Public Papers

Remarks at the National Italian-American Foundation Fundraising Dinner


Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, very much. Thank you, Frank. Thank all of you, and Frank Stella, thank you for those kind words. And thanks to all of you for this warm welcome for Barbara and for me. May I salute the Most Reverend Pro Nuncio, thank him for the blessing. And Nancy, congratulations to you on this dinner -- chairing it -- this highly successful dinner and that lovely introduction of Barbara. Thank you very, very much.

And may I also salute Jack Valenti and the leadership of the foundation: Frank Stella, Jeno Paulucci, and Arthur Gajarsa. It's great to see members here from all three branches of the Federal Government. And of course, a special welcome to our distinguished guests who came from Italy to join us this evening, and to the Members of Congress, Pete Domenici from the Senate, and so many Members of the House with us tonight.

Let me single out one of the many, a man that I've worked with over the last few years, a man I respect, and that is the Foreign Minister, Mr. De Michelis. He's honored here tonight for his strong leadership in Italy, his support of common objectives with the United States. And I think you've chosen very, very well indeed. And I think of Italy's strong support for our nuclear arms reduction proposal. And incidentally, today may be a day that lives in history. We had a very positive response from President Gorbachev on reducing nuclear weapons, and we have a national Italian-American dinner that might be over before midnight. So, it's one hell of a day. And if I don't stay on time, he's going to kill me.

But let me just say to the Foreign Minister and to Pete Secchia, who I might proudly say is doing his part for our country in Italy. In my view, I would say that relations between the U.S. and Italy have never been better. And I would pledge to Italy's new Ambassador, Ambassador Biancheri, that we welcome you, sir. He presented his credentials at the White House just a few days ago. And let me give you a solemn pledge from all in our administration to work closely with you to keep this great relationship on track. And it's good, and it's strong. And we all take great delight in that.

May I also salute Paul Tagliabue, the honoree, Bar's co-honoree, the man who helps give us so many memorable Sunday afternoons in front of the TV when we should be out cutting the grass. And also we share the spotlight tonight with celebrities like the guy right over my shoulder here, Ernest Borgnine, Oscar-winner, and with two fellows who give Michelangelo's David a run for his money: Sly Stallone and Joe Piscopo. And, of course, that monument to Mom's cooking that swept through the White House the other evening at a State dinner, Dom DeLuise. Things haven't been the same since. [Laughter] Can you imagine all the people at a stuffy State dinner dealing with that guy? [Laughter]

And let me also salute a guy who wants to trade a star on Hollywood Boulevard for a seat in the Senate, mayor of Palm Springs, my friend, Sonny Bono. I've got one question for him: What makes Sonny think that someone from the California entertainment industry can succeed in national politics? [Laughter] And Sonny, a little advice for you, if you want to practice debating, skip over Connie Morella, who's sitting next to you, and go a couple of seats down with Geraldine Ferraro, and be ready. It's tough. I've been there, I know. [Laughter]

Just a word about your wonderful organization. Every member here knows what it means to trace your roots to Italy, to feel that special pride in your heritage mixed with profound compassion for all of us who can never be Italian. [Laughter] I do think it says something special about our Nation, that we can combine such reverence for the land of our ancestors with this unshakable patriotism for this country we call home. Our America is confident, openhearted, a place where our differences don't detract, but make us all richer.

And we can all feel the special bond that links so many millions of Americans to the ``Old Country.'' If America is, as I believe, and I think Sly Stallone believes from those beautiful remarks he made, the most fortunate country on Earth, we owe it to the values that your community, the Italian-American community, calls its own: values of family, and faith, and freedom.

We must strengthen those living values in everything we do. Think of your parents and their parents, the people whose hands and hearts, sweat and sacrifice made this country what it is today. We must seek a society worthy of them, a place where our sons and daughters can raise a family, build a future, better, brighter than the one before.

And tonight's gathering is special. You kick off a year of celebration marking the 500th anniversary of Columbus' famous voyage. I want to mention this foundation's special role as coordinator of this celebration under the able leadership of our friend, Frank Donatelli.

1992 gives us a chance to reach back into history, to make this celebration a time of renewal. From Columbus' voyage to the settlers at Plymouth Rock to pilgrims bearing steamer trunks and filing through the portals at Ellis Island, America has always been the New World.

Luigi Barzini, the Italian-born author whose family came to this country when he was a boy, wrote that immigrants from Italy and from all lands came to America because it was, and here's the quote, ``Nothing more than the sum of all their different and sometimes impossible hopes.''

What a wonderful definition of America: a land of impossible hopes made real, a country where one generation's dreams become the next generation's destiny.

So, as we celebrate five centuries since Columbus' epic voyage, let us also celebrate the many contributions Americans of Italian heritage have made and will make to this proud country we share.

Once again, thank you for your hospitality to Barbara and me. And may God bless the United States, and may God bless the Republic of Italy. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10 p.m. at the Washington Hilton Hotel. In his remarks he referred to Frank Stella, vice chairman of the foundation; Agostino Cacciavillan, Papal Nuncio to the United States; Representative Nancy Pelosi, event chairperson; Jack Valenti, member of the board, National Italian American Foundation, president of the Motion Picture Association, and master of ceremonies; Jeno Paulucci, chairman of the foundation; Arthur Gajarsa, president of the foundation; Senator Pete Domenici; Gianni De Michelis, Italian Foreign Minister; President Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union; Peter Secchia, U.S. Ambassador to Italy; Boris Biancheri, Italian Ambassador to the United States; Paul Tagliabue, NFL commissioner; entertainers Ernest Borgnine, Sylvester Stallone, Joe Piscopo, and Dom DeLuise; Sonny Bono, mayor of Palm Springs, CA; Representative Connie Morella; 1984 Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro; and Frank J. Donatelli, chairman of the Christopher Columbus Quincentenary Jubilee Commission. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.