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Emily Zecchino's Memoir of her Italian-American Immigrant Saga
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2014-11-22 14:01:45
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 Emily Zecchino’s Memoir of her Italian-American Immigrant Saga:
A Review Essay

Dr. Emanuel L. Paparella


Memories of Faith, Inspiration, Love and Business by Emily Zecchino (2011)

For the second time in two years Emily Zecchino was a guest lecturer in my Italian class at Broward College (see picture below). She is the author of a remarkable book of memoir which chronicles a life spanning 86 years, from her birth place in Bari, Italy, in 1927, her youth, her immigrant saga from Italy to Africa in her teens, to New York as a war bride, her business entrepreneurship in Florida from rag to riches (the title of the first chapter which could well have been a subtitle for the book),  her three decades in New York; her final permanency in Hollywood, Florida from 1972 (when she became a widow), to the investing $1000 dollars in a business venture in catering by mortgaging her home, to the present, when after four decades in Florida at the ripe age of 83, ultimately achieving financial success and security. The book was published three years ago in 2011, all narrated within approximately 300 pages and 27 chapters and including hundreds of photos:

Due to the turmoil of World War II, Emily was unable to finish her education. She never went beyond High School, and yet she has managed to write a book in English, her second language, that would put to shame even a college graduate. The question arises: how it that possible? The explanation is simple: Emily is the kind of person who never stopped learning in her life and who never misses an opportunity to learn something new, be another language, or the computer, of a new recipe for her culinary expertise. Much like Michelangelo, one can envision her working at something or other till the end of her life exclaiming that “ancora imparo” (I’m still learning). That, together with her work ethics, which is based on a belief in hard and honest work, goes a long way in explaining much of her business success.

As mentioned, she opened a catering business in 1982 investing $1000 dollars and mortgaging her home. She called it Holyday Foods. It was slow going at the beginning but eventually the business started growing to the point that by the time she sold it to the Schwan Food Company 24 years later in 2006 it was employing some 200 employees and was worth several million dollars.  

What makes this immigrant saga unique is that a good third of the book, from chapter 6 to chapter 16 is dedicated to the description of her five year stay in Africa, from 1937 to 1942 where she spent her teen middle school years in a place in Ethiopia name Harar which she dubs in chapter 9 “the magic walled city,”    There her younger sister was born. These are memorable years in Emily’s memoir. However, the terrible war arrived in 1940 and it involved the continent of Africa too. Her father who was in the army was made a prisoner of war by the British and the family returned to Italy without the father in 1942 in a so called white ship” utilized to repatriate civilians of the former Italian colony. The war continued for another three years although Italy withdrew from the conflict in 1943. Hard times followed with a civil war ensuing between the fascist Italians and the German Nazis fighting the Italian rebels or partisans who more than anybody else prepared the way for a more democratic Republican Italy.“

Things began to change for the better for Emily with the invasion of the peninsula by the American army in 1944, when Emily met her future husband, a GI soldier in the American army passing through Bari. Eventually they got married and Emily emigrated to America, her husband’s country, where they had three children. She arrived in New York in 1946 as a so called “war bride” at the age of 19.


Emily Zecchino for a lecture in Professor Paparella’s class
of Italian on 18 Novermber 2014

The above brief narrative explains the title “Only in America.” One of the points of the book is that a sure recipe for success, just as her food recipes assured her success to the point that her company began catering outside the State of Florida, even to the White House during the Clinton administration, is to take advantage of opportunities and insure that they are equally open to all. This is a point she made time and again in the lecture: the importance of taking advantage of opportunities available, hard work and, most importantly, treating one’s employees with respect and dignity,

Another insight that Emily shared with my students was that to succeed in one’s career, one has to venture out on what one is passionate about. In an era of so called savage capitalism and bottom line thinking, even in education, that must have come as a breath of fresh air to my students. She insists that profits will surely follow, but they should never be the first priority. The first priority should be service and a passion to do a good job and never cheat the persons one is serving. 


Main Library on the campus of Broward College-Central

Emily exemplified those statements by donating a complimentary book to each one of my students. One could see by their smiling faces that this gesture was highly appreciated. To say it in a sentence, her visit turned out to be an inspiration expressed by the students with a spirited applause and warm expressions of gratitude. Emily in fact is nothing short than an example of the best of the Italian humanistic heritage which encompasses not only good food and wine, but also a penchant for creating lasting things and doing them well, almost as a work of art. That is to say, she exemplifies the best of the Italian heritage. All my students and I at Broward College are truly grateful for Emily’s memorable visit.

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Dr. Paparella's students2014-11-25 19:44:03
Dear Ms. Zecchino,
we the students of Italian at BC wish to thank you for your visit and your complimentary book and wish you all the best.

Students of Italian at BC

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