Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Thank you, Sandy. I’m so grateful you, Marie, and your team worked so hard to bring this event back to these grounds—to make sure we can share the memories and values that shape us, keeping our histories alive. 

Kailee, what a beautiful performance.

Mayor Johnson, thank you and your family for the warm welcome, and for all you do for this wonderful city.

And it’s so wonderful to be here for the salute to service. On behalf of my husband, President Biden, thank you to all the incredible educators, police officers, servicemembers and their families for everything you do for our nation.


I’m so proud to be Italian American, and to celebrate our heritage together.

One of my favorite memories from childhood is the warm smell of Italian bread toast that always woke me up at my grandparents’ house.

I loved the ribbons of homemade pasta hanging in the kitchen, or the fresh tomatoes and herbs from their garden spread out on the kitchen counter on days my grandma made sauce.

I’ll never forget running through the “Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Italian Festival” with my sisters, or how I was charmed by the musical way grandma cursed at my grandpop in Italian when he left rockfish to dry on the counters after his fishing trips.

Being with you this evening brings back beautiful memories for me—thank you for honoring me with an invitation to join you.

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.

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.

Just look at Milwaukee: The Italian Community Center. The streets and walkways first laid by Italian immigrants. And, of course, this festival—which, for over 40 years, has brought together Italian Americans and non-Italians for a celebration of our culture—our past and our future.

Think of how our ancestors would feel if they saw this festival 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.

Grazie mille.


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