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Each 2023 La Famiglia scholarship applicant wrote a 750-1000-word essay on a topic of current interest as a major component of the application. We will feature a winning essay each month. 

This month’s essay was written by Brendan Elliott, recipient of the Carl T. Julio Scholarship. The essay topic was:

“With each generation, elements of our traditional Italian heritage tend to fade due to neglect, heritage blending and other changes.  Many families have traditions rooted in that Italian heritage.  Based on your experience, which two traditions reflecting our heritage do you believe are most important to preserve and pass onto the next generation, why do you think these two are especially important and how do you plan to ensure that they are preserved?”

Preserving Heritage: The Importance of Homemade Italian Cuisine and Tight-Knit Family by Brendan Elliott
With each passing generation, the elements of our traditional Italian heritage seem to fade away due to a lack of attention, heritage blending, and other societal changes. However, it is crucial that we preserve these traditions and pass them on to the next generation. As an Italian American, I believe that two essential traditions that reflect our heritage are homemade Italian cuisine and tight-knit family. These two aspects are essential to preserving our heritage and maintaining a connection to our Italian roots. 
First, the tight-knit family is a fundamental aspect of Italian heritage. As Italians, we place a high value on family and maintain strong family bonds that last a lifetime. Our families provide a source of comfort, support, and guidance throughout our lives, and this bond strengthens our sense of identity and belonging. Moreover, families are the medium through which traditions of our heritage are maintained, whether it be religious traditions, food traditions, language, or attendance to local festivals. By keeping our family tightly knit, these traditions are more likely to survive through time, helping to ensure that future generations feel the same connection to the Italian heritage. Some examples in the importance of family in maintaining heritage and tradition are through recording family history, ancestor’s documents. Additionally, large family dinners are another aspect that can maintain family strength and tradition.
Regarding the tracking of family history, it is essential to keep a record of our family history, including immigration records and other documents of our ancestors. This information helps us understand our heritage and our family’s journey to the United States. For example, I have tracked my ancestors’ history on my own time, and it has given me a more profound sense of pride for my Italian heritage. Seeing the documents of my great-grandparents’ arrival to the United States from Italy has more deeply connected me to the Italian American
Beyond tracking ancestor and family history, other aspects of tight-knit family that ensure the preservation of heritage are family dinners and gatherings. Family dinners are a great way to bring family members together and share in our Italian heritage. At these dinners, we laugh, learn, and have a great time by sharing stories of other family members such as parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. When reminiscing about my understanding of my Italian heritage, I realize that most of my knowledge comes from learning it during family gatherings at my grandparents’ house. Without these group gatherings of extended family, I would not have as profound of an appreciation for my Italian heritage. Family dinners and gatherings provide an essential medium for learning history, language, and general knowledge of traditions and more. Another important exposure that comes from these dinners is cuisine. Cuisine is an important aspect of all cultural heritages, including the Italian heritage. Thus, to preserve heritage, learning the cuisine of your culture is essential. 
In my family, we enjoy making homemade Italian cuisine, which is another essential aspect of our heritage. We use recipes that have been passed down through generations, and making these dishes together with our family is a way to connect with our heritage. As a child, I loved helping my grandmother make pasta. She taught me the importance of using fresh ingredients and making everything from scratch. This experience not only taught me about Italian
cuisine but also gave me a deeper understanding of my heritage. Making homemade pasta with my family has become a tradition that we continue to this day. We gather in the kitchen, roll out the dough, and spend time together as a family. These moments are essential in keeping us connected to our roots. Thus, I believe maintaining and using Italian recipes in the household is extremely important when it comes to maintaining traditions and appreciation of heritage. 
Preserving our Italian heritage is essential, and we can achieve this by maintaining family traditions such as making homemade Italian cuisine and maintaining a tight-knit family bond. By keeping a record of our family history, learning Italian phrases and words, and gathering for family dinners, we can pass on our traditions to future generations. These traditions are not only essential to our identity but also help us feel connected to our roots. Making homemade Italian cuisine together as a family is a fun and engaging way to learn about our heritage while also creating lasting memories. It is our responsibility to preserve our heritage and ensure that future generations maintain a strong connection to our Italian roots, preserve our Italian heritage and pass it on to future generations.

 Congratulations and thank you to Brendan! Stay tuned for future essays.