CLAUDIA MASSIMO BERNS:
2002 COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT AWARD WINNER
Pubblicato su L’IDEA N.12, Vol.II, 2002, NY
Claudia Massimo Berns was born in Rome and lived on Lungotevere Flaminio for the first years of her life. The most pleasant memories of her early childhood were of riding to school on the handlebars of her father’s bike and of playing in Foro Italico with her brother Maurizio and their cousins.
When her father, who worked for the Italian Foreign Ministry, was transferred to the Italian Consulate in New York, they moved to Westchester County. Not knowing the English language, the new school was very intimidating, but a warm family environment and the friendships which developed with other families of Italian origin created a solid footing in this country. Their closest friends were from San Giovanni Rotondo.
Claudia still maintains those ties to this day.
The Massimo home was always open to all their friends and became the focal point of Claudia’s teenage activities. This country became Claudia’s adopted home. She finished high school in the same school where she had
started as a newcomer to this country and went to college here in New York City.
Her professional life has always kept her in touch with her country of origin. She had a rewarding career with the Italian Government Tourist Office for twenty-six years, promoting the beauties of Italy. Her parents had instilled in her a pride in her motherland, but it was not until she could promote Italy as a tourist destination that she fully understood the valuable gifts that Italy has contributed to humankind. It was during this stage in her life that she truly became aware of who she was. Eventually, mandatory transfers forced her to resign.
It was about this time that she and her husband, Michael Berns, met Senator George Pataki who was planning a run for Governor of New York State. They immediately liked him and joined a cohesive family of Pataki campaign
workers in 1994. Their goal was achieved when yet another Italian American, George Pataki (Matteo Lagana was his maternal grandfather), was elected Governor of New York State.
In January 1995, another door opened for Claudia, that of being the liaison between Governor George Pataki and the Italian American community. It has been a most rewarding undertaking because she represents a very conscientious and highly regarded public official, for whom she has the greatest respect, to a community whose friendship she treasures. Claudia feels she made many new friends and has formed a common bond with many of
them that will long endure.
Claudia Massimo Berns is the recipient of the 2002 L’IDEA MAGAZINE’s Community Involvement Award. L’IDEA MAGAZINE bestows this award to a meritorious individual who has shown throughout the years a serious and heartfelt interest for the welfare of the Italian community in the USA, and has acted upon it with no reservations. This award was presented to her during the Miss Idea 2002 gala.
Dr. Berns was very gracious and allowed us to ask her few questions that evening.
L’IDEA: You have been a loyal and valid representative of the New York State Governor, George Pataki, within the Italian community. What exactly is your title and what did this position entail?
CLAUDIA MASSIMO BERNS: My title is Assistant to the Governor for Italian Affairs, as such I am the Governor’s liaison with the Italian American Community, I keep him informed of issues which are of interest to the community. I am there also for the community in the event they need any assistance.
L’IDEA: The Governor has just triumphed in a third reelection bid and is going to lead this State for another four years. Are your intentions to continue with your function and if so, are you and the Governor planning any special projects that involve the Italian community?
BERNS: It is only a week since the election. I have not given much thought to future projects but I do plan to remain in this position. I think that I can be of value to the Governor and to our community during the next four years.
L’IDEA: What has been the most rewarding experience that you have had in the eight years with the Governor’s office?
BERNS: Most rewarding of all has been making so many new friends and being able to be there for them when help was needed in resolving problems.
L’IDEA: You worked twenty-three years for the Italian Government Tourist Office and you had the opportunity to develop a strong network of contacts within the Italian community of New York. You have put to use these connections in such a positive and constructive manner to make you win a Community Involvement Award from L’IDEA Magazine. You have a profound knowledge of the infrastructure of New York’s Italian community. Do you feel that this community is evolving, and if so, in what direction?
BERNS: I do think that the community has been evolving. In recent years I have seen an increase in youth participation in community oriented events. I believe that the parents and grandparents have been much more influential in creating an interest for our valuable cultural heritage in their youth. In many cases you now see offsprings getting involved in the club activities of their parents. You have an example in Leonardo Campanile’s son, Dominic who has taken an active role in L’Idea Magazine. Look at how FIERI has grown from its origin in the Bronx; these are all young Italian American professionals. I started noticing this reversal when I was working at the Italian Government Tourist Board and college-age young people were seeking information on the hometowns of their grandparents. Many expressed an interest in tracing their roots and finding extended family members still in Italy. Governor Pataki had an emotional trip to his grandfather’s hometown of Pellaro in Reggio Calabria. The Governor and his mother visited the house that her father had lived in as a boy. They met relatives still living in Pellaro and reconnected with an extended family in Calabria. I am very proud of the Community Involvement Award from L’Idea Magazine. I did not expect to be recognized for something that I consider a privilege. To be closely involved with a community I love on behalf of Governor Pataki, for whom I have the highest esteem, is truly an honor and a privilege.
L’IDEA: What do you think could be done to improve even more the conditions and the ambiance of the Italian community?
BERNS: As I look to the future for our community I would like to see an effort in several directions. I would like to see a continued effort in promoting the teaching of Italian in our schools; I would like to see the realization of a permanent Italian American Museum in New York. In our efforts to accomplish any of our projects we will have to be less competitive among ourselves and more united as a community. We all have great ambitions and so much to offer our community, but we could achieve much more as one united Italian American family.