July 17, 2024

East Room, The White House

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the White House!

Ambassador Zappia, we’re honored to have you with us this evening. And we’re grateful for Italy’s continued partnership on the world stage and in supporting Ukraine against Putin’s unprovoked war.

Every family has its own mythology – stories we tell again and again, stories that help illuminate the forces that shaped us and the values that continue to define us.

When my father’s grandparents Gaetano and Conchetta Giacoppa came to America, they became Gaetano and Conchetta Jacobs. They left behind everything they knew to chase the hope of this country’s unlimited promise.

It wasn’t always easy, but they had faith that if they worked hard, they could create a good life in America.

And even though their names changed, the values they brought across the Atlantic stayed the same: Loyalty. Generosity. Kindness. Faith.

I brought those values with me to the White House. And it’s my honor to serve as the first Italian American First Lady.

I grew up in a Philly suburb, and on weekends we would go to my father’s family home in Hammonton, New Jersey.

Those weekends were filled with the smell of burnt Italian bread toast, the musical way my grandmom cursed at my grandpop in Italian when he left rockfish on the counters and back porch after his fishing trips, and the sauce would be bubbling over on the stove. The comfort of a well-worn sofa. The loving and frequent embraces from my grandmom when just for a moment, everything felt right in the world.

Maybe some of you grew up like that too. Surrounded by family and love and laughter. Maybe your house was the one your friends always wanted to go to, because everyone felt welcome there.

I wanted to bring a little bit of that feeling to all of you tonight. Because you deserve nothing less than what our grandmoms would have created.

But our heritage is much more than our hospitality and food, isn’t it?

It’s the Sicilians who were dragged from their cells and killed in New Orleans by an angry mob. It’s “Italians need not apply.” It’s people like my dad who were never quite accepted by my mom’s family because he was Italian.

It’s a history of those who led movements, who wrote our laws and penned our poetry. Of men and women who were courageous, even when they were most afraid. Of people who worked hard and fought to give their children the best future they could – who helped build the middle class here in the United States.

Children like Speaker Pelosi. Nancy, you’ve spent your entire career living out the values that our ancestors passed on to us. You fight for our future each day, making our country better one law after another, one historic first after the next. Thank you for being with us.

And those values also live on in all the members of Congress, elected officials, and community leaders joining us who represent this community and their constituents tirelessly. Thank you for being here.

My husband, President Biden, is working to build on what this community has accomplished – and help us, and all communities, keep reaching for that bright future our ancestors were searching for.

That’s why he’s growing our economy from the middle out and the bottom up – so families like mine growing up, and maybe like yours too, can carve out a good life.

Because everyone deserves that chance.

Our ancestors’ determination did not end when they came to this country. It did not end when their names were rewritten by history. It did not end when they found a nation that, at the time, was not as happy to see them as they were to see it. It lives on in all of us.

So, as you move through these halls this evening, I hope you feel wrapped in the warmth of home, that you feel the power of your ancestors’ legacies, that you rejoice in being with one another, eat good food and end with a little something sweet.

Now, it’s my pleasure to introduce the incredible Cecilia Sordoni.

That was beautiful! Thank you, Cecilia.

Now, please, get something to eat and drink, and enjoy your time here, because this is your house too.

So, let’s raise a glass: To continuing to shape this country we call home – living out the hope of our ancestors, passing on their dreams and values to our children, and weaving our bright, beautiful threads into the rich tapestry of our nation.