First Ward Heritage Immigration Newark

A More Perfect Union: Italy and America

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
~The Preamble of the Constitution of the United States

When the Founding Fathers worked to put forth on this continent a new nation, they developed a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. This was not a new concept, however. Instead, they looked to the Greeks and, of course, the Romans.

The Foundation of Democracy

The idea of a democracy, the authority of the Roman republic, was divided among three basic elements, elected non-hereditary magistrates, a Senate to advise and consent, and popular assemblies. They served limited terms, had presiding heads of state, and as a safeguard, each council had the ability to veto each other’s decision. They were accountable to the people. From the dawn of our country, the United States and Rome have been intertwined.

So why am I giving you this history lesson? Stick with me.

Millions of Italians have immigrated to the United States over the centuries. The first of my family to arrive on the shores of his new homeland was my great-grandfather, Gabriele Ficetola. Like tens of thousands of others, he settled in the First Ward of Newark. Italian immigrants faced discrimination and were considered “lesser” than their WASP co-workers, neighbors, police, politicians, and everyone outside their enclave. Still, they were appreciative of this new opportunity. They made their own families and supported each other. They persevered. They didn’t begin to earn any respect until they signed up in droves to fight in World War II… against their Motherland. The Fifth Army was one of the principal formations of the U.S. Army in the Mediterranean during World War II, and was the first American field army ever to be activated outside of the United States.

The United States Fifth Army

Not all Italians wanted to fight for the Facist Army. They were called to serve at 18. Young men like the father of Umberto Mucci.

In 1940 Umberto’s father was called to serve in the Facist Italian Army. He didn’t feel the Facists were right for the future of Italy. So he escaped. If he was caught, he would be condemned to death. He was alone and sick, hiding in Tuscany.

Then the American Fifth Army landed.

“He met the Fifth Army and they adopted him,” Umberto told me.

His father fought alongside the American Army against his Motherland. For his service, he was given a medal by the U.S. Army.

“When I was a child at my father’s knee, he told me, ‘The Americans saved me, cured me, armed me, fed me, taught me how to drive a Jeep, and they freed my country. I didn’t speak English, but the Italian Americans were there.'”

His father developed life-long friendships with three Italian Americans. And Umberto told me he always shares their names when he tells this story; Anthony Tiso, Sal DiMarco, and Eddie Gastaldo.

“They represent the America who freed my country and my father,” Umberto said. “This is something that does not expire.”

Umberto Mucci, We the Italians
Umberto Mucci, Founder of We the Italians (Source: We the Italians)

Every American Memorial Day or April 25th, the Italian Liberation Day, he heads to the American cemetery where 7,000 American soldiers have been laid to rest and 3,000 of the missing are commemorated. As he looks at all the names of those who lost their lives protecting his country, he can’t help but notice all the Italian names.

“I pay my respect to them,” Umberto said.

Umberto may not be American by citizenship, but he is the most American non-American I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.

“I wouldn’t be here without the United States.” ~Umberto Mucci, We the Italians

As we spoke, I could feel his profound and genuine love for America. He knows American history as well as any citizen I’ve ever met. And I bet he knows even more than the average bear.

We spoke about the ties that bind the United States and Italy together. We spoke about how the Italian language is the language of music, art, and more. How so many of us lost that language when our families came to America. And how now, generations later, we are reclaiming that important part of our heritage.

The The Star-Spangled Banner is his ringtone.

“This is my soul,” Umberto said.

We the Italians

Umberto’s life story and his love for America played a major role in his founding of We the Italians.

I first heard about Umberto and his organization when he was a guest on The Italian American Podcast. His ability to share Italian current events and how they play a role in America spoke to me. I began to read his website regularly and signed up for his newsletter that covers the eastern United States.

I had to meet and talk with him.

We the Italians Magazine, January 2023
We the Italians Magazine, January 2023 (Source: We the Italians)

We the Italians is a global media organization working to promote, share, and inform about the ties between the United States and Italy. His website contains over 75,000 pieces of content, provides newsletters covering multiple different regions with over 100,000 subscribers, they are on nine different social media platforms, records a widely popular podcast, offers an online magazine, and he has written nine books. Oh, and We the Italians has entered the Metaverse.

To say he is the top champion between American and Italian relations is putting it mildly. We are lucky to have such a wonderful advocate.

The More Perfect Union

During our one-hour-plus conversation, all I kept thinking of was the “more perfect union” from our Constitution. Except this perfect union is between the United States and Italy.

We the Italians logo

Umberto has two sayings when he talks about We the Italians:

“Two flags, one heart”

“Italy needs more America and America needs more Italy”

And he was emphatic when we discussed these ideas.

“It’s not just me saying it, ‘Italy needs more America and America needs more Italy,’ there’s 20 million people saying it,” referring to all the Italian Americans who feel that tug to our Motherland.

“Our Italian DNA was the perfect match for the environment of the United States,” Umberto told me. “It was the fuel for our hard-working attitude, ingenuity, resilience; your being Italian.”

He told me about the hard work of Italians who went to California. When others were looking for gold, the Italians were building businesses those gold miners needed; restaurants, hotels, raising crops.

As our chat began to wind down, he made one point perfectly clear he wanted to share with all Italian Americans;

“If you have Italian roots; if you have Italian blood; even if you do not have your red passport, don’t let anybody tell you that you are not Italian,” he told me with that trademark Italian passion that is inside all of us. “React, loudly! You ARE Italian.”

He then shared something that shocked me; “Sometimes you are much more Italian than people I see here.”

I believe that is the pull of our heritage. Those beliefs, traditions, and ethics we all learned as children and still hold dear every day.

To say I was honored with his love for our country doesn’t even begin to communicate my respect for his dedication to create and strengthen the ties between our two countries.

“I like what I do, I enjoy what I do. It feels my heart. It fills my soul,” Umberto said. “Every time I think about my Italian American friends, they are the good guys. You are the good guys.”

Well, I said YOU are a great guy Umberto. And while I can’t give you official American citizenship, I consider you a fellow American patriot.


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