Brain Drain? No, global workers! On the new Italian Immigration

A talk with Alessia Angelin, President of the Professionisti Italiani in Philadelphia (PiPhilly)

Alessia Angelin
Interview with Alessia Angelin, the President of Italian association of Professionals in Philadelphia

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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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!


Alessia’s personal advice on where:

…to eat a good pizza in Philly – Pizzeria Stella, Pizzeria Vetri and Nomad

…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.

Gran Caffe' l'Aquila, Philadelphia
Interior of the Gran Caffe’ L’Aquila, Philadelphia
Interior - Granf caffe' L'Aquila, Philadelphia
Detail of interior – Gran Caffe’ L’Aquila, Philadelphia

Photos by Maura Malfatto Elia


10 thoughts on “Brain Drain? No, global workers! On the new Italian Immigration

  1. I can see where this is going. Africans are immigrants. Arabs are immigrants. Asians are immigrants. However, Europeans are expats because they can’t be at the same level as other ethnicities. They are superior. Immigrants is a term set aside for ‘inferior races’.

    Italians are expats, Western Europeans for that matter. I’m well acquainted with the rhetoric behind it. Long ago, Italians along with the Irish were NOT considered White and they were treated like immigrants. Back ago, there was a Nordicism culture, but that eventually took the back seat as soon as immigration from Non-White countries became a major concern in America.

    I smell hypocrisy when I stumble across articles like that. Despite the popular belief, freedom of movement (global mobility) is NOT granted for everyone. It’s not only about who you are or how qualified you are, but rather where you are from. The fact you being the greatest professional doesn’t equate success in its own right. An individual from a White culture is an expat while one from a top-notch pro from a Non-White nation is an immigrant., that latter doesn’t become an “expat” on its own merits. Ethnicity and socioeconomic elements play a crucial role and failing to acknowledge that is failing to address the truth.

    Most white people deny that they enjoy the privileges of a racism system. And why not? But our responsibility is to point out and to deny them these privileges, directly related to an outdated supremacist ideology.

    Folks will be move to another country and stay there for decades with no intention of returning to their homeland yet they call themselves expats with a straight face, and will get upset when referred as immigrants. The truth of the matter is, the dictionary definition doesn’t match how the word “expat” is actually used.

    If I saw those “expats”, I will be happy to call them immigrants like everyone else. If that hurts their white superiority, they can jump in the air and stay there. The political deconstruction of this outdated worldview must continue. I am Caucasian myself of Italo-Iberian descent yet I don’t condone that mindset, nor should you.


    1. Dear Mr Rodrigo,
      thank you for your comments and I apologize for the delay in my reply. Yes, I understand there are differences in views of the same phenomenon, which is immigration. In my blog I use pretty interchangeably the words “expats” and “immigrants”. However, as I am a linguist, I have a preference for the use of “expats” aa etymologically it means someone out (“ex”) from his/her country (“patria”). No political or social issues behind it. Only my linguistic-bend. However, thank you for having given me the opportunity to explain.


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