and feature stories. The foundation also promotes literature and historical studies written by Italian Americans, such as Gay Talese’s Unto the Sons and Salvatore LaGumina’s Milestones of the Italian American Experience. NIAF has involved itself in the editing process and promotion of publishing as well. Beyond the Godfather: Italian American Writers on the Real Italian American Experience, a collection of essays by Italian American authors, was co-edited by Dr. A. Kenneth Ciongoli, the vice chairman of NIAF, and Jay Parini, a professor of English at Middlebury College in Vermont. The foundation’s Washington Newsletter is another publication that was designed to keep members at all levels of support abreast of issues of concern to Italian Americans, such as anti-defamation campaigns, and to inform the membership of the foundation’s recent doings and future plans. It was recently replaced by the NIAF News. Special projects overseen by NIAF have contributed significantly to its success. Columbus Day celebrations, particularly those of the 1992 Quincentennial, rank among the most important of the foundation’s special endeavors.
From 1987 until 1992, NIAF became involved with the committee created by Congress to plan and coordinate the 500th Anniversary, the Christopher Columbus Quincentenary Jubilee Commission, as well as to coordinate celebrations with Italy and Spain. An earlier very successful special project was achieved in organizing and promoting a tour of the Banda dell’Arma dei Carabinieri in October of 1985. Performances in New York City, Providence, RI, and Washington, DC, all met with great success, thereby strengthening the bond between NIAF and Italy. In its nearly three decades of existence, the National Italian American Foundation has become an important part of Italian America, and its future seems limitless as it continues to expand its programs, always in the directions set out by its founding members. Programs like Students to Leaders, Graduates to Leaders, and the Gift of Discovery ensure the future of Italian American youth by combining ethnic appreciation and business acumen. The Teacher of the Year award honors a teacher of Italian language and culture in classrooms and asserts the importance of educating the young. Language and heritage programs continue to grow with the addition of Italian 4US, an online set of courses to learn the Italian language. Lago del Bosco, an Italian language immersion camp (part of the Concordia College language camp complex in northern Minnesota) partially supported by NIAF, also promotes the language and culture, while Italian Heritage Month has fostered observances in cities across the nation, including tours of Italian neighborhoods and free Italian language classes. By offering programs that support the nation’s Italian American youth through education and through its efforts to preserve the culture and traditions of Italian Americans, NIAF has become an international liaison between Italian Americans and the land of their ancestors, a voice of defense for those of Italian descent, and an organization willing to share its rich heritage with people of all ethnicities.
Autobiographical sketch by Frank Guarini
Chairman’s Message: The Records of the National Italian American Foundation should be a source of great satisfaction to all those anxious for the preservation of the record of the Italian patrimony in America. The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), is celebrating thirty years of service as an advocacy organization for the Italian American community. NIAF affords a united voice in the nation’s capital, and beyond, for the millions of Americans who trace their roots to Italy, as well as those who simply love what our history and culture gave and continues to give to the world.
I have been honored to serve twelve years as both president and chairman of this very special organization. During the course of my tenure, NIAF established many new programs to better fulfill its mission. Acting on well-thought-out and encompassing recommendations, NIAF distinguishes itself by continually updating its priorities to parallel the changing needs of our people, yet always concentrating on cultural imperatives and core values that, over the long term, best present and serve not only the Italian American community but the commonweal. Scholar-ships continue to be an important part of our focus, as are programs to address the unique interests and educational needs of those Italian Americans who are in the early stages of a career. We have increased funding for Italian language programs; we work closely with Congress and the White House to promote an Italian American presence in our national government; we monitor the portrayal of Italian Americans by the news media and the entertainment industry; we strengthen cultural and economic ties between Italy and the United States; and we have instituted procedures to ensure that NIAF operates as an efficient and well-organized foundation in carrying on all of this important work. While we can be proud of the progress we have made and look ahead to ensure that NIAF continues to grow and meet the evolving needs of our community, we must, of course, preserve what it is we have already done, preserve all that has been accomplished. With the opening of the NIAF Archives, we now embark on bringing this record of past performance into a place of preservation for future use. Because of its particularity, the NIAF Archives gives a rich and rewarding dimension to the Center’s already unparalleled Italian American collection—the largest of its kind under any one roof! The good will, support, and helpfulness of a number of persons was required to bring this project—a joint undertaking of the NIAF and the IHRC—to a successful conclusion.
On the NIAF side, John Salamone, the dedicated NIAF national executive director, and Jerry Jones, his administrative assistant, were especially instrumental in locating records, creating an inventory, and facilitating their delivery to the IHRC. Singular praise must be assigned to our longtime board member Dominic R. Massaro, the New York jurist who serves as the NIAF’s historian. On behalf of those working toward a common goal, he has been both a tireless advocate of the preservation idea and constant in emphasizing the necessity of the NIAF dimension to widen and enhance the body of Italian American literature. At his initiative, as far back as 1999, the NIAF began interacting with the IHRC about safeguarding its most important asset, its documented history. The NIAF board fully agreed and approved an initial $25,000 budget for the project. The resulting fund of primary resource material catalogued in these pages is now available to be drawn upon for research in Italian American history. NIAF believes in its past as it believes in its future. Most of all, it believes in the capacity to learn from the past, that better judgments be made for creating a better future for all Americans. Frank J. Guarini, Chairman, The National Italian American Foundation
56 Linear Feet
Collection donated to the IHRC by the NIAF in 2003-2004. It was processed by Jonathan Openshaw and Lisa Stretz, working with Daniel Necas in 2004-2005, Judith Rosenblatt proofread the finding aid. The project, sponsored largely by a grant from the National Italian American Foundation, was directed by Joel Wurl.
Dominic R. Massaro papers
Historical note by Rudolph J. Vecoli
Excuse me if I am somewhat autobiographical. As a professor emeritus, I may be entitled to a few reflections that help place the National Italian American Foundation and this guide in historical perspective. A half century ago when I began to study and write about the Italian American experience, I felt that I was writing an obituary. In the 1950s, there was little sign of life in the Italian American “community,” if we can call it that. The “Little Italies” of American cities were being bulldozed for freeways and public housing. With the destruction of physical structures, the social fabric of neighborhoods was being torn to shreds. It seemed, in fact, that surviving Italian immigrants and their growing number of descendants were about to be ground up in the Great American sausage-making machine to be turned into hot dogs, not salsiccia.
Out of the traumas and tragedies of the 1960s, however, emerged a new vision of America. Not of a homogenized society and culture, but of a pluralistic country that not only tolerated but embraced diversity. We have been engaged in the past half century in trying to define, shape, realize this vision. By its nature, a society that values difference rather than uniformity is untidy, contentious, nonconformist. But consider the alternative, the living dead of a Nazi Germany or a Stalinist Russia. Along with others, Italian Americans felt the exhilaration of liberation, of coming out of the closet, wearing red, white, and green, flaunting their tomato stains and garlic-laced breath, reviving the feste of hometown saints, learning how to dance the tarantella, retrieving nonna’s recipes, breaking out of the tourist itinerary (Rome, Florence, Venice) to visit their ancestral paesi in Calabria or Piemonte, discovering long-lost cugini and the fascination of family histories. In short, Italian Americans, like others, were discovering and affirming who they were, where they had come from, and how they had gotten here. Long silenced by class and cultural prejudices, Italian Americans discovered their voices, bursting with stories to tell, songs to sing, dramas to be enacted. Italian names (no longer a need to anglicize them) increasingly adorned culture, high and pop. Literature, music, film, theater, the arts, all became media for new generations of Italian Americans to articulate their experiences.
The Godfather, book and film, like it or not, was THE artistic achievement of the late 20th century. Italian Americans also broke through the Anglo walls of academe, making their mark in the professoriat. Scholars studied “the Italian American experience,” wrote hundreds of books about it, taught courses about it, and established programs in Italian American studies. The Italian-language press, after a long history, was moribund. Now hundreds of magazines, journals, newsletters, devoted to Italian American issues but published in English, served to link the scattered former denizens of Little Italies. These unleashed energies and enthusiasms revived Italian American community life. Old organizations with updated missions took on second lives, while new ones reflecting the changing socio-economic and educational status of Italian Americans emerged. In place of the societa di mutuo soccorso composed of paesani, associations were based on a loosely defined Italian American-ness and addressed wide-ranging agendas, professional, cultural, business, political, etc. Rather than isolating them in ethnic ghettos, special interest groups utilized these associations as a means of integrating themselves within the larger institutional structures of America.
In the 1960s, Italian names were still rare in the lists of American elites. Whether business, governmental, military, scientific, or educational, relatively few Italian Americans had broken into the ranks of the rich and powerful. Twenty years later, when Lee Iacocca was acclaimed as the beau ideal of the corporate leader, he was not unique. In every field of endeavor, names ending in vowels were commonplace among leading figures. What had happened? In the immigrant generation, Generoso Pope (and a few others) were exceptional in their success. World War II, and especially the GI Bill, opened new opportunities for those of the second generation. However, spectacular upward mobility was still inhibited by limited education and Anglo monopoly in the corridors of power. But the groundwork was laid by the emergence of a broad middle class among Italian Americans who aspired to university educations for their children. It was the latter who would emerge in the 1970s and ‘80s as the “high achievers.” According to one assimilationist model, upward mobility would facilitate rapid and total Americanization.
However, to the contrary, many second and third generation Italian Americans who sat in the board rooms and belonged to exclusive country clubs still clung to their ethnicity. Jeno Paulucci, the founder of the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), did not forget his roots as he acquired a fortune. He remembered growing up on Minnesota’s Iron Range, when his father worked in the mines and his mother ran a boarding house. He also remembered how, as an up-and-coming entrepreneur, he was snubbed by Duluth “old money.” Others may have had similar experiences. But the myth that ethnic identity is strongest among blue-collar workers and weakens as one climbs the ladder of success ignores the reality that “group identity” is built into the very structure of American society. One acquires customers, clients, patients, political influence, etc., through ethnic ties. The formation of NIAF in 1975 was the logical consequence of the emergence of an Italian American elite. In part their affiliation may have been due to a continuing sense of exclusion, but more likely it was a desire to associate with others who shared both class and ethnic interests and who would constitute a network for mutual support and advancement.
NIAF thus provided a vehicle for ambitious, successful men and women to attain the social recognition they desired and also to wield power at the highest levels of government and business. The establishment of NIAF offices in Washington, DC, expressed this motive to bring to bear their collective weight upon the policies and personnel of the federal establishment. In addition to advancing Italian Americans to high office and influencing US policies with respect to Italy and related matters, the presence of NIAF sent the message “The Italian Americans are in town, and don’t forget it.” The ritual attendance of American Presidents from Gerald Ford on at the annual NIAF gala dinners was a symbolic acknowledge of “Italian Power.” NIAF, by conscious design, is a “top down” organization that makes no pretense to a grassroots constituency. Its policies and programs, therefore, are defined by the point-of-view and interests of powerful and rich Italian Americans. The degree to which these policies and programs reflect the aspirations and needs of middle- and working-class Americans is a question for historians to answer. As the inventory to the NIAF archives deposited at the Immigration History Research Center indicates, those scholars will have extensive and rich sources for their studies of this institution and its role in the history of Italian Americans. Rudolph J. Vecoli, Director Emeritus, IHRC
- Inventory of the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) records.
- IHRC Archives
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Finding Aid in English