Pasquale Gianni is the president of the Avanti Club. The Avanti Club is an organization for young Italian Americans. The club is an affiliate of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, or JCCIA.
The Avanti Club is for young people interested in networking, meeting new people, or who just want to get more involved in their Italian American heritage. Gianni said the club is hoping to get more young Italians involved and expand the club. Gianni is the grandson of Chicago legend Dominic DiFrisco, who passed in 2019.
Tell me about yourself.
I’m a lifelong Chicagoan. I’m an attorney. I work for the Teamsters Union. I take great pride advocating for working people. My family also owns a furniture manufacturing business in Cicero called Gianni Inc. I’m a true family man. I care a lot about my culture. I try to take frequent trips to Italy. It’s hard right now with COVID. I appreciate food, good wine, mozzarella, and the finer things in life!
What is the Avanti Club?
The Avanti Club was initially called the Young Professionals Division of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans. We rebranded it as the Avanti Club. Avanti means forward. It’s exactly the mission. We want to bring young people into the community in the hopes they will remain active for many years to come. It’s an affiliate of the JCCIA geared towards young people. We hope to engage them in their culture and heritage.
How old do you have to be to join?
We would like to say 35 and under. There is a mix of people who are in our club. Some people are single, and some are married with families.
Are there any fees to join?
It is $30 a year. To join, visit the JCCIA website.
Did you reinvent the club?
Yes. I wanted the rebranding to go along with the outgoing JCCIA president Sergio Giangrande as well as the newly installed president Ron Onesti. This is a way to rebrand and get some fresh energy.
How often and where does Avanti meet?
We have monthly board meetings at various locations. We typically like to support small, Italian owned businesses. We have also had Zoom meetings.
What are the goals with this club?
There are many goals. We hope to network, meet new people and build life- long friendships. The goal is to foster a sense of pride in our culture. Many young Italian Americans are proud of shows such as “The Sopranos” without looking at the contributions Italian Americans have made within our country. We hope to educate people about the art, culture, fashion, architecture, sports, and all the beautiful things that Italians have done to make this world a better place.
How many members are in the club?
We have several hundred. We’re hoping to hit the several thousand mark by the end of the year.
How do you plan on carrying on your grandpa, Dominic DiFrisco’s, legacy?
That’s the million-dollar question! My grandpa was everything to me and to a lot of people. He put so much passion and devotion in his culture. He fought against stereotyping against Italians and advocated for Columbus Day and other efforts.
In October of 1992, which was the 500th year anniversary of Columbus’ voyage, my grandpa came to an agreement with Native American activists. My grandpa agreed that he would not say Columbus “discovered” America while emceeing the Columbus parade that year. He also invited Native American leaders to lead the parade.
The Italian government heard this story and invited my grandfather to bring the delegation of Native American leaders to Italy. It’s a beautiful story about building bridges and working together. My grandpa’s ability to connect with people was what made him a leader in the community. I’ll forever try to emulate that.
Are there any other Italian Americans that you look up to?
We have a tremendous lineage. We have Julius Cesar, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Joe DiMaggio, Rocky Marciano and Dan Marino. We have Gucci, Prada, and Dolce and Gabbana. Everywhere you look, we’ve influenced this world in the better way.
How do you feel about Columbus statues being taken down this past summer?
Columbus is a part of our heritage and our culture. I celebrate Columbus Day for two reasons. First of all, I am a student of history. Columbus crossing the Atlantic was the most significant event in the history of humankind. It led to the great exchange of people, goods, culture, crops, etc. There’s been no more profound occurrence in the history of humankind. Of course, slavery went along with that, but that was no fault of Columbus as a man. Additionally, as a proud Italian American, Columbus represents our suffering, contributions, and our attempts to assimilate. So many monumental places are named after Columbus.
President Harrison declared the first Columbus Day in 1892 as a result of the mass lynching in New Orleans. Then, Columbus became a hero. He was viewed as the nation’s first immigrant. We could say that we are all Columbus. It’s important that young people become educated about this topic.