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Tag Archives: Pam DeFiglio

New theater troupe stages stirring debut

One of the most stirring moments in “Piano Piano: Stories From My Father,” comes when an Italian-American man tells how his immigrant father went in search of food during the Great Depression. The church’s food pantry ran out before he could get any, but on his way home, he saw a “for lease” sign and leased a grocery store, which helped get his family get through the Depression. The play takes place as a conversation between Rocco Chrisfotano, played by Antonio Brunetti, and his daughter Roxanne Christofano Pilat. She plays herself in the Italian American Theatre of Chicago’s debut production, ...

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Casa instructor Giovanna “Jackie” Dimetros

It only seems like Casa Italia’s popular language and cuisine instructor, Giovanna “Jackie” Dimetros, is leading a double life. Some people know her as Giovanna and others as Jackie, she has inexplicably English and Greek surnames, and people aren’t certain whether she’s a cooking or Italian teacher or both. But she is in fact one delightful Italian-born Chicagoan who integrates all these identities. The story begins during World War II. An American Army officer, Major Jack Spears, a Chicago native stationed in Tuscany, fell in love with his future wife Miranda in the town of Livorno. After they married, they ...

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Singer Cory Bolletino

Growing up blind and with a variety of medical conditions, 27-year-old Cory Bolletino of Mount Prospect attended mainly special needs schools, and occasionally had to sit out of school for medical reasons. He didn’t have much of a chance to make childhood friends, he says, so his world centered around his mother Veronica, father Rick, and music. “The way I used to relax was through music. Music was my best friend,” says Bolletino. “It will always be my best friend.” He has spent years listening to singers like Andrea Bocelli, Julio Iglesias, Marco Antonio Solis and Camilo Sesto, and likes ...

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Fiasche family spreads the word about nduja

In only three years, Antonio “Tony” Fiasche has led the effort to pluck nduja, a spreadable salume, from the obscurity of a small Calabrian town and make it something of a sensation in the gourmet world. The Wall Street Journal and foodie magazines have been salivating over it, and chefs worldwide are inventing ways to use it in pizza, vinaigrette, aioli, arrabiata, marinara, hollandaise and more. The skyrocketing acclaim of Fiasche’s company, Nduja Artisans, has engendered plans to open a gourmet deli just west of the Loop in the near future. But like many success stories, Fiasche’s began decades earlier. ...

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Linguistic entrepreneur Gianluca Butticè

When Gianluca Butticè moved from his native Sicily to the U.S., he faced the challenges of learning English and American culture. Surmounting that learning curve inspired him to make the journey easier for others. So after spending the past several years teaching Italian, he is branching out into offering tours of Italy that encompass language and culture in a mutually enhancing way. “I know the doors that are opened when you learn a new language,” he says, explaining that traveling, learning the culture of a country and learning the language can all reinforce each other. Butticè, 41, believes everything he ...

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Addison Trail instructor Judie Vitiritti-Lynch

At a recent awards banquet, Judie Vitiritti-Lynch was so engaged in talking to her former students that she didn’t hear the emcee announce her name. A colleague prompted her to walk up to the podium, because she had won the Italian Consulate in Chicago’s first-ever Midwest Award for Leadership in the Teaching of the Italian Language and Culture. “I was stunned, because I was up against some very good people, and everyone was so deserving,” recalls Vitiritti-Lynch, who became Addison Trail High School’s first Italian language teacher in the early 1990s and pioneered the program. In her first year, she ...

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Adult language instructor Kathryn Occhipinti

Growing up in an Italian-American family, Kathryn Occhipinti experienced the Italian food, the emphasis on togetherness and the practicing of the Catholic faith. But she felt one piece of her heritage was missing: the language. Her grandparents and parents would converse in Italian, making it even more of a mysterious to her. After completing her medical training, she spent years studying the language, writing books and teaching classes in conversational Italian. She gears her efforts toward adult learners with a desire to travel to Italy. “Today, people are trying to understand where they came from, and the language was really ...

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Dist. 214 administrator Angela Briguglio Hawkins

  An Italian teacher and administrator in northwest suburban High School District 214, Angela Briguglio Hawkins was known as “the American” when she was growing up in Sicily. That’s because she was born in Oak Park, but her parents decided to move the family back to their native Sicily when Briguglio Hawkins was two-and-a-half years old. They missed their relatives. “I did all my schooling in Italy, up until the equivalent of the first year in high school,” she says. “But then my dad was worried about the lack of economic opportunity in Europe, so my parents moved back to ...

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East Leyden instructor Michele Curley

Michele Curley’s love of languages and cultures started at age 14. That’s when her grandmother, Filomena Conversano Pesano, who at 17 had left Basilicata and journeyed alone to the United States, decided to take Michele, her five siblings and her parents back to Basilicata. “It was a really transformative experience,” Curley, an Italian teacher at East Leyden High School, says of the month-long visit. They met relatives, took road trips around southern Italy, returned to Basilicata and then went north to Rome, Florence, Pisa and Venice. When they returned to the Chicago area, Curley wanted to take Italian when she ...

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