Episode 95 – Celebrating Our Languages: Antonella Cortese & IHLA

Episode 95 Its About Language . Celebrating our Languages with Antonella Cortese
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
Episode 95 - Celebrating Our Languages: Antonella Cortese & IHLA

“We should all ask each other every day, what is it that brings me joy about who I am when I think about my heritage language or culture? What is it… What is that one thing that day?”

Being with Antonella Cortese for Mother Language Day 2023 brought me great joy. (Listen to her work on the panel for episode 63, and take a look at her biography.)

What does joy look like to you?

Here’s a visualization of joy I’ll share:

Joy is pulling up to the building where the 20th anniversary celebration of the Mother Language Day Festival of the International Heritage Language Association (IHLA) is to take place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Roads and sidewalks are filled with snow and ice and temperatures are well below zero on any scale. Antonella as my wise and caring host has insisted I exchange my “Virginia USA winter coat” for a goose down long coat worthy of a Canadian plains winter; joy is not only being protected from the bitter cold, but experiencing the care of language colleagues and feeling for just a little bit like an Albertan.

What a delight to observe that the elements are no match for the energy of the young celebrants who arrive clothed in their cultures’ heritage clothing and carrying foods, props, and elements of their cultural showcases.

Joy is the pride and delight with which they wear and carry the outward symbols of an identity and history that they embrace along with that of their Canadian identity.

Joy is youth happily nervous in preparation for presentations of their heritage culture and language through song, dance, poetry recitation, and acting out of folktales.  Joy is having peers to share the nervous practice with ahead, all while eating snacks and running around in the basement set aside for their energy…. joy is whooping and playing and talking with friends new and old who come from a multiplicity of heritages – a basement that reflect the truth of the world: we are all one, all together, unique as each of our lives.

Joy is running upstairs in the presentation hall to set up showcases filled with colorful cloth, crafts, photos, and stories, all carefully arranged to tell the story the young people themselves want to tell of their heritage, their identity, their lives and that of their families.

Joy is young people being on stage, frightened yet exuberant, sharing one small but important cultural and language production before an audience of adults and friends of other cultures, other perspectives, other heritage languages and histories.

For all of us, and for each participant in Mother Language Day, joy is realizing that our own stories are unique. That we have a voice. That we have something beautiful to share. That we’re part of a world where we can receive the uniqueness of others with joy.

The joy I experienced at MLD 2023 welled up from my recording for podcast the excited voices of small children and adolescents, and watching and recording music and dance from the showcase balcony perch provided for my work. My joy expanded as I watched youth self-discovery and energy unfold in the celebration.

What an honor it was for me to provide a keynote address to the assembled families and educational leaders that made this journey of joy and self-discovery possible.

Then there was the joy of meeting and observing the children in Antonella’s own “Scuola,” the  Comitato Promotore della Lingua Italiana–https://comitatopromotoredellalinguaitaliana.com/ — where she is founder, director, and a teacher. The little learners give it all their heart!

The world needs joy. The world needs the confidence plus humility that multilingualism and multiculturalism bring to human beings.

The world needs many more anniversaries of Mother Language Day in our lives. Celebrate your nurturing language and culture. Let it bring you joy every day. Welcome that joy in others’ lives and celebrate with them.

And speaking of joy, in the podcast, Antonella shares with us her reaction on the spot to her mother baking the fragrant “Mustazzuolo” of her heritage town in Italy. I’ve included her mom’s recipe below the transcript – her gift to me, mine to you. Let me know when you make it – and enjoy!

Enjoy the podcast.

Click to listen:

Celebrating Our Languages: Antonella Cortese and IHLA

Scroll down for full transcript.

Thank you for always focusing on the possibilities, opportunities and the power of language and what it can do for us individually - and collectively!

Elizabeth Mack

If you've never done #cliftonstrengths, yourself or with your team, don't wait any longer.  Norah Jones of FLUENCY CONSULTING is the one and only to do it! It's all about your super powers: finding & using them to affect positive change in the world. What's not to love?!

Elizabeth Mack
Founder and CEO / Freestyle Languages


Yes, @NorahLulicJones definitely has the talent of "bringing out" the best in others or allowing them to showcase themselves in the best light! Thank you for directing the spotlight on others who have great stories and talents to share with others. 

Lisa Fore


Your podcasts are exceptionally relevant and applicable, thought-provoking and insightful, easy-to-follow and enjoyable!  

Paul Sandrock
Senior Advisor for Language Learning Initiatives / ACTFL


You have an immense talent to draw the best from your participants. 

Richard Brecht


Norah knows how to LISTEN - she really "hears" the message - and the interview is richer because of it.  New questions come from the hearing. 

Terri Marlow

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0:00:00.0 Norah Jones: In February of 2023, it was my honor and joy to be invited to keynote at and podcast from the 20th anniversary celebration of Mother Language Day, sponsored by the International Heritage Language Association or IHLA in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. My host was the amazing Antonella Cortese. She’s a member of the IHLA executive board. She’s a curriculum researcher and writer. She has her PhD in education and policy studies, her master’s degree in bilingual and bicultural education. She’s also the director of and a teacher at the Italian Language School in Edmonton. She was in my episode 63 as a member of the panel on Heritage Language International Collaboration, and she’s also an amazing host and makes a terrific lemon marmalade that her mother gave her the recipe from, from an Italian TV program.

0:01:05.2 Norah Jones: You’ll enjoy listening to Antonella. And she brings her insights into why heritage, language and cultural studies are so essential for young people, toddlers into young adulthood and adults, and how those kinds of schools and experiences come about, and how events such as Mother Language Day and festivals that bring people together help to reflect the way that the world really works. Diversity of language, diversity of cultures, but all together as human beings. Enjoy this podcast with my guest, Antonella Cortese.


0:01:45.6 Norah Jones: I’m looking forward to this conversation with Antonella Cortese. Antonella. Hi, how are you today? 

0:01:54.2 Antonella Cortese: I am fine, thank you. How are you? 

0:01:57.4 Norah Jones: I am well, and it’s such a pleasure to see you again, because part of what we’re going to be chatting about is the fact that you were kind enough to invite me to come and speak at a podcast from and videotape too, the Mother Language Day festivities in Edmonton, Alberta. And so you’re the host that’s just above all hosts. Thank you for your kindness. And now thank you for what you’re going to share about the variety of things that have to do with the experiences of heritage language learners in Canada specifically, but how it has an impact all over the world. So thank you in advance for what you’ll share today. Now, Antonella, tell us a bit about yourself first, what is your background that has led you to the roles of leadership in the International Heritage Language Association and for the Mother Language Day, as well as a school that we’ll talk about? 

0:02:58.4 Antonella Cortese: Fundamentally, at my core, I am the daughter of immigrants, who came… Who originally lived in Canada, hence my Canadian background, in the mid 60s. And from there, grew up in an area where there were no heritage language schools at the time, so any heritage language I learned was at home and going back and forth to Italy, regular K-12 post-secondary education like any regular American kid. However, with this added experience of being an immigrant kid. And then through university, met my husband in the US, we moved back to Canada, ironically enough. He received a position at the University of Alberta, and there I found a community, an Italian community where I found myself speaking more Italian than any place else I had ever lived, with the exception of living in my family’s home.

0:04:04.9 Antonella Cortese: And through being involved in the Italian community and being invited to help start what then was an Italian preschool, I found the International Heritage Languages Association in order to get help on how to do this, because I had no… I had background in starting after school programming in the US and being an elementary school teacher. However, actually starting “a school”, I had no idea, especially a heritage language school, nonprofit, as part of a heritage community, a heritage language community.

0:04:47.1 Antonella Cortese: And through that initial introduction, I chose to become more involved in it because I found like-minded people who had the same aspirations for their heritage language, their heritage communities in Edmonton. And my first meeting that I attended as a board member was in 2010, and have just been a part of it ever since. And in 2015/2016, I was invited to be the president and have been there in that role, thanks to an incredible group of people that support me, that support the work that IHLA does ever since.

0:05:40.9 Norah Jones: Tell us a little bit more about the work that IHLA, the I-H-L-A, International Heritage Language Association does.

0:05:52.1 Antonella Cortese: So IHLA as an umbrella organization, it fundamentally helps promote and advocate for heritage language schools in municipalities, north of Red Deer in the province of Alberta, which means that it is informed about any new policies, new regulations, new opportunities that heritage languages have to either be more prominent, receive more funding. That’s the first thing. The second thing is, as an umbrella organization, it is in the unique position to contract or find experts in the field, be them academics and in post-secondary or individuals within the second language teaching community to come in and provide workshops or lectures for teachers and principals in order for us to learn more. Because as a profession, which unfortunately, it still has a lot of road to travel to be recognized as, it’s a profession to be a heritage language teacher, even if you teach on Saturday.

0:07:23.9 Antonella Cortese: IHLA, its mandate is to provide that opportunity for teachers to be more informed about new methodologies, new tools that can be used to encourage heritage language teaching to help teachers also not be afraid to try new things to keep, for example, youth involved in learning their heritage language for principals and directors, workshops on how to get their own funding for their own schools for special projects or simple things as employment policies. How do you write up a contract? 

0:08:05.1 Antonella Cortese: So those nuts and bolts that you don’t think about when you set up a heritage language school, we all think, “Oh, we’re gonna teach language.” However, it’s more than that. It’s finding a space. How do you receive the best possible rental agreement as a nonprofit, how do you even go about finding rental space as a nonprofit? How do you hire people in this particular type of work where they may only get an honorarium once every six months? Or how do you find people who are willing to volunteer their time? And even how do you find students? How do you invite the community, your heritage community to come and have their children come and learn? 

0:08:54.8 Antonella Cortese: So it’s basically, it’s much more entailed than it seems. And through those workshops for principles, we provide that. So we provide professional development, information about what’s happening within government. Also, a simple opportunity to come together as a group of like-minded people to support each other and to talk about issues. So then we don’t all feel like we’re reinventing the wheel. So if one person has an issue, someone else may have had it six months prior and didn’t discuss it, but solved it, can provide that information to the other, and therefore we all help each other. And other than that, IHLA in its most formal way, that’s what it does, but in its more glorious way, it it’s an organization that promotes and celebrates heritage, language and culture.

0:09:52.9 Norah Jones: What is the like-mindedness of those that are engaged with IHLA and with its work? Describe that a little bit more in depth, please.

0:10:05.0 Antonella Cortese: The like-mindedness is the emotional investment in continuing to make present and to keep alive the heritage language and culture that our grandparents and our parents, if not even our great grandparents, brought forward with every generation. It’s as simple as the baking that’s done during Ukrainian Christmas. It’s as simple as the… And this is going to sound funny, so in Greek tradition, there is the knocking of eggs and they have to be read together. That is something that… It’s something simple, however, it is rooted in a heritage that in some cases in our home countries, they may not even do anymore. But where we are, because we don’t have our home country surrounding us, it’s something that keeps us connected to it and keeps us rooted and grounded in who we are at our core.

0:11:25.4 Norah Jones: What does that do for young people that are engaged in the schools for their families, for the community? 

0:11:34.2 Antonella Cortese: I think for the students… Well, for the young people or adults even who are in heritage language schools, I feel like it creates a sense of personal sense of place, sense of place on the planet. This is who I am, this is what I’m made up of, and I’m in this corner of the world. However, I am all of this. There’s not just, I’m a Canadian living in Edmonton, however, the rest of me is made up of all this other piece that you can’t physically see it. However, in my actions, I communicate it.

0:12:12.8 Norah Jones: So there’s a sense of place and there’s an identity that comes into this that broadens. You made a gesture of encircling, encircling the world or encircling oneself as well. What would you say that that gesture in particular meant to you? 

0:12:31.0 Antonella Cortese: To me, it’s you’re whole, and I mean, and as it’s constant, you’re always evolving, you’re always growing even within your heritage language and culture, how it impacts you year by year. As we grow older, some things fall away, but then some things replace it. Or some things become even more entrenched. Something that was not meaningful when we were young, becomes even more meaningful the older we get. So that’s what I mean by that, by this symbol of circle.

0:13:06.9 Norah Jones: Thank you very much. Now, a big part of what, or at least a part of what IHLA does is to sponsor the Mother Language Day festival.

0:13:19.5 Antonella Cortese: Yes.

0:13:21.4 Norah Jones: Tell us about the Mother Language Day festival, when it started, why it started, and what happens during the Mother Language Day festival.

0:13:31.6 Antonella Cortese: As you heard a little bit, when you were with us, Mother Language Day for IHLA as a celebration started in 1999. And it was a response to or a result of is probably a better way to put it, of the declaration by UNESCO in 1998, to declare Mother Language Day to honor the 1952 protest of the Bangladeshi people to have the right to have their Bangla language, their Bangla culture within their own country, because they weren’t permitted.

0:14:11.6 Antonella Cortese: So from 1952 to finally 1998, where UNESCO declared this as a day that should be recognized worldwide, IHLA, in its response to that, given the populations that exist in Edmonton, north of Red Deer within the whole province, there are over 127 different languages spoken in the city and surrounding areas of Edmonton alone. IHLA made the choice to further acknowledge this within our own community as a day of celebration.

0:14:45.2 Antonella Cortese: And so, it is an invitation to all of the heritage language schools that are part of IHLA and even those that are not part of IHLA to come together and celebrate all of our different heritage languages and culture and to learn from each other through the performances that the students do, to the showcases that highlight what schools there are, and what those schools are doing. For me, as an individual part of IHLA, it is the most glorious part because it really shows all of us as a collective, as a true collective where everyone comes together chaotic as it is because we’re so excited and want everything to go smoothly. The students help, the adults help, parents help, and it’s not just one group of parents from one school.

0:15:45.1 Antonella Cortese: They’re all the parents from all the different schools who come together in that period to cross paths and to acknowledge that, wow, there are this many kids at the Punjabi School, or Oh, wow. Look at all those little kids from the Italian school and their parents and some of them come to find out that they live in the same neighborhoods, which to me is even better because when they see each other, they’re like, “Oh, I know you from that event and your children are doing what my children are doing. Isn’t that awesome?” So for me, it’s a mini United Nations event where finally we all get to acknowledge each other and appreciate what we all bring, of what we all bring.

0:16:37.3 Norah Jones: I noted when I was there, and again, thank you for the invitation, that there was such a celebration of each other’s culture as well as an extraordinary sense of pride and joy in those that were presenting for their own heritage language and culture school. Watching that energy and that enjoyment of each other’s celebration of each other to repeat was powerful, indeed.

0:17:04.3 Antonella Cortese: And that to me is the most exciting part. That all the kids, all the families not only support themselves as they’re performing or doing, but that they also really support the other schools and the other students, because they all know what it involves. They all know the dedication that it takes to bring their child to school every Saturday or every Sunday or every day, in the case of some of our schools. And the parents realize that it’s not done lightly. It’s not done lightly because you miss one Saturday of Heritage Language School, it’s as though you’ve missed a week because they only meet once a week. And in that time, that one day, that half a day, a lot happens, a lot gets taught, a lot gets passed on and parents feel that, their students, their kids feel that.

0:18:05.4 Norah Jones: Over the years that you have been engaged with Mother Language Day, what are some of the highlight experiences, the stories that you can tell or that you can share that were told to you about that experience and what it meant to individuals, be they, the parents, grandparents, students themselves? 

0:18:31.0 Antonella Cortese: I think over the years, the couple of things that I’ve been a witness too, because I’ve received an email or the information was passed on, was in particular… And this was before I was President, but was on the board when we had our Heritage Language, Mother Language Day celebration, I think it was maybe 2018. It was the 40th anniversary. So yeah, it was 2018, and in that time, there were a few other celebrations, there was a special dinner.

0:19:10.6 Antonella Cortese: And I recall that that year that we have Mother Language Day because it was the 40th anniversary, we were in a different venue, there were many, many people. However, I remember that there was a group of seniors that attended, and those seniors were from one of our Punjabi schools, and they were elders. So that particular school rented a small bus, like one of those little portable buses and brought them to see their individual grandchildren, those individuals came and it was February, so it was cold, and unfortunately, that year I remember distinctly it was snowing. It was physically snowing. It was cold. And we were at the Italian Cultural Center, which is in another part of the city.

0:20:12.4 Antonella Cortese: They came, they sat in those first few aisles and their grandchildren were in the second half of the performance, so they were a little less… A little over halfway through, they stayed, did not move, applauded every other performance that was there when their grandchildren, when their school was up and performed, when they finished the… Not even just the applause, however, there’s a different way of applauding or appreciating a performance, and it was a whistling or a chanting, that particular area, there must have been maybe 10, 12 of these folks, was the loudest and the most glorious because many of them stood up, many of them stood up and just… It was as though they were dancing and I just couldn’t contain myself, it was just so wonderful. And when I think about it, I think, “Oh my goodness, this is what… This is why we do what we do.” So then our parents and our grandparents can remember how wonderful it is to use our language, to engage it, to have it be part of our souls, and to show it to the rest of the world with no worry and just with an open heart and just in this beautiful way.

0:21:52.4 Antonella Cortese: So that sticks in my mind. Another is in my own school, post… No, pre… Well, actually, I shouldn’t say pre, I wanted… It was, yeah, it was pre-COVID, it was 2019. We had one grandparent in particular who isn’t much of a grandparent ’cause he’s quite young, who came and just came up to me and basically said, Senora, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you because without this, I wouldn’t be able to see my grandson sing and talk in Italian because at home, everybody’s still used to using English, but here he’s performing and he’s using his Italian, and he said, “My heart is full, my heart is full to have seen him do this on stage,” and I thought, “Yeah, this is why we do it. This is why we have the celebration.”

0:22:56.8 Norah Jones: The emotions here are so strong, and I know that from the various recordings that I made of some of the young people during this experience, which are also part of the podcast array that I’m releasing, we’re talking about their relationship with their parents, their relationship with their grandparents, their desire to connect and to stay connected with that which was their family identity and their personal identity, very strong emotional content in that, how about… So many times we turn to a practical application of things, practical, and we have spoken of the emotional aspect here, is there a practical application then in these students lives, have you seen them recharge their multi-lingual selves in a way that has led to changes that they might not have had if they had not been part of a Heritage Language experience? 

0:24:03.8 Antonella Cortese: Actually, yes, our older students, especially the ones that are in high school, that take Heritage Language, also to fulfill “requirements” because they have that opportunity, many of them choose to go into professions. Healthcare is a big one for this reason. Having had the experience of being a witness to their family members, going to the doctor and not being able to communicate as clearly, they’re English speakers, however, that technical language for some of our family members is still hard, even for English speakers, let alone second language speakers and having been part of going with them, either with parents, with grandparents or with parents, there is, I wanna say, there’s a reasonable handful of our older students that are at high school level that are gonna be starting university who are, for example, wanting to go into pre-med, wanting to go into nursing for that reason because they want to use their heritage language.

0:25:27.7 Antonella Cortese: And they’re more global cultural adaptability ability to be able to help not only the members of their community, but members of other heritage communities, because they feel that I have this. I know how to connect. I want to help people to begin with, my heritage language is going to help me help those individuals that have difficulty communicating. If I have a second language, I have that extra language to be able to help people access what they need, so that’s one.

0:26:15.2 Antonella Cortese: We have a lot of our heritage language students that wanna go into teaching for the same reason. Being a second language learner, you have a certain empathy toward new students that come to your school who have no English background at all, let alone cultural background. And that empathy drives them to be the ones that are often called upon to be the tour guides of the school, and showing them, well, this is this, this is that, this is what we do here, this is why we do it here, because that extra layer of who we are connects to someone who has no experience in that new context. Whereas we have that bilingual, trilingual, cultural and linguistic aspect and connection.

0:27:11.3 Antonella Cortese: So those are two areas. Also, for many, they find it that it is an extra leg up for any position that they apply for because living in the global community that we do, ’cause the planet now is a global community where interactions are done in all different languages, that extra language and the ability to code switch and do it not only grammatically, but also with the cultural nuances that are associated to language for them is already a door already partially opens. Something that you spoke to during your keynote about the talking to computers and being able to do that in our heritage language, those students that are interested in IT, that world is completely open to them because they can have those worldwide connections with those multi-nationals where they need those speakers that can speak in English fluently and at the same time speak in a second language fluently, again, with the cultural nuances, with the cultural context involved in language versus the Google Translate version of translation, which is never accurate.

0:28:37.7 Norah Jones: Well said indeed. And let me ask you this very much important thing to emphasize here again, that the Heritage Language Schools themselves are providing not just a language course like one might find out there in the world digitally, but that it’s a language and cultural experience growing the two together. Have I said that well? 

0:29:03.9 Antonella Cortese: Yes. Yes, so when you go to a cultural… When you go to a Heritage Language School, you are not only going to a language class, it’s as though when you walk through that door, you are in a version of what school embraces or what you would be learning in a Spanish class in Spain, because the Heritage Language teachers that are in our schools are native speakers who have been in Canada or in Edmonton anywhere from only five years to maybe 20. So that cultural context and that way of being is still very much a part of who they are. Who we are.

0:30:00.7 Norah Jones: And not every young person, I assume, that goes to Heritage Language Schools has say family members or the wherewithal to get to the family members in their heritage country. Some might, some might not. How does that feel when students are together in a school, as far as reconnecting physically or emotionally, as well as intellectually here, with heritage and or with those that are still within the Heritage cultures in their families? 

0:30:36.9 Antonella Cortese: It is, it takes time to feel comfortable and not feel out of place, but as time goes on and the exposure is there, I feel that then it just… It becomes second nature, it’s not like it’s purposefully taught, I think it’s just by virtue of continual contact that then it just becomes second nature in our language school, with our little ones, with even our older students, it’s not a question of saying, “Okay, you’re at an Italian school, therefore, switch your Italian brain on.” Its more just by virtue of actions, Idiomatic phrases that they hear regularly, and even just the surrounding environment that they start to connect with it. It’s not something that has to be explicit, it’s something that is… That always runs under the radar that they just consider normal there, it’s something that they consider normal over time.

0:31:53.2 Norah Jones: It reminds me of actual like, I don’t know, being born into a family and growing up in a family, it’s part of the intrinsic experience of being a human among a culture and a language. You alluded there to the Italian school. Let’s go to that. You are the head of the… One of the Italian schools or the Italian school, speak a little bit more please about your school and what it is, what it does, and your role and the history of it.

0:32:25.6 Antonella Cortese: So our school, our Scuola started in 2008-2009. I was invited to attend a meeting with a group of people at the time, we still had the Italian Consulate in Edmonton. And to his credit, he wanted to leave something behind because these dignitaries, they unfortunately come for four or five years, and then they leave to their next posting. This particular consulate wanted to leave something tangible. And so his idea, and also talking with other leaders at that time in the community, he wanted to set up an Italian pre-school and having had amass, the individuals that he did, those individuals were able to come together and find the space, find a name, and find out the rules and regulations for putting this together.

0:33:23.9 Antonella Cortese: The one thing they did not have was an individual to put together a curriculum, figure out how to hire somebody, and again, all those mechanical nuts and bolts that we don’t think about when we set up a school, and I was invited at that point, given my background. I came from the US with a PhD in education and curriculum development. I taught Italian in Detroit public schools and also in different places where I lived as well as here South. And initially I thought, “Okay, I’ll come and see and chat and get to know,” and before I knew it, I found myself, not found myself, I was asked to be the director of the school, given my background and my interest in it, because I was interested, because our youngest, and this is true with all… With children, and the cognitive research shows it out, the earlier we are exposed to a second language, the faster we acquire it and the more and the easier it is to keep learning it.

0:34:40.2 Antonella Cortese: And so knowing what I knew, I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to get our youngest involved so then they can be part of that academic pipeline and just be a nice thing to do. And over time, our three-day half-day preschool program has grown to a five day a week, 9:00 to 4:00 program with after school programming as well. It is exciting, as I alluded to, to see second and third generation students because in our case, in our community’s case, we are at the fourth generation. So with each generation language that is not the mainstream language of the country gets lost a little bit more.

0:35:31.5 Antonella Cortese: And so to have those students come in at that level where we still have great-grandparents alive, great grandparents alive who want that for those next generations is wonderful and amazing, especially since when we were all growing up, our parents were told, “Don’t teach your child that language,” whatever that language is because it’ll put them behind. And again, research has come back to bear that if anything, it may initially put us behind. However, in the long term, it actually puts us ahead because it permits us to access more information, to learn to read better, to learn how to spell better, to learn how to be better critical thinkers because we have that second, that second or third piece of knowledge that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.

0:36:34.4 Antonella Cortese: So my role as director, it’s my… And I’ve told you this, it’s my happy place. It’s my happy place where everything is possible and our students and our teaching team especially, but our students, they are willing to… They learn how to be risk takers and they’re willing to be risk-takers in learning language and culture all day, every day. Even our older students who are at that age where they’re too cool for school, in that moment, in those moments, they are willing to bear their soul and put themselves at risk in the name of learning something new in Italian. So yeah, it’s great.

0:37:25.0 Norah Jones: Is that bravery part of the nature of language? Part of the nature of the identity that language brings? 

0:37:33.2 Antonella Cortese: I think so. I think so. I think we all need to be brave in who we want to be every day ’cause sometimes being who we are in a certain place or in a certain context can be hard. And to expose yourself in something new, especially, it’s not easy. As adults, I think we think as we get older, it gets easier. I think it gets harder the older we get because we are out of practice. But if we look at our students and we look at our children, they are who they are no matter what, because they haven’t unlearned to be brave.

0:38:18.9 Antonella Cortese: So I take my example from them, for example, even our parents who say to us, “Oh, Señora, we don’t wanna… We like speaking Italian with our little ones, but we’re… I don’t wanna make mistakes with you when I speak with you an Italian.” And I just look and I say, “But if we don’t talk, then we’ll never talk.” And so it’s a learning and so it takes time to help us all to be brave. So when we all chat with each other in dialect or in part Italian, part English, whatever it is, a mishmash, it’s all good. It’s all good because this is who we are. We’re a mishmash.

0:39:04.2 Norah Jones: Humanity is a mishmash. Well brought up. I appreciate that tremendously. We have here your school, we have Mother Language Day and we go back up to the larger IHLA, the language organization as a whole. In April of 2022, you were part of one of the panels that I had for Heritage Language Month and we included folks that were Indian languages in Australia and Iceland as well as Canada, the United States and so forth. What is it that you, taking a look at the breadth that you are engaged in with heritage languages, what is the story that you can tell those that are engaged with heritage language in other countries and their parents and the young people? What would you say to them based on everything that you know about the experiences that you’ve had? 

0:40:13.7 Antonella Cortese: Wow. Actually, it’s a hard question to answer, and yet I feel like it’s the easiest question to answer because I… The one thing I could say is I feel like I wouldn’t have to say anything because we all would know just by simply looking at each other, knowing the work that we do and the community, the communities that we are all a part of doing that work that I don’t think I would need to say anything. It would just be a look like, yeah, I get you and you get me because we know we do what we do and we are cognizant of the challenges and the glories that go with it. And we just keep on doing it. I don’t know how to answer that actually. [laughter]

0:41:08.5 Norah Jones: You actually did, but here’s a follow-up. What about those that are reluctant to start, never thought about starting, not sure that it’s a good idea to bring that heritage stuff to bear back in the family when they are in fact… In the community, when they are in fact in a country where that it’s not the dominant language. What then do you say? 

0:41:32.7 Antonella Cortese: Well, actually, you’ve reminded me. So back to where, when our Scuola started the one question that I brought up actually when I got there, having come from a research background and wanting to start this three-day preschool, I did make the… I did make… I did pose the question, how do you know… The old adage with that movie. How do you know if you build it, they’ll come? And that was the question that everybody kind of looked at each other and said, “Well, but we talk to people, we do this, we do that.” And I said, “Yes, but that’s one thing, but how do you know they will come?” So in our case, and maybe this is something I would say to someone, I created a survey. I created a simple survey with three questions.

0:42:28.3 Antonella Cortese: Are you interested in Italian language and culture? If you had the opportunity, would you yourself be willing… Wanting to take classes? If you have children or grandchildren, if you had the opportunity to send them someplace to do that, would you do it? And I remember making, I don’t know how many hundreds of copies and I put them in the Italian stores. The Italian store, the Italian church, and put them there and had my email on there to let them know, please email me if you’re interested. Please email me when you fill this out. And out of the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds, we got a total of 12 respondents who said, “Yes, we would like our children to do this.”

0:43:19.8 Antonella Cortese: And we started a two-month pilot with literally 12 kids. Literally 12 kids. May and June, I started a little pilot program, had them come those three days a week to learn and play. And from there, then we understood that as people found out that this really happened, people started to inquire. And that’s where we got to September 2008 and had our three-day little program with nine students. But then from there, the next year it was 13. From the next year after that, it was, again 13, then we had a jump to 20. Then things started to become, oh, well, maybe we should do this five mornings a week.

0:44:12.3 Antonella Cortese: So I would say to someone, if you… It can’t hurt to try. It can’t hurt to try. The thing that will be… The thing that… The worst thing that’ll happen is, based on what we did to start, you’ll waste maybe $100 in photocopying for the survey. You’ll waste nine hours a week being in a room where maybe nobody will come for a couple of weeks. But if you don’t at least try, you will never know. And again, we go back to the risks taking. You have to be willing to risk that people in the community may say no. They may even be the naysayers that will, as we say in Italian, pour hot water on you or pour cold water on you and make you feel like you shouldn’t bother.

0:45:10.1 Antonella Cortese: Those are the voices that need to be ignored because that’s only one voice. And if you listen to the one voice, then the collective will not have the opportunity to respond. So I would say to someone who’s doubtful, it can’t hurt to try because it’s not… It’ll be hard work, initially, but the reward, especially if it’s accepted and wanted is beyond measure, really.

0:45:43.7 Norah Jones: What last invitation or image or piece of information that you would like to share with folks that are listening to this podcast today? What thought do you want to leave them with, Antonella? 

0:45:56.6 Antonella Cortese: It’s more of a request to ask themselves or ask… We should all ask each other every day, what is it that brings me joy about who I am when I think about my heritage language or culture? What is it… What is that one thing that day? For example, today for me, it’s smelling the Mustazzuolo, which is a southern Italian sweet that my mom decided to bake yesterday. And that smell is permeating the house. And it’s a smell that reminds me of my father. And it also is something that I will not smell in anyone else’s house unless it’s someone that is from our town or our region. And that’s something that I find special. It’s something that I covet. It’s something that no one else has. And that’s something that I hope those of us who are fortunate enough to be bilingual, bicultural, multilingual, multicultural, that others do that every day.

0:47:09.3 Norah Jones: It’s something that no one else has.

0:47:11.8 Antonella Cortese: It sounds like something selfish when you say it. [laughter]

0:47:14.9 Norah Jones: No, no. On the contrary, it’s the sign of a unique identity that each person does search for. And in taking a look at immersing one’s self in one’s heritage, heritage language, heritage culture, one can find that unique identity in the midst of all of the generalities of their lives.

0:47:47.8 Antonella Cortese: Yes.

0:47:47.9 Norah Jones: Antonella, thank you so much for what you’ve shared today. I look forward to folks taking a look on my website, fluency.consulting, to find out more about the International Heritage Language Association and about the Mother Language Day festivities. Watch those wonderful videos to see that joy and to connect up with you, potentially, with regard to some of the guidance that can come from those that have experienced the power of heritage language and culture study.

0:48:28.4 Antonella Cortese: Thank you Norah, for taking the time to invite me to be part of this podcast. I hope that the little that I’ve said will inspire others to do some of the work that we’re doing.

0:48:39.3 Norah Jones: Thank you for that work, Antonella, and I wish you the best as you continue it and encourage others on the various boards and groups that you head and that you’re a part of. Best wishes to you.

0:48:56.3 Antonella Cortese: Thank you. And to you. Thank you.

0:49:00.0 Norah Jones: I hope you enjoyed and profited from this conversation with Antonella Cortese today. Please go to my website, fluency.consulting, and learn more about Antonella herself and about the International Heritage Language Association, about Mother Language Day. And listen to episode 63, where Antonella was a member of the panel on international collaborations and heritage language. Also think, what is it in your personal life, your family’s life, your community, your area that can be enhanced by heritage language study, by heritage culture enjoyment. Who in your life, in your work, in your community, can benefit from the identity, energy, and joy that comes from knowing who we are and sharing that with the world. Until next time.



Antonella’s mom’s Mustazzuolo (you can find versions by searching “Mostacciolo Calabrese”):

1:1 Flour to Honey 

Lievito Bertolini

1 egg yolk (my mom combines it with a short shot of espresso)

That is, if you use 1Kg (2.2 lbs of flour) you must use 1 kg (2.2 lbs) of liquid honey. To make the dough, it is important to kneed, constantly integrating the the liquid ingredients into the dry until the dough is formed WITHOUT trying to get the dried bits to be absorbed…..that is, what sticks, sticks. Once you have the dough which is golden (bc of the honey), it is important to divide the dough so that you create 2 or 4 (depending on the size you want to make each one) “crusts” in any shape you like, about 1/4 inch or a bit thicker.


Almonds (roasted in the oven)

Semisweet chocolate with honey melted–2-3 tbsp of honey to combine with the melted chocolate (so the chocolate remains “soft” but not runny or hard when it cools.

Once you have the dough rolled out (and placed on parchment paper) and chocolate melted and almonds roasted, drizzle(leaving about 1/2 border) to your liking without overdoing it the chocolate on to one of the rolled out pastry doughs–sprinkle one layer of almonds on top of the chocolate and then drizzle some more chocolate on top of the almonds. To close the mustazzolo, put the second pastry dough on top and then pinch with a fork the dough together shut. Poke with a single kabob pick some holes (for the steam). Put the pastry with parchment paper on a cookie sheet to bake.

Bake at 320 F ….because every stove is different, my mom says you need to look and see as it gets golden in color, you should take it out (approx 30 minutes more or less). 

You have to let it cool COMPLETELY (about a good hour if not more). It is not a cake so not to worry if you have to cut it with a large smooth (NOT serrated) knife.

I have included a URL that I hope can be helpful:

My mom read through it and noted that it is pretty close to how she makes it (again, every town and every person in the town has his/her own tweek on the recipe).

I will try to make it at my home too, I have only done it once with my mom in all these years…you have helped me want to “revisit” this yummy treasure and try to make it on my own.

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