This post is also available in: Italian together with the city of the Sicilian town of Cinisi are honoured to award Michael Chirco with the “Town Ambassador” recognition.

Town Ambassador is an award and a testament to the men and women who have promoted their towns of origin, and are still doing it regardless of the distance that divide them from it, creating life-long cultural bridges. They fuse past and future for the benefit of next generations.

But who is Michael Chirco?

It is easy to tell who is Michel Chirco, appointed as man of the year in 2018 by the Governor of Michigan. He is one of the 5 top builders in Michigan and among the top 100 in USA.

He is a great philanthropist and the major sponsor of St Louis Children Centre in Chelsea, among others. Notably, he was born august 5th, the day when the US air force dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima.

This will tell you something about the business man but it is not sufficient to know the man and his personal and intriguing story of a heart divided between America and Sicily, in Italy.

Michael is the third generation of an Italian family that moved to America in early 1900. His father arrived in Florida on a rocamboles trip, on a boat that was half filled with water due to bad weather conditions. He survived living in water on the bottom of a boat. Unbelievable. 

His father left the beautiful Sicilian town of Cinisi, with its sunny coast and limpid sea without any idea of what he would find.

Their baggage was light: a paper luggage and a soul full of pride. They were people who wanted to demonstrate that they were good people, just born at the right place but at the wrong time. They wanted to earn some money and go back to their home town.

Their principles were simple: do the best for your family, for your community and for your country. And their countries were Italy and America. They wanted to work, earn money, pay taxes, and send money to relatives in Sicily so that they can buy land and build a house. 

It seemed like a simple plan. But things happened differently. Despite the fact that some families were split in two, with some members in Italy and some in America, new generations established deep roots and love for America.

Italy was in their Italian lifestyle, in their heart, but thousands of miles away from their daily life.

At that time, their situation was interesting as on the social scale, Italians were considered to be below black people, because they were not born in America. So, families tried to grow a fully integrated generation of American: children had to speak good English, perform well at school and be respected. Michael was one of these children. He could hear his parents talking in Sicilian but he had to speak in good English.

It was in the 1960’s, when he was 15, that he finally went to Cinisi where he spent 6 months. He met his grandmother for the first time, got acquainted with real Italian culture. His grandmother built the first toilet at her home for Michael and uncle Sam family’s arrival. 

Meanwhile in the US, his father established a successful fish market business despite some problems – one of which being that his truck had no reverse gear and could only go forward. Things seemed to improve over time, but a fire destroyed everything and Michael had to go to work in a construction firm.

As always, life is life and what appears to be bad luck ends up being a happy surprise. Michael started at the bottom but learned quickly and soon opened his own firm. In time, and without fear, he became one of America’s top builders.

He married Mary Grillo, a woman from Terrasini – a town not far from Cinisi. They have 6 children and 12 grandchildren are now adults and their ties with Italy are totally different. 

Michael still sends money every year for the patronage festival of Santa Fara in Cinisi and the one in Terrasini (his wife’s family town). 

A few years ago, he paid for repairing the façade of the main church without advertising that he did. His is the humility of knowing that he has been lucky and that he wished to share some of his good fortune with others: the St Louis Children Center, the inhabitants of Cinisi and others.

Michael and I had a nice long chat in Ceprano, at the home of a mutual friend (Carlo Corsetti Carabinieri General) after which his daughter Eva helped me to gain a deeper understanding of some aspects of the American frame of mind. Meanwhile I helped her to understand better the Italian side of her father.

Eva Evola is a renowned soprano. Every year, she does a tour in Italy ‘What America means to me’ with the Bellini Opera Theatre of Detroit with other American singers of Italian heritage: Dino Valle (a baritone) and Aaron Caruso (a tenor). She knows Italy, but until we spoke after I had chatted with her father, she hadn’t fully grasped her father’s feelings towards Italy and Sicily.

The real connection that her parents have with Italy and the direct connection they have with the Italian people is something that she hadn’t truly experienced. Eva is the 4th American generation of her Italian family. She is deeply American with an Italian heritage. Despite the fact that she sings Italian opera arias, her connections with Italy are more emotional than physical.

The story of Michael Chirco is one of the best examples of the evolution of relationship between Italy and America over the years. We can learn from him how to create value out of this ‘double heart’. How integration can create better persons who do what’s best for their communities.

I think it is time to create a different kind of bridges between Italians and Americans, between two cultures that are looking at each other with respect and love but don’t have the right vocabulary to translate their mutual culture to one another.

How best to accomplish this is be the subject of the next discussions that I plan to have with Mr. Chirco, and the subject of the Town Ambassador Award dedicated to the Americans with Italian origin.

Claudia Bettiol

IT Ingegnere, futurista e fondatrice di Discoverplaces. Consulente per lo Sviluppo Turistico dei Territori, specializzato nella sostenibilità e nella promozione culturale dei piccoli territori e delle piccole imprese. Ama i cavalli ENG Engineeer, futurist, joint founder of Energitismo and founder of Discoverplaces. Consultant for the development and promotion of the Touristic Development of Territories specialising in sustainability and in cultural promotion of small places and small enterprises. She loves horses