I named my company, Terra Nova Ventures, which has invested heavily in revitalizing Baltimore, after my father’s hometown in Southern Italy. My grandfather came to the United States in 1909, like millions of other Italians in search of opportunity for his family from wrenching poverty in Basilicata. He died a couple of months after arriving, from a stroke while working in construction, leaving behind in Terranova di Pollino, his wife, daughter and my father, who never met his father. They emigrated to America in December 1909 and settled in East Harlem in New York City.
My mother was the daughter of Italian immigrants. My parents grew up in an era of severe discrimination against Italian immigrants (there were 20 lynchings of Italians in the 1890s alone). My parents strongly believed in education for their children and being able to participate in the American dream. They insisted on us speaking, reading and writing English well, and, as result, we did not speak Italian in the home (which I regret today). The privilege I had was in having great parents who instilled the importance of education, a strong work ethic, discipline and a supportive family.
My father and I had robust discussions about modern civil rights issues in my teens and 20s in the 1960s, comparing the different plights of Italian Americans and African Americans. I am proud of my Italian heritage, as are the 16 million Americans who identify themselves as Italian American, nearly 6% of the population and the fourth largest ethnic group in the country. The demolition of the Columbus statue, which was raised to honor Italian Americans, is an insult to all Italian Americans by people who demonstrate a complete absence of decency and sensitivity because of their lack of knowledge of the great contributions made by all those who have come to make up America’s diverse population.