Autunno 2019 | Autumn 2019

Autunno 2019 | Autumn 2019

I am happy to say that I will be returning to Italy during the fall of 2019 in order to continue work on this project. While my schedule is not yet set, I plan to be in Sicilia from late September until mid-October. I am hoping to meet, talk with, and photograph as many of you as possible. Please keep in touch by sending me an email and letting me know which area you live in. Thank you!

Sono felice di dire che tornerò in Italia nell'autunno del 2019 per continuare a lavorare su questo progetto. Mentre il mio programma non è ancora fissato, ho in programma di essere in Sicilia da fine settembre a metà ottobre. Spero di incontrare, parlare e fotografare il maggior numero possibile di voi. Vi prego di rimanere in contatto inviandomi un'e-mail e facendomi sapere in quale area vivi. Grazie!

Non vedo l’ora di incontrarvi!

- Lisa Venticinque
WhatsApp: +39 348 301 3139

Enna, Leonforte, & Agira: The heart of Venticinque territory

Enna, Leonforte, & Agira: The heart of Venticinque territory

After many miles (and days) of driving, I have finally arrived in Enna, the province (and city) that sits right in the center of the island of Sicily. After taking the ferry from the mainland and making my way through Messina and Catania, I drove through a crazy tropical thunderstorm on my way to get here— it was one of those situations where the palm trees blew sideways, I couldn’t see a thing, and I had to squeeze under a bridge along with a couple other cars seeking refuge.


But it was all worth it when, driving through the countryside, I approached a vision of majestic beauty: a rugged mountain top with a city nestled in its rock face, with a misty cloak of clouds wrapped around it. Truly, it was like nothing I’d ever seen before, and I couldn’t believe my luck with I realized that what I was seeing was Enna, the place I was headed.

ENNA IMG_8651 (1).jpg

A few years ago, someone tipped me off to the idea that this region of Italy may be the starting point for the Venticinque story. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to figure out if that is actually true— and my research thus far seems to support this theory. The main town I’d been hoping to visit for years is called Leonforte (which means “strong lion”), a relatively small community outside the larger city of Enna. I had been hoping for the longest time to spend a month in Leonforte, renting a room and acclimating to the community so that I could begin to explore and get to know people. However, for this trip I opted to stay in Enna since it was easier to find accommodation— in fact, it was difficult to find any place to stay at all in Leonforte . What I didn’t expect was not only for Leonforte to be bigger than I’d thought, but also I didn’t anticipate that Enna would be such a majestic, historically significant, and vibrant city. Stone streets, a mix of clouds & fog hanging in the air… this is what I found when I arrived at my hotel:


Not bad for a balcony view of a $35/night hotel room, right? It was pretty amazing.
Enna served as the perfect launching spot for my research— I loved its moody vibe and also it was really easy to access the nearby villages. It’s definitely where I will be returning to for my next round, and I can’t wait to get back.

Hotel Sicila, my Enna home.

Hotel Sicila, my Enna home.

North of Naples pt.2:  My friend Beppe & Teano

North of Naples pt.2: My friend Beppe & Teano

One of my favorite things about Italy is the warmth and kindness that I find in nearly every situation— I can’t tell you how many lovely people I met each and every day, and this area was no different. While following the trail of my own bisnonni in search of clues about how any Venticinques ended up in the area, I struck up conversations with as many people as I could.

Thanks to this lovely cultural standard of friendliness, I was not only able to talk about the WeAre25 project, but people were eager to offer help and advice. And for the first ever, people actually recognized the name and were able to recall others in their own community whom they knew. On many occasions, the person I was talking to would grab the attention of someone else (sometimes even on the telephone) to help track down the name and details of a Venticinque, often someone that they vaguely remembered. It usually sounded something like: “Ah yes, I remember an older man who lives just outside of his town… what was his name? My cousin knows him and I will ask him. Wait here because he’ll be back in a few minutes….”

To my excitement, these conversations of recognition started happening more and more, and I quickly noticed that Teano, a small city near where I was staying but which was not yet on my radar. One day I headed into town, winding through the hairpin turns of the stone streets as sheets of rain poured down all around me. I stopped in a piazza at the center of town when I saw a group of men gathered there. After some surface chit-chat, I was given a name and an address for a Venticinque (if you can call “just outside of town past the big restaurant, there’s a butcher shop where you can ask for him because he lives nearby” an address). I set off as the rain increased, but as I approached the destination, I had to stop an turn around; the torrential rain had caused a flash flood, and the road was impassable. Hoping to wait it out, I ducked into a cafe so I could get (yet) a(nother) coffee. While I was there, I ended up in a conversation with the mother-daughter owners, who enthusiastically told me about a Venticinque who lives by the Teano train station. I headed straight there hoping to catch the mystery man and, as I pulled up, I saw the most interesting character emerge from the station. Trying to avoid making him feel like he was being ambushed, I jumped out of my car to catch his attention and…

Twenty minutes later, Beppe & are were fast friends. We drove to the nearby home of Nicola Venticinque, an engineer and well-respected man in the community. I wasn’t so sure about showing up unannounced, but Pepa assured me it would be fine. And as it turns out, it was— Nicola was lovely and interested in the projects, and he offered to collaborate with me next year— he said I could do portraits of his family, and he would assist me as much as possible with research in the area. Fantastico! Sadly, he had to run before I could set up for even a quick portrait, but we made plans to meet next year.


Pepe and I left and headed back toward the train station, where he showed me his pen of over 80 chickens, hens, and roosters— absolutely amazing! We then walked down to the local bar, where we sat at a table and talked until long after the sun went down and night was firmly set upon us. It turns out that Pepe is an incredible man, a window of 40 years who has 3 daughters and has recreationally studied psychotherapy for the past 20. He delivered a long and heartfelt lecture to me about how I am never, not under any circumstances, trust Italian men: never listen to their sweet words, he said, because all they want to do is… well, I need say no more. With his permission, I recorded our conversation— something I will return to, I’m sure, many times for a smile.

We said our goodbyes under the stars, and I honestly can’t wait to see him again. We formed a true bond that night, and I’m so happy to have met him and to now call him a friend.


Along the Way: The Long Road to Citizenship

Along the Way: The Long Road to Citizenship

Around seven years ago, I discovered that I may be eligible for dual US-Italian citizenship. After many years of puzzling over how I could possibly find a way to live and work in the EU, I was thrilled at the prospect. I entertained the possibility for a few years, doing some light research into the labyrinth of rules & regulations… and then about a year ago, I got serious and from that point there was no turning back.

Interestingly, it turns out that I am actually an Italian citizen right now. Who knew?!?! Italy grants citizenship through bloodline, and unless one generation naturalizes before the next is born, citizenship passes on as long as the chain is unbroken. However, the process to prove one’s citizenship-by-blood (juris sanguinis) is fraught with bureaucracy and complications. There is an incredible amount of paperwork involved: historical documents and vital records, official stamps, translations, and more. Then, you have to get an appointment at one of the Consulate offices in the US. That process in itself is surprisingly difficult: right now, the first appointments available in a majority of the US offices are scheduled out to 2023. Five years just to get an appointment! And then if you submit perfect paperwork and pay some more money, you get to wait 2 years with absolutely no word of update until eccolo! You’re in. (Or not.)

I’ve spent countless hours poring through records, collection documents, and trying to piece together a case. I’ve hit some major walls (turns out my great-great grandfather snuck over to the US for 5 years to naturalize before going back to bring the rest of the family over), and am working my way around them. Turns out that I’m going to have to work with an attorney to plead a case of discrimination because, until the 1990s, women were not considered to be valid carriers of the bloodline.

I’ve been working with my Uncle Bobby, and as a 2-person team we have done a lot of work. He was actually just in Italy to collect some documents, and I’ve been able to stop by a couple offices to do some research on my own. Yesterday, as I was driving through Calabria, I was able to stop in the comune biblioteca (historical records library) of my great grandfather Angela Romano’s village, to search for his elusive birth certificate. And I found it! And then I had to head comune ufficio (city hall) to have the documents reviewed and get an official form & stamp. It took some arguing, and some coercion, and some time, and some laughter… but I got it!

This winter, I’ll engage an Italian attorney. Apparently, almost everyone who pleads the same anti-discrimination case wins, if they have all their documents in order. I’ll continue to collect everything I need, and will apply next year. It turns out that it is much faster to apply after establishing residency in Italy— and that sounds like a good plan to me! 2019 goals….

Here are some scenes from my visits in Marzano-Appio (Campania) and Acri (Calabria):

This is Stella the historical librarian at the Acri biblioteca. She is a superstar.

This is Stella the historical librarian at the Acri biblioteca. She is a superstar.

This is the original birth certificate of my great-grandfather, written by hand a couple days after he was born. On the left is written a record of his two marriages. The top is my great-grandmother who died too young, and the bottom is for his second marriage— he went back to his village to find a wife, and married (and brought home) a woman who was younger than him by FORTY-TWO YEARS!! Hard to fathom.

This is the original birth certificate of my great-grandfather, written by hand a couple days after he was born. On the left is written a record of his two marriages. The top is my great-grandmother who died too young, and the bottom is for his second marriage— he went back to his village to find a wife, and married (and brought home) a woman who was younger than him by FORTY-TWO YEARS!! Hard to fathom.

This guy and his staff gave me a really hard time for doing the unthinkable: showing up when they were heading out for the day (at noon). However, with the help of a local friend, we were able to convince him to take it easy on me. And I walked out of there with that precious blue stamp!

This guy and his staff gave me a really hard time for doing the unthinkable: showing up when they were heading out for the day (at noon). However, with the help of a local friend, we were able to convince him to take it easy on me. And I walked out of there with that precious blue stamp!

I”m not able to do everything I’d like to, because of my time limitations. However, I’ve made some great connections in the municipal offices, and know just who to contact if I need assistance with further research before I come back.

Hello from Napoli:  phase one of the journey begins

Hello from Napoli: phase one of the journey begins

Napoli: It’s a zany ramshackle of a city.

Hard as it was to tear myself away from the many new friends and rich experiences I had up in the North, I’m incredibly excited to set off on this critical phase of We Are 25. After stopping in Rome for a couple nights, where I ran into some typical nearly disastrous travel mishaps, I lugged my ultra-heavy, camera—laden bags south and landed on the wild, wild streets of Naples.

While I really don’t like being on camera, I’ve decided that I must get over it for the sake of this project. So I present to you… a report from my first day in action. I hope it gives a good sense of where I am, what I’ve been up to, and what Im getting ready to do.

Goodbye North, Hello South

Goodbye North, Hello South

Yesterday I left the cocoon of my beloved Pennabilli, a small village nestled in the remote mountains of Emilia-Romagna. I spent the past three there weeks working on a project called Esperienza, an Italian language and culture institute that is currently being developed. As an artist in residence and member of the management team, I was the photo/video documentarian of the project. I must say— challenging as it was to keep up with the on-the-go pace of the group, it was by far the most enjoyable documentation gig I’ve ever had! And certainly the most delicious— the amount of food consumed is astonishing.

And the beauty…. I never knew much about Emiglia-Romagna, as I’ve spent most of my time in other regions of Italy (cities of Tuscany, Sicily, etc). So I was unprepared for its astounding beauty: mountain capped with castles, churches, and fortresses. Tiny hilltop villages with houses that date from before the 14th century. Layers and layers of mountain ridges in the distance, in every direction; light that changes dramatically every hour of every day. The people who are deeply connected to the land. I fell in love with the region, and if all goes well with the program, I hope to be able to return next year for a longer period of time (more on that later).

Photo-documentation in action in Pennabilli

Photo-documentation in action in Pennabilli

One of the many benefits of my time up north is the opportunity I have had to work on and improve my ability to speak the Italian language. When I first arrived, I was pretty timid— but now, I really don’t care if I screw things up, so I just let the words try to match my thoughts. The result is not only that I can get by with the language, but I’ve actually really taken to it. I’ve spent countless hours talking to people, which has been great because I’ve met so many people and actually have formed some real friendships— all in Italian!

Improving my language was the single most critical goal I had for my first stretch of time back in Italy. Although my residency kept me much busier than expected, I now feel really good about my ability to converse and connect with people. Good news, considering I’m about to step off into a world where English will often be not used at all.

ON the train through Naples, speeding through the countryside:, I see the landscape has changed yet again; the rocky mountains loom over the countryside, stark against the blue sky. I’m heading into the land that wasn’t able to sustain its people, the land where the sun turns much to brown: the trees of the hilltops, the crops in the fields, the skin of the workers

Today began my first day of the next phase of this trip to Italy. My residency is over and I am now able to focus 100% on my project.

I’m pretty sure that as I write this part, I’m approaching the area where I”ll be doing my family research as I move slowly toward obtaining my citizenship. In just a few days I’ll be back here, driving around on my own in search of people who share my name’s history.

Once I get to Naples, I will be renting a car and driving it through the countryside, making my way through different towns that seem to hold clues. I’m starting in Campania, the area around Naples; this is the place where my great-grandfather last lived before leaving for America, and the place where his own father landed, presumably after leaving the barren land even further south. Over the years, my Italian friends have told me that they’d never dream of driving their car to Naples— chances are that if someone doesn’t bang up your car, they’ll steal it! We’ll see what happens….

THANK YOU!! Indiegogo campaign is a SUCCESS!

Thus summer, I launched a campaign to raise support for this project. It was met with overwhelming support, and I”m thrilled to announce that we met the goal! (Well, actually the online & offline contributions added up to just under the $4k goal, but realistically it was a complete success. MAJOR THANKS to each and every person who contributed to this campaign:

Michelle Hayes
Jennifer Zarth
Annie Elbin
Jeannine Pohl
Carly Romeo
Dameun Strange
Amanda Keillor
Anthony F Tedesco
Nate Dungan
Carissa Morris
Karen Manuel
Cynthia Bittner
Nancy Hendrickson
Olivia Johnson
C.J. Staples
Dawn Hofstrand
Nancy Gerber
Annette Schiebout
Susan Hoyt
Sandra Gengler
Mark Carter
Gina Sevick
Michael Cruse
Peggy Hansen
Brian Balleria
Matt Garceau
Sarah Caflisch
Carole Kaldahl
Henry Kaldahl
Travis Anderson
The Italian Cultural Center of Minneapolis
Samuel Fischer
Jeff Nelsen
Emily Colletti
Teresa Thomas
Ingrid Weise
Rachel Allyn
Sara Venticinque

What’s the money for? It’s to lay the foundation for the first phase of this project, covering production-related expenses. You can learn all about the campaign in detail here.

Thanks so much, everyone! Can’t wait to write all those love letters from Italy!


Get involved & show your support

I'm thrilled to be launching the first phase of this monumental project.  I'll be heading to Italy in September to complete some research, make in-person connections with several members of the Venticinque network, and to schedule some interviews and portrait sessions.  

I am currently raising funds for this first phase, which will enable me to create the first collection of images and narratives.  I will be compiling this work into a presentation to pitch to potential major funders (for example, businesses & organizations with an interest in Italian cultural identity and Italian-American relations, or with a more broad interest in immigration histories).

This is where YOU come in:  I've launched a crowdfunding site to help raise funds for this first trip.  The funds will be used for things like photo/video gear I need, and other expenses incurred as I make my way through this critical first phase.

Here's the link to my Indiegogo site.  A donation of $25 would be fantastico, but there are some great perks for larger donations as well.



Just announced: now making appointments in Italy this autumn

Lisa Venticinque has just announce that she will be in Italy this autumn, and will be traveling throughout Campania, Calabria, & Sicilia between 25 September - 7 October.  She would like to connect with as many Venticinques as possible, and will be making appoints to visit with and get to know people during that time.  She will also be offering portrait sessions, to be included with the collection of portraits of Venticinques.  

If you are interested or have questions, please email Lisa directly:  

Buona notte, Annelisa Venticinque

CASERTA - "It was as beautiful as the sun, now it will always remain with us". This is the phrase pronounced by the colleagues of Annalisa Venticinque, the young hostess of "Italo Treno" originally from Pignataro Maggiore, who died of cancer at 33 years last Friday. In his country, in the province of Caserta, the number of people with malignancies and tumors is clearly increasing. There, there is the famous ex-Pozzi landfill. To her, to the beautiful Annalisa, the private company Italo-Ntv that aims at the highest speed, has dedicated the name of a train. She had previously worked as a flight hostess for the Air One and then with Ntv on high-speed trains. In this story of affection and work, the numbers count. Because Italo has 25 convoys in its availability and, at the request of the colleagues of Annalisa, the company wanted a plaque to be affixed in the cabin of the conductor number 25 with the name of Annalisa, whose surname was just Twenty-five. A way to remember and honor her, a way for her colleagues to feel her still near her, as if she were traveling among the cars of the Italo train. For her, that job was her life made of friendships and satisfactions. Now, Annalisa Twenty-five is the name of a train, of her train.

Saturday 22nd April 2017, 12:11

Benvenuti! Welcome to the world of VENTICINQUE

Ciao tutti!  I am very happy to be launching this blog, where I will post updates, host conversations, and share interesting information that comes across my path.  

If you have anything you'd like to share with me, please do get in touch-- I would love to hear from you.   If you would like to write to me directly, I would welcome and appreciate an email from you.  Send a message to  

I look forward to bringing you along on this journey of discovery.