Lee DeMilo, founder of Lingua and Cucina, is another inspiring Italian woman for TIS! We were lucky enough to have Lee tell us her story about moving to America while still maintaining a connection to her Italian heritage.
Immigration can cause you to get lost in a new way of life and forget your roots. That is simply not the case with founder of Lingua and Cucina, Lee DeMilo, who outright refused to abandon her Italian heritage. Instead, she has built a life around cherishing and spreading the Italian culture that remains so dear to her decades after leaving her home, San Lorenzello. Her story in America isn’t without struggle, but each challenge has been met head on with equal parts endurance and hard work - an attitude she developed long ago on her family’s olive groves in the beautiful San Lorenzello countryside.
From an early age, Lee was instilled with a strong work ethic and a sense of responsibility. Coming from a large family with strict parents, Lee always felt a sense of obligation to do well in school and in performing her daily household chores. Lee explains it best when she said, “the real life began early on for me.” Fittingly, looking back at her childhood, her best memories were around the dinner table. It was a time when her family could forget all their trouble, be together, and enjoy a delicious meal while her father looked on with pride.
Once settled in her new life in America, Lee maintained the values of hard work and determination she learned in Italy. She received scholarships to Quinnipiac University and was able to graduate magna cum laude. The biggest test of those values came in 2001 when her husband and her decided to purchase a historic house made with sheetrock in Connecticut - a decision that almost cost Lee her life. In time, Lee came to discover that she was allergic to sheetrock and had developed an autoimmune disease that would force her to quit her job and keep her bedridden. As doctors struggled to find a solution, Lee struggled with maintaining her sense of self. The side effects of the prescribed medication began to turn her into a different person. In order to survive, Lee had to go back to her roots. Through eating organic foods like she had when she was growing up in Italy as well as taking up the Japanese healing technique of reiki, Lee was able to reconnect with her inner self and get better. Out of this experience, Lingua and Cucina was born.
"It’s a place where you called everyone your aunt or uncle and neighbors were calling from balconies for extra garlic at lunchtime. A place where performing simple tasks for one another wasn’t questioned or delayed and friendships became long lasting support systems."
When asked why it has been so important for her to maintain her Italian culture, Lee begins by painting a picturesque picture of the community she knew in San Lorenzello. It’s a place where you called everyone your aunt or uncle and neighbors were calling from balconies for extra garlic at lunchtime. A place where performing simple tasks for one another wasn’t questioned or delayed and friendships became long lasting support systems. It’s these values that has kept Lee so connected to her Italian heritage and eager to pass along to her students. She believes that if her students want to learn the Italian language, it’s imperative that they must first learn the culture. Lee thoroughly accomplishes this task by creating real world scenarios for her students to interact in and providing delicious organic meals from the region they’re currently studying. Her students will come out learning that in Italy, especially in the business world, a handshake means so much more than a signature or a lunch will get you much further than a simple phone call.
"She believes that if her students want to learn the Italian language, it's imperative that they must first learn the culture."
For those traveling to Italy with Travel Italian Style, Lee offers this popular suggestion “When in Rome, do what the Romans do.” She encourages visitors to watch what the locals are doing and follow suit, placing importance in travelers to gain a real, authentic experience.
Lee looks back at her struggles as learning experiences. She believes that she had to “learn her own lessons the hard way” and has become a stronger person from it. That’s why she offers this advice, “If you take the challenge and pursue it, when you over it, you become a different person with a much broader view and will expect more out of life.”
"If you take the challenge and pursue it, when you over it, you become a different person with a much broader view and will expect more out of life."
Lingua e Cucina is a modern, personal and entertaining way to learn Italian and a building bridge for Italian and American companies to create partnerships and strategically market Italian products and services in the U.S. You can find more about Lee and her work with Lingua e Cucina here: http://www.linguaecucina.com
Francesca is an Assistant Travel Consultant for Travel Italian Style and is pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations with a concentration in European Systems at SUNY Geneseo. She highly values and maintains close ties with her Italian heritage. As a longtime traveler, Francesca wants people to have the opportunity to experience the real Italy to the fullest. The Italy that takes place around a large dinner table with homemade pasta and Limoncello surrounded by people who are filled with humor and passion for life. Francesca joined Travel Italian Style to be part of a company that gives people the chance to experience that authentic Italian lifestyle.