It is said that behind a great man, be this an artist, a politician, or an industrialist, there's always an even greater woman. At the Almanac we believe that the same is true for whole communities. The success of the Italian community of California could have not been possible if it hadn't been for the immense contribution that Italian and Italian-American women--starting with opera singer Luisa Tetrazzini--have made (and continue making) to the culture of innovation, experimentation, and social progressivism that characterizes California. With the following article--first of an infrequent series--The Online Almanac begins to celebrate the contributions made by Italifornian Women of note to the rise of our community and the mystique of California as the land where dreams come true.
Paola Bagnatori was named Commendatore by the Italian government in 2003 for her contributions as the managing director of the Museo Italo Americano based in San Francisco.
After teaching Italian at San Francisco State University for 10 years, she joined Giulia Nardelli Haight who had founded the Museo. Now after 40 years at the Museo’s helm, Bagnatori says “I was an evangelist for highlighting and publicizing how much Italians contributed to the U.S. and to specifically to this area.”
The Museo exhibits the work of artists living and deceased and presents lectures, film and book presentations, and guided tours of Italy. In Cerca di una Vita Nuova is a recent exhibit, illustrating the experiences of immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries and their impact on California.
Over the years, Bagnatori became a relentless fund-raiser to support the nonprofit. One of the early contributors was an eccentric named Jerome Cocuzza. A prosperous property owner, he presented the Museo with a then-astounding $500 in a filthy envelope. Bagnatori made sure he remained a loyal contributor.
On his death, Cocuzza bequeathed the museum a warehouse at 940 Battery Street, nestled under Telegraph Hill.
Transforming the building into the next reincarnation of the Museo was to have begun this year. But because of the pandemic, opening the Jerome Cocuzza Italian Center for Art and Culture is on hold.
The allied bombings during World War II devastated the village of Recco in Liguria. But they motivated the Bozano family to seek and demonstrate excellence.
Luisa Domenica Bozano, Ph.D. credits her father, and her two nonne for inspiring her to seek ever higher degrees of achievement.
Today Bozano works in nanotechnology for Applied Materials.
“I am a problem solver. I make things that make electronic devices better. I'm always wondering how to make things smaller.” When she worked at IBM, Dr. Bozano helped develop smaller chips to mimic the human nose to detect diseases.
Besides her professional accomplishments, Bozano is passionate about creating opportunities for Italian students in Silicon Valley.
She got her master’s in nanotechnology in Italy but found few connections between academia and Italian industry. “Now what do I do,” she wondered once she had received her degree.
When she earned her Ph.D. at the University of California in Santa Cruz, she realized “how much better organized are university connections with industry in this country.”
She profited so much from mentorship in this country that she dedicates herself to returning the favor.
She is allied with the group started by the late Jeff Capaccio, the Silicon Valley Italian Executive Council, dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship among Italians and Italian Americans.
“My motive is to give students the opening that I missed, ´Dr. Bozano says.
Based in Los Angeles, journalist and entrepreneur, Valentina Martelli hails from Treviso. As correspondent for the Italian national public broadcaster, RAI, she covers California’s entertainment industry, also politics, breaking news, culture, and technology.
“I try to cover California in a different way from other journalists. Most correspondents from Italy don't live within the state or the United States. Sometimes they watch CNN or the New York Times for their point of view. I try to explain to Italians how California is very different from the way it is narrated by other journalists.”
Through her creation ITTV Festival (www.ittvfestival.com), Martelli creates bridges between the Italian audiovisual entertainment industry and its counterparts in California. “I love to be a service to Italians who often have amazing ideas in products but are not always able to sell them.”
If an immigrant is not sponsored, it is hard to make connections, she observed.
She sees the ITTV Festival as “a bridge between Italian entertainment and audiovisual and American production and distribution outlets. I want to help the Italian economy get known better in the United States.”
A U.S. citizen for six years, Martelli describes her impressions of living in this country.
“I thought America was more advanced in equal opportunity, equal pay, gender equality, and openness. Instead, it is sometimes not. However, the thing I love most about America is if you fail at something you are not a failure. The project failed, not you, and there are other opportunities.”
The accomplishments of impressive Italian women in this state are many. We start our saga with two looking back on their contributions and two who still shine in their domains.
From diplomat to impresario, Amelia Antonucci’s mission has always been to share the richness of Italian culture. Between 1996 to 2011, she served Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs as director of Italian Cultural Institutes In New York And San Francisco, twice in each city.
The Salernese Antonucci educated the public about Italian language and art and introduced Italian artists to the American audience.
“ I was lucky because the Italian community (in the United States) and the American community welcomed us very well,” she remarks.
President of the Leonardo da Vinci Society (2014-2019 ), she oversaw the 2019 celebrations of the society’s 70th anniversary and the 500th anniversary of the death of the Tuscan genius’s death.
But then she decided “my real passion was cinema. I founded Cinema Italia . American film lovers love classic Italian films, but they are not shown enough.” (http://www.cinemaitaliasf.com/about)
In partnership with the Italian film industry, Cinecittà Studios, she brought a series of classic films focused on a famous director or actor. Between 2015 to 2020, Cinema Italia presented 10 programs to the American audience highlighting among others including Pasolini, De Sica, Magnani, and Antonioni and others.