Remarks at the Annual Dinner of the National Italian American Foundation

September 15, 1984

The President. Thank you very much. Thank you.

Audience. 4 more years! 4 more years! 4 more years!

The President. Thank you, Frank. Thank you very much. Mr. Toastmaster, reverend clergy, and all of you, I'm very happy to be here with all of you. In fact, let me try this -- [laughter] -- sono molto contento di essere qui. [I'm very happy to be here.]

And I, too, would like to extend an official welcome to our honored guests from Italy who are with us here this evening.

As I look out at all of you here this evening, I can't help but think that you're a living affirmation of the sometimes desperate dreams of those world changers who came here and invented America. I say desperate dreams because those who traveled here, by wind-driven ship or by steamer, wouldn't have been making that terrible journey unless they were in search of something that had eluded them at home -- economic opportunity, or personal freedom, or a chance to make one's mark.

The Italian-American experience was never an easy one, but it was one of great triumph. Italians, of course, made their mark on this country early on. An Italian found it, it was named for an Italian, and it was explored by Italians. But after that came the immigrants, and it wasn't easy for them. The Jews of the roiling ghettos, the Irish living 10 to a room in Boston, and the Italians looking for work in Philadephia -- all shared some rough beginnings. But what distinguished these groups of immigrants is that they yielded more than their share of genius. In fact, you might say that Ellis Island was one big incubator for American greatness. All of the immigrants, and certainly the Italians, changed our country by adding to the sum total of what we are. They did not take from, they added to.

The Italians did it by hard work. They went to New Orleans and became longshoremen and fishermen. In Washington and Oregon and in my home State of California, they started out as hired hands and eventually built up their own farms. In Pennsylvania, they took the heavy lifting jobs, the manual labor. In New York, Chicago, and Boston, they opened barber shops, fruit stands, restaurants and eventually, small banks.

These immigrants were guided by habits, principles, and traditions that they took from the old country and transplanted here. They believed in the central importance of the family, the dignity of hard work, and faith in a just God who would reward effort and encourage virtue. They stayed in America and worked hard, and little by little, secured the things that eluded them. They became the backbone of the American middle class.

Many of them went on to great achievements and to fulfill the desperate dreams of their fathers and grandfathers, their mothers and grandmothers. I was told the other day about one family that had done especially well, by the way. It was a few years ago, and they moved out of their apartment in the city into a big house out on Long Island. And a friend said to the 12-year-old son, ``How do you like your new house?'' And he said: ``Oh, we love it. I have my own room, my brother has his own room, my sisters have their own rooms. Poor Mom, she's still in with Dad.'' [Laughter]

I want to add that the thing I like about Italian-American families is that no matter how many rooms they have, they're always together. The family bond is strong and loving. There are numerous examples, of course, of Italian-American triumphs. Many of them are sitting here on this dais. One of them was recently chosen to be the Vice Presidential candidate of her party, and I understand the pride that all of you feel. And, Congresswoman Ferraro, all I can say is -- and here I go again -- [laughter] -- ``Congratulazoni.''

Monsignor Geno Baroni used to say, ``There are only two lasting things we can leave our children. One is roots, the other is wings.'' And what can we do these days to make sure that our children are given both? And what can we do to ensure that all of the immigrant sons and daughters of our country have the same chance to prosper as the sons and daughters of Italy have?

My views on these things, I think, are well known. We believe that the Italian traditions of faith and family, the dignity of work, and the importance of effort should be encouraged. And that's why we tried to gear so many of our efforts toward the family, the prime generator of life and human virtues. We believe that protecting economic freedom means fighting inflation with unrelenting determination, for inflation is the deadliest tax of all.

Because we believe in justice, we've tried to make society a safer place. We believe that families have the right to take a walk together in a park, in the dark, in the city, without having to fear for their lives. They pay taxes for that right, but violent crime has deprived them of it. We're tough on crime, and we think we must be. Defendants have their rights and always will and always must. But victims and potential victims, too, have their rights, and we've tried very hard to make sure those rights are respected.

Let me add here that in the area of organized crime and drug trafficking, our Government and the Government of Italy have formed an extraordinary joint working group. Representatives of Italy's Interior Ministry will be in Washington soon for intensive high-level meetings with the Justice Department. The Italian Government's cooperation on this matter has been complete, and I believe the working group is another reflection of the excellent relations that exist between our two countries.

Italy, by the way, deserves a lot of credit and the thanks of the world for its heroic efforts to fight crime and domestic political terrorism. All of us remember that day in 1982 when Italy liberated General James Dozier from the hands of the Red Brigades. The courage of the Italian forces took our breath away. And I had the pleasure in Rome of meeting the young men that finally broke through that last door in the face of the enemy guns and effected the rescue. And I want to tell you, I'd feel you could send them to do some very tough jobs without arms. They were the most capable young men I've seen in a long time. Italy's been very effective in this fight, and they're setting an example for the world.

We believe in the neighborhood. We believe that the closer political power is to the people it affects, the better it will be wielded. We believe that human experience has taught us that local control is an integral part of political freedom. And we believe, finally, that the first and last key to making sure America will always be a haven for the immigrants who've enriched it is to ensure the peace.

And to ensure the peace, we must remain militarily strong. Down through our history most American Presidents have understood this. Our friends know well something that we know and something that our adversaries know: America can be trusted with military might. We don't like war; we never have. We're not an expansionist country or an imperialist country. We seek only to protect, never to act as the aggressor.

Our nation must always remain what God, in His wisdom, intended it to be -- a refuge, a place of safe haven for those looking for the human rights that have eluded them in the place of their birth. And it must always be a place of limitless opportunity for the children and grandchildren of the dreamers who journeyed here. If we keep these things in mind, then, truly, the children of the future will have both roots and wings, and the dream will endure.

Before I leave you tonight, I want to add just one more thing. Decades and decades back, there was an Italian immigrant who came to America. And he started a family and worked hard and raised his children as best he could. One of his sons became a milkman. He, too, worked hard and married and had a family. And then the mailman -- or the milkman, I should say, raised his children as he had been raised. They were taught to respect honesty, decency, and hard work. They struggled to make ends meet. All of the money went to the education of their children. They put one son through college, and when he said he wanted to be a doctor, they put him through medical school. Because of their diligence, the son became a prominent surgeon in a great hospital. And one day that surgeon, that son of a milkman, saved the life of a President of the United States who'd been shot. I know this story, because I was the patient.

Dr. Joseph Giordano is the surgeon. The hero of this story is Joseph Giordano, Sr. -- retired milkman and inheritor of the Italian-American tradition.

I have thanked the Giordanos, but I've not had a chance to personally thank a group like this for all that you've done to keep the tradition alive. And so, grazie. Thank you all very much. God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 10:56 p.m. in the International Ballroom at the Washington Hilton Hotel. He was introduced by Frank Stella. Other speakers at the dinner included the Vice President and the Democratic Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates, Walter F. Mondale and Representative Geraldine A. Ferraro, respectively.