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Be proud of your heritage group urges

America often is described as a melting pot of cultures. Dominic Di Frisco, senior consultant for Edelman and president emeritus of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, believes the nation should be more a mosaic, enabling individual cultures to honor the traditions of the past.

The JCCIA was founded on the principle that Italian Americans, and Americans from all backgrounds, should be able to preserve their heritage, while also pursuing the American Dream, without prejudice. The JCCIA hosts annual events such as the Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Humanitarian of the Year Award and the Columbus Day parade in October.

On May 17, the JCCIA will host its annual Dante Awards Luncheon, which recognizes a member of the media for journalistic integrity and leadership. This year’s honoree is Chicago Sun-Times columnist Stella Foster.

Cause & Event sat down with Di Frisco and Antonio Romanucci, current president of the JCCIA, to discuss the luncheon and the group’s preparation to host the Italian delegation during NATO.

Q: Dominic, you’ve been involved with the JCCIA for many years. Why was it originally created?

DD: The JCCIA was founded in 1951, after World War II, as a result of an anti-Italian stance that made it difficult for Italians to succeed in America. Labor leaders and business leaders in the Italian community came together to form the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans. In the ’70s there was a re-emergence of friction, as there was a new sensationalism around Italian Americans and organized crime.

Q: Do you think Hollywood played a part in creating these perceptions?

DD: Oh absolutely. “The Godfather,” for example, was an artistic movie, however, the word “Godfather,” which is a religious title and a responsibility in our culture, is now associated with “criminal.”

AR: Some of the things that Italian Americans value most – food, family – are easy to exaggerate on shows like “Mob Wives” and “Jersey Shore.” It is really just fiction.

Q: You’re honoring Stella Foster from our newsroom. What do you look for in your Dante Award honoree?

DD: We honor a journalist that we feel provides fair and unbiased coverage of not just the Italian community but of all communities. Stella is a dedicated journalist who is an advocate for our city’s many communities. She lends a wonderful voice to ethnic Chicago.

AR: Journalists like Stella, and the media in general, play a big role in what I call “cultural sustainability.”

Q: Cultural sustainability is a great term. Will you discuss this at the Dante Awards?

AR: Yes, this will be part of the program. Dominic is a great example – he is one of our cultural torch-bearers for Italian Americans. We hope that the guests leave the Dante Awards not only feeling our pride in our Italian culture, but also feeling pride in their own cultural background as well.

Q: What are your plans for the NATO summit?

AR: We are going to host about 300 people at Loyola University, catered by Phil Stefani’s restaurant group, and Kingston Mines is providing the music. Between hosting the delegates and putting on the Dante Awards, I’m feeling very proud of the committee.

The Sun-Times is a media sponsor of the event.