Thank you, John. You, Robert, and the entire NIAF leadership team do so much to keep our heritage alive.
Thank you for supporting extraordinary Italian Americans, like these five incredible honorees, and inspiring the next generation of leaders.
And the crowd that’s here is a testament to the power of that work, and shows us how high this community can rise, from Congress and the Supreme Court to businesses and non-profits.
And how wonderful is it to have the Italian Airforce Band with us tonight?
I’m so proud to be Italian American, and to celebrate that heritage together.
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Ellis Island, to walk on the little piece of land where my great-grandparents first stepped onto the United States, where they took the first strides into their new lives, far from everything, and everyone, they had ever known.
As I walked into the same great hall they did, with a soaring arched ceiling and half-moon windows that let the sunlight stream in, shining off the red brick floor—it was hard to not imagine how they must have felt, chasing the hope of this country’s unlimited promise.
I had known that my family had passed through the island, but I was surprised to find their records there—the story they left behind in black and white, a story that has gone on to become a part of our family’s mythology.
And in the loops and swirls of their handwriting, I watched as their ages shifted and reformed, dates adjusting to fit the story they wanted to tell, as they signed their names to begin a new life—names that eventually transformed from Gaetano and Conchetta Giacoppa to Gaetano and Conchetta Jacobs.
And even though their names changed, the values they brought across the Atlantic stayed the same: Loyalty. Generosity. Kindness. Faith.
I brought those values with me to the White House. And it is my absolute honor to serve as the first Italian American First Lady.
Our ancestors’ values live on in each of us—they breathe—they beat inside of us.
In every artist and dreamer who pushes us beyond the limits of our imaginations, in every advocate and lawyer fighting injustice, in every business owner who welcomes customers in with the warmth of home, in the children and grandchildren and great grandchildren who put their shoulders back and find their courage, even when they’re most afraid.
And we kept those values alive even as Sicilians were dragged from their cells and killed in New Orleans by an angry mob, even as signs went up that said “Italians need not apply,” even in families like mine, where my dad was never quite accepted by my mom’s family because he was Italian.
My husband, President Biden, is working to build on what this community has accomplished—and help us, and all communities, keep reaching for that bright future our ancestors were searching for. That’s why he’s growing our economy from the middle out and the bottom up—so families can carve out a good life.
Because everyone deserves that chance.
It’s why we work so hard to pass on our ancestors’ values to our children, isn’t it? So they too can draw on them during those hard days, so they can work hard, and make their own way.
Generation after generation we’ve woven our art and music and stories and culture so deeply into the fabric of this country, that the dividing lines blur—a piece of our homeland in our home.
Think of how our ancestors would feel if they saw this room today.
This is what they hoped to give us when they signed their names at Ellis Island—a future where we can work hard and reach for every possibility.
So, let us continue to share this country we call home—living out their hope and passing on their dreams and values to our children.