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FITCHBURG – Hank Lisciotti would love to know who the first Italian was who emigrated to Leominster or Fitchburg and paved the way for others to follow and build lives and businesses in northern Central Massachusetts.
Between 1820 and 2004, about 5.5 million people emigrated from Italy to the United States, with a majority of them, about 3 million, arriving between 1900 and 1915. They came as stone cutters, worked in plastics factories and engaged in many other trades, eventually founding their own companies and institutions.
At Fitchburg State University, the Center for Italian Culture is looking to preserve that history and culture, gathering together in one archive the ledgers, diaries, photographs, artwork and artifacts created over the years by Italian immigrants in northern Central Massachusetts. The center was created through an endowment by Amelia V. Gallucci-Cirio. Mrs. Gallucci-Cirio donated more than $2 million to the college, including money for the center. University trustee Anna Clementi, who is also president of the cultural center’s advisory board, said the money is to preserve the Italian language and culture and community by teaching and programming focused on new world and ancient Italy.
Mrs. Gallucci-Cerio was a Fitchburg native and 1938 graduate of Fitchburg State University who later moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where she ran a real estate business. Among her endowments to the university was $1.5 million to fund an academic chair in Italian studies and Western civilization.
“We are following in her spirit,” Mrs. Clementi said, adding that the university has gone from offering a few courses on Italy and the Italian language to creating a minor in Italian studies.
A speaker series offered through the center includes a lecture by professor Teresa Thomas titled “The reluctant migrants: Italians in America” at 2 p.m. Oct. 21 in the Kent Recital Hall and a lecture by Rala Diakte on Italian poetry in the same hall at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 28.
Mrs. Clementi said the university sends 20 to 25 students to Verona, Italy, every year with faculty. She said the college also offers Italian language courses in Fitchburg and Leominster public and parochial schools. She said 120 students have reached level 4 in Italian language.
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