Chancellor Alfano Honored as Distinguished Naturalization Ceremony Guest
Gaetan J. Alfano, Chancellor of the Justinian Society, served as the Distinguished Guest at the November 17, 2005 Naturalization Ceremonies facilitated by United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania's Judge Cynthia M. Rufe.
More than 100 people from 34 countries were granted citizenship.
Chancellor Alfano's Remarks were as follows:
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Gaetan Alfano. I am an attorney here in Philadelphia. I also am the Chancellor or head of the Justinian Society of Philadelphia. This Society, which is named after the Roman Emperor Justinian, was founded over 70 years ago by 15 attorneys of Italian descent. When it was founded, the Justinian Society served many purposes. One purpose was to encourage Italian Americans, many of whom were new citizens, to become attorneys. Another purpose was to help these attorneys to find work in Philadelphia law firms.
In Philadelphia, seventy years ago, the practice of law was dominated by large, well established firms with very American sounding names like Price, Drinker or Harrison. Many of the attorneys in these large Philadelphia firms could easily trace their families back to England. At that time, there were no Italian American attorneys in these law firms.
That was seventy years ago. Today, the Justinian Society has grown from 15 members to over 800 members. Through a charitable foundation, the Justinians have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide scholarships to help law students. Many Justinians now are attorneys in Philadelphia's largest, most prestigious law firms. Others, like me, have started their own law firms.
As you can see, the Law is one area in which Italian Americans have made tremendous progress. Many of the judges in the district court, the judges who decide cases in this courthouse, including Judge Rufe, are Italian Americans. The next highest court is the Court of Appeals. In this region or circuit, the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, Judge Scirica, is Italian American. In the highest court in America, the United States Supreme Court, one Justice - Justice Scalia - is Italian American while the President has nominated another Italian American - Judge Alito - for an opening on that Court. The progress that Italian Americans have made in the Law has been matched in other areas, including the Arts, Entertainment, Medicine, Business, and Government.
I hope that each of you, as new citizens, will enjoy the same success that we have enjoyed. Another fundamental goal of the Justinian Society is to encourage our members, despite our progress, to remain rooted in our common Italian heritage. To put it another way, we should never forget where we came from.
So, if I can leave you today with one thought, it is this: please remember and cherish your own heritage. There is always pressure on a new person in any group to want to fit in, to look like, to sound like, to dress like those who already are here, basically, to conform. It has happened in my own family. For example, my last name is ALFANO. I had relatives who changed their names to ALFORD because they thought it sounded more American. In America, my grandfather's name was John. There was only one problem - that wasn't his real name. He actually had a very common Italian name that was difficult for people in America to pronounce. But, because he owned a grocery store where he dealt with many people from different backgrounds, he thought that it was easier for his customers just to call him John. So, for fifty years, he was known as John.
My own first name is Gaetan. It is spelled GAETAN. Although I'm very proud of it, my name really isn't a name at all. In Italian, it is Gaetano, spelled GAETANO but my parents thought that it might make me look and sound more American if they dropped the O at the end of my first name. Well, if you look at my face and hear me speak, I don't think that it worked too well.
America prides itself on freedom and diversity. I would encourage you, as American citizens, to exercise your freedom by retaining your ethnic heritage and by weaving your diversity into the fabric of American society. Your holidays, customs and traditions will become part of the broader culture of the United States. And, when you leave here today, your name, whether it is Ashok, or Sergei, Mohammed, or Maya, Maria or Han, now is an American name.