A talk with Alessia Angelin, President of the Professionisti Italiani in Philadelphia (PiPhilly)
Today I had the pleasure to meet with Alessia Angelin, President of the organization PI Philly (Professionisti Italiani in Philadelphia). We met at 9 am, at the Gran Caffe’ L’Aquila, a stylish Italian café near Rittenhouse, playing Italian music and serving gorgeous food.
In front of a piping-hot cappuccino (ok, ok… also a croissant), we spoke of the new Italian voices in Philadelphia, a town where the Italian immigration left an important heritage. South Street and the Italian market are still nowadays the mecca for gourmet food seekers! However, the Italian-Americans of South Street and the recent immigration are two experiences completely different.
So, who are these new people with an Italian Accent living in Philadelphia and in other major American cities? What is their background? What do they think of Italy and of their American life?
These are the main takeaways I sneaked from Alessia.
- A PROFILE OF THE NEW ITALIAN IMMIGRANTS
They are young professionals like architects, doctors, researchers, engineers, economists, most of them in their 30-40ies, born, raised and educated in Italy. All of them have had at least another previous experience of working/studying abroad before moving to the USA. But, please, do not call this Brain Drain (Fuga di cervelli)! “None of us,” says Alessia, “had to expat because there wasn’t any working opportunity there.” Working abroad was just one of the available professional choices. Maybe “global professional workers” is more appropriate when it comes to high-pro emigrants.
- DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE ITALIAN-AMERICANS AND THE NEW IMMIGRATION
There are many. The most important ones: the Italian-Americans have lost the sense of what is Italy today, while the new immigrants still have a strong Italian identity. In many ways, the recent immigration has been easier if compared to the one of the early XX century.
- ITALY SEEN FROM AN EXPAT
Living abroad gives you the awareness that the perfect system simply does not exist. Every country has its own distortions, its crookedness. “L’America” is only another way of living, not the best one. One shared thought: Italy still remains a very good place where to live, after all!
- THE NETWORK OF ITALIAN PROS
This is a consequence of the new immigration. In many parts of the States, these professionals has created a network of highly specialized people in different fields who intend to promote a new image of Italy abroad, through high quality cultural events and meetings. This is a new way of promoting our culture abroad and creating relationships and interest in what is Italy today.
- THE RESEARCH IN ITALY AND IN THE USA
Alessia is a researcher at the Children Hospital of Philadelphia, a top-notch pediatric center. Her focus is on muscular dystrophy, a field of research that she started to study in her PhD at the University of Padova – Italy. Surprisingly, there is not a big difference in the quality of research, at least in the medical sector. However, what is really missing in the Italian university system is an international staff to work with. “An inestimable experience,” as she calls it. And this is mainly due to low funds for research, discouraging international scientists to accept research jobs in Italy.
- MERITOCRACY AND STABILITY
The issue on meritocracy is a problem of proportions, says Alessia. In USA, if you are very good at what you do, you can advance your career easier and faster. But politics and recommendations are not an unfamiliar concept here. You can see recurrent surnames in workplaces in here too, but in general the system is more transparent and you know who is sponsoring who. On the other hand, working in Italy can give you a life-long stability. It is normal to keep your job in the same university until you retire.
- GOING BACK OR STAYING?
Many of the expats wish they could move back. But not necessarily to Italy! Europe is considered as a broader Italy. Yes, Italians are Europeans after all!
- THE BEST OF…BY ALESSIA ANGELIN
Alessia’s personal advice on where:
…to eat gelato – Gran Caffe’ L’Aquila
…to escape when feeling a little down – wandering in the alleys between Pine and Spruce Street… it is so European!
Finally, her suggestion if you want to visit an off-the-crowd part of Italy: The River Po Valley, an underrated landscaping and naturalistic itinerary that an American should not miss when travelling in the north.
Photos by Maura Malfatto Elia