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President Obama at National Italian American Foundation Gala

President Obama at National Italian American Foundation Gala


The President:
Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you. Thank you so much. (applause) Thank you, Nancy, for that
generous introduction. I am biased, but I think Nancy
was one of the best Speakers of the House this country ever had. (applause) She was no doubt the best
Italian American Speaker of the House we ever had. (applause) And I believe that she will be
the best Speaker of the House again in 2013. (applause) Now, I was just out passing
out Halloween candy — (laughter) — for the kids who were
coming to the White House, but now that Malia and Sasha
are with their friends, they do not notice
that I’m gone. (laughter) They’re now getting to that
age where they don’t care. (laughter) They’re pleased that I didn’t
embarrass them too much during the brief time I was with them. So I am honored to be here to
celebrate National Italian American Heritage Month and
to commemorate the 150th anniversary of
Italian unification. (applause) And I want to congratulate
the President, the Chairman, all of you who are doing so much
work to keep that heritage alive for the next generation. And I’m grateful for
your generous welcome. (applause) Now, I want to make a
confession right off the bat. I do not, in fact, have
any Italian ancestry. (laughter) Not all of us are that lucky. (laughter) I can’t sing like
Frankie Avalon. (laughter) Where’s Frankie? I can’t — he looks the same! Unbelievable. (laughter and applause) I can’t cook as well as
any of your grandmothers. (laughter) Michelle won’t let me have
seconds or thirds anymore. (laughter) So all I’ve got to offer is a
last name that ends in a vowel. (laughter and applause) That’s all I’ve got. (applause) Nevertheless, it is good
to see so many amici. (laughter) I see many proud sons and
daughters of the old country. I see a couple dozen proud
Italian American members of Congress here tonight. Let me offer a special welcome
to the guests who join us from Italy this evening, including
Italy’s ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Terzi. Thank you so much for
your outstanding work. (applause) His counterpart
— here, as well, and he is doing an outstanding
job representing us, our ambassador to
Italy, David Thorne. (applause) Italy is one of our
strongest allies, a fellow founding
member of NATO. We look forward to our
work together with them, and we’re going to be joining
them next week at the G20 to make a series of decisions that
are going to be very important for the world economy. I’ve also made sure to keep
close the advice of Italian Americans by asking some of
them to serve in my Cabinet. And as Nancy mentioned, we
could not be prouder of Janet Napolitano, who is keeping
us safe every single day. (applause) And my outstanding Secretary
of Defense, Leon Panetta. (applause) And, as was mentioned, even
though she’s not here these evening, Jill Biden is proud
to come from a long line of Giacoppas. And so she sends her regards. (applause) Tonight, I think it’s also
important for us to honor the proud service of the countless
Italian Americans who have fought for this country
since our founding, and who wear the
uniform today — (applause) — from the Chief
of Staff of the Army, General Ray Odierno — (applause) — to a hero whom I was proud
to bestow our nation’s highest military decoration, and was the
first one in a very long time to personally receive
the Medal of Honor, staff sergeant Salvatore Giunta. (applause) So in a sense, every American
joins us in celebrating this anniversary of
Italian unification. What would America be without
the contributions of Italy and Italian Americans? (applause) What would we be without the
daring voyages of Columbus, and Verrazano, and Vespucci? What would our science and
technology be without not just DaVinci and Galileo, but Fermi? What would movies and music be
without the magic of Capra, or Sinatra, or Sophia
Loren, my favorite. (laughter) I’m just saying. (laughter) What would sports be without the
guts and the grit of DiMaggio and Lombardi — and LaRussa? (applause) Audience Member:
Piazza! The President:
Piazza! (laughter and applause) The White Sox could
still use you. (laughter) What would this city be without
the influence of Roman thought and architecture, the
Piccirilli Brothers who — their work on the
Lincoln Memorial; Brumidi’s magnificent
touch on the Capitol? Although, I must say, it might
be nice to know what our politics would — like without
the contribution of Machiavelli. (laughter) That’s been internalized
a little too much here in Washington. (laughter) America would not be what it
is today without the unique contributions and the uncommon
pride of Italian Americans. (applause) And like so many other
groups — as Nancy said, like so many other groups, the
Italians came to America in search of opportunity. They came with little. Very few were wealthy. But they came with an
unwavering faith in God, an unfailing
commitment to family, and an unlikely hope in the
possibilities of America — the belief that in this country,
you could be prosperous, you could be free, you could
think and talk and worship as you pleased. It was a place where you
could make it if you try. And it wasn’t always easy. Italians weren’t always welcome. And when we think about
today’s immigrants, we have to remind ourselves
that those of us who now feel comfortable in our
American identity, that that wasn’t always
the case in the past. (applause) The opportunities our forbears
hoped for wasn’t always within reach right away. But they did not wait for
anybody to hand it to them. They built new lives
for themselves, and at the same time they ended
up building an entire nation. They enriched our heritage and
our culture with their own. They helped forge the very
promise of this country — that success is possible if
you’re willing to work for it. And those efforts built a
better America for all of us. Everybody in this room
just about, everybody, has an ancestor or lots of
ancestors who fit that story of transplanted roots that
somehow grew in American soil; of families that struggled and
sacrificed so that our families might know something better. Of parents who said, maybe
I can’t speak English, but I’ll make sure my
child can speak English; they might teach
English someday. (applause) I might not have an education,
but I’m going to make sure my child has an education. (applause) I might perform
backbreaking labor today, but someday my child
can be a Senator, or a Supreme Court Justice,
or Speaker of the House, or a Secretary in the
Cabinet, or President of the United States. (applause) So that’s what
binds us together. That is what has always
made our country unique. We’ve always been and we will
always be a nation of immigrants from all over the world. And out of many, somehow we’re
able to forge ourselves into one people; and this is the place
where the highest hopes can be reached, and the deepest
and most sincere dreams can be made real. And that’s the legacy our
forebears left for us, and that’s what we now have
to leave to our children. These are tough times right
now, and millions of Americans are hurting. Millions are without work, and
those who have work are still all too often
struggling to get by. And for many, the dream that
brought so many Italian Americans to these shores
feels like it’s slipping away. So we’ve got work to do. But while these times are hard,
we have to remind ourselves they’re not as hard as those
that earlier generations faced. And the legacy of their courage
and their commitment and their determination and their
generosity and their willingness to think about the
next generation — we have to be just as passionate
and just as selfless as they were to keep that dream alive,
and make sure our children inherit futures that
are big and bright, and that this country is as
generous as it’s always been. And that’s what we have to
commit to ourselves tonight. So on behalf of all Americans, I
want to thank you for everything that the Italian American
community has done; everything that you’ve done to
contribute to the chronicles and the character of the
greatest nation on Earth. Thank you, so much. God bless you. God bless the United
States of America. Thank you. (applause)

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