An intimate group of about 50 gathered Wednesday evening at Carmine’s in Washington, DC to celebrate the Greater Washington, DC region of the National Organization of Italian American Women's second annual Three Wise Women: An Epiphany Celebration Honoring Italian American Women. This year’s honorees are Tina M. Maiolo, Esq, Jennifer M. Palmieri, and Giovanna Tosato, M.D.
Diana Femia, president of the Greater DC Region began the remarks for the night by reflecting back on the founding of the NOIAW, more than 25 years ago in Geraldine Ferraro’s New York kitchen. The organization originated to specifically address the advancement of women of Italian ancestry.
Femia also spoke of the work that NOIAW does with the Italian Embassy, including a yearly student exchange, and plans to coordinate a celebration for 100-year anniversary of the Republic of Italy.
Demonstrating the relationship between the two entities, Cristiano Maggipinto, First Counselor at the Embassy of Italy in Washington D.C., who oversees Consular, Justice and Home Affairs reiterated the Italian embassy’s interest in maintaining ties with Italians and Italian-Americans in the United States. Maggipinto congratulated each of the honorees for their successes in their respective fields. Also, he thanked NOIAW for their role in supporting the reinstatement of the AP Italian exam in the US, which was cancelled by the College Board in 2008.
The Honorable Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro from Connecticut’s 3rd district, a former honoree herself, kindly presented this year's three wise women. While speaking, DeLauro struck the appropriate balance of sincere enthusiasm and comedy, reminding OSIA that there are not just sons, but sons and daughters of Italy. She also commented on how she imagined the story of the three wise men would have been different with three wise women: they would have asked for directions, brought more useful presents, tidied the stable, and cooked some pasta al’olio.
DeLauro pondered how many people believe that it is the time you spent on the hill and in committees that shapes your beliefs, but she clarified that for herself, it is her heritage and upbringing; being Italian is “Who I am, what I am about.” Recalling the days of her childhood, she also spoke of her mother and fathers progressive commitment to educating her, a position that was not in accordance with the attitudes of the time or much of the Italian community.
However, much of that has changed, as demonstrated by the evening’s first honoree Tina Maiolo, Esq, a member of the law firm Carr Maloney PC. There she specializes in areas of unemployment and labor law, immigration law, civil rights law, commercial law, and civil litigation. She began by describing the drastic change in environment that she had experienced when, as a child, her family moved from Bridgeport, Connecticut to Virginia. The move to Virginia came at time when uttering cannoli or sfogliatelle could get someone a smack up side the head, she half-jokingly recalled.
Yet, she thanked her family, especially her father Nicholas Maiolo who always taught Tina and her siblings to keep Italian in their hearts. Now, Maiolo looks back to appreciate the culture and heritage that her father and mother reinforced within the home. Her father’s constant singing of Neapolitan songs and her mother’s Italian cooking helped to keep the spirit of her ancestors alive, one that she is committed to passing along to her two daughters.
Today, Maiolo gets to combine her passion for law and Italian culture. Due to her knowledge and practice of immigration law, she has been appointed by the Italian Embassy in the United States as its official referral counsel.
The second honoree, Jennifer Palmieri, the Senior Vice President for Communications at Center for American Progress Fund has extensive experience in the area of communication. She has formerly served as National Press Secretary for the DNC, and in several capacities for the White House, including the entire duration of the Clinton administration.
Palmieri began her acceptance by thanking DeLauro, and calling her a “total sister,” a compliment she pays to women who guide and nurture other women, she explained. Palmieri went onto speak about the two people in her life that taught her the importance of family: her grandfather Michelangelo Palmieri and Elizabeth Anania Edwards. Palmieri was not originally aware that Elizabeth Edwards, whom she spent a lot of time with while working on John Edwards’ campaign trail, also came from an Italian background. Palmieri dedicated her award to Elizabeth Anania Edwards who taught her that no matter what adversity you face, you have the power to bring joy back into your life.
The evening’s final honoree, Giovanna Tosato, M.D. is the Senior Investigator and Head Molecular and Cell Biology Section at the Laboratory of Cellular Oncology at the Center of Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health. Tosato, a native of a small town near Vicenza, Italy, began by calling attention to the fact that “I am the immigrant.” In that regard, her story differed from the previous two honorees, but like Maiolo and Palmieri, she has worked very hard to get where she is today.
Now an American Citizen, Tosato came to the US in the 1970’s to work as a Clinical Associate in the Pediatric and Medicine Branches of NCI. She reflected admiringly on her time as a medical student at La Sapienza Medical School in Rome, where she earned her M.D. in 1973, and her residency at the Catholic University of Rome. Rome, she said, is not a city that can be appreciated in a week; it has many layers that must be discovered only through time. She eventually came to the U.S. with her education and a dream, searching for further opportunity. Tosato felt that there were further advances to be made in medicine, specifically hematology and oncology, which were not possible at the time in Italy. Time proved Tosato’s dedication and ambition to be valuable, as her lab created the vaccine for HPV, and she has had several patents issued herself.
While this year’s honorees come from diverse fields, the common thread woven through their narratives is the ambition and motivation that has been instilled in them by their culture and the strength and support provided to them by their families. As DeLauro pointed out earlier in the evening, it is clear that the work and support of NOIAW has aided in our shaping the image of Italian American women so that “our common heritage can be boon and not a burden.”
We congratulate 2011’s Three Wise Women recipients and wish them continued success!