And there’s another event on the books. This past Sunday over 30 of us gathered in Palo Alto for a homecooked Italian meal whipped up by our three talented Italian hosts! There were olives and cheese, salami, bruschetta, amaretti and a big pot of Pasta e Fagioli that offered multiple helpings and then some. Along with a silent auction of some beautiful Italian platters and ceramics, we raised about $800 for Mercy Corps! Thank you to all those who came and we hope to see you next month in Oakland, for our Indian dinner with Nik Sharma of A Brown Table benefiting Immigration Equality. Join our mailing list to be the first to know when tickets go on sale.

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Our Italian hosts, from left: Valentina Cogoni (Sardinia), Enza Sebastiani (Rome) and Rita Corona (Naples).

Our next event is a collaboration among three women from different parts of Italy whose life paths brought them to the Bay Area. Their stories speak of grit and determination in building a life for themselves in a new country and culture, even when things don’t turn out as planned. This lunch takes place in Palo Alto, on Sunday, June 25 with proceeds benefiting Mercy Corps. Join us by purchasing a ticket on Eventbrite.

Where did you grow up? Please describe what your hometown was like.

Valentina Cogoni (VC):

I grew up in Sardinia.  My family lived on a farm that was approximately a mile away from civilization in the south west region of the island.  The town was nice and unpretentious.  Life was simple.

Enza Sebastiani (ES):

I grew up in Rome, in the Monteverde Nuovo neighborhood, near Gianicolo, known as one of the most beautiful Roman vista points, and Villa Doria Pamphili, the largest park in Rome, which is rich in natural beauty, 17th-century architecture, art, and history. That park was my sanctuary and still is. I love running, hiking or biking through the park early in the day, when the morning light emerges through the pine forest to illuminate the park’s 17th-century statues and fountains.  It is also the perfect spot for picnics and reading my favorite books. Rome is a multi-cultural city of languages, food, music, art, architecture. “La dolce vita” came to life in the fresh waters of Fontana di Trevi, spreading throughout the many Nasoni, public fountains where you’ll be able to drink the freshest water in Europe. I feel blessed to call Rome my home of birth for this and many other reasons, especially for its FOOD!

Rita Corona (RC):

My hometown is the small district of Portici, 6 km (~3.5 miles) south of Naples. Portici was the most densely-populated community in Europe, the second-highest in the world after Shanghai. At least, that was the case when I left.  Portici is a very tight community and I used to know a lot of people there. I grew up in a large family, with five siblings, there was never a dull moment in my family life.  I used to have many friends there at the time.

Valentina with the child she was caring for at the time, and the reason that brought her to the US.

What were the circumstances that brought you here?

VC: I used to babysit a child with Cystic Fibrosis.  My boss was a summer professor at Stanford and asked me to travel with them to Stanford one summer to help care for the child. I was 22 years old then.

RC: I met my ex-husband while working at an American Navy Base in Naples. I was lucky to have that job since the unemployment rate was high then, but even higher now. My ex was a security guard who would often check my I.D. at the gate. We started talking, and soon after, we got engaged and decided to move to California because he wished to be closer to his daughter from a previous marriage who was six at the time. So I decided to come, thinking it would only be a temporary move and that we would return to Italy eventually. I was 26 when I came to America. I moved to Monterey and lived there for 10 years before moving to the Bay Area where I’ve lived for the last 20 years.

ES: I moved here in 1991 and I was scared to death when I boarded my first flight to Los Angeles on an Alitalia Boeing 747.  I never flew before that 15th of December, always travelling by train, bus or car. In Rome, I worked for a multinational corporation producing black boxes and inertial navigation systems after graduation. It paid the bills, but the dream of making movies never vanished and so I left for Los Angeles to study filmmaking and theatre. I was accepted at UCLA’s “English for Professional Business Communications” program, the only program that would take immigrants.  Film and theater schools at both UCLA and San Francisco State accepted only 34 students a semester, so I took courses in improvisational theater, film editing and film history on the side.  I wanted to make a living as an independent filmmaker. As I didn’t win any scholarships, and I was too “fresh off the boat” to receive any grants or loans, I have always worked incredibly hard to support myself while studying.

California is very expensive, particularly Los Angeles. It didn’t take long to understand that, as a foreign student, I couldn’t afford rising tuition fees so I started to explore other markets. Eventually I headed north and fell in love with San Francisco, where I continued my studies at City College of San Francisco, Film School and UC Berkeley.

Pictures of Enza (the youngest) with her parents and siblings (left), and with her elder sisters Anna and Rossella (right). These pictures were taken in Terracina, on the Tirrenian coast, near Gaeta, south of Rome.

How did it feel to leave your home country and what were your hopes for life in America?

ES: I arrived in Los Angeles very unprepared from a cultural standpoint. While books might give you lots of theory about a culture, living in that culture is the real deal, the moment of truth. I had only one reference point, a boyfriend I met in Rome years before.  In my new life overseas, we were an item for less than two weeks. We were both very young and I was going around speaking with a thick accent, a cross between Italian and British.  The culture shock going from Rome to America was huge. I arrived during the Rodney King race riots in LA.  I remember thinking, “If I get a bullet, no one will know me”.

Job hunting consisted of reading the classifieds section of the L.A. Times and other newspapers, dialling number after number from street payphones. No iPhones, computers, internet or job search engines back then. I eventually found my first job as an assistant nurse in a clinic called “The Hidden Garden”, in Beverly Hills. This is where famous Hollywood people went to recuperate after plastic surgery. I was paid $3.25 an hour as I was a student with an F1 visa and the owner had to “pay taxes” for me.  I had the night shift and would prep dinner for the patients, making sure they had enough fluids in their diet to aid recovery. They loved my cannelloni ricotta and spinach, my salads and the “Macedonia” (fresh berries and fruit salad).

VC: The plan was to be in the Bay Area only for the summer.  Then, my boss signed up to take a West Coast Swing dance class and there I met my ex-husband.  Three months after returning to Italy he came to my parent’s home and asked me to marry him. Once married we lived in a 1-bedroom flat in Palo Alto.  As we had very little money I didn’t care for fashion or entertainment.  I loved music and was able to buy myself a Walkman that saved my life – it allowed me to listen to Italian songs which were hard to find in the US. At that time the airlines had little restrictions so I was able to bring to this country all the little foods that reminded me of home.

RC: I left Italy with a fiancé visa; my ex-husband’s mother was also stationed in Naples as a Navy personnel. Our families met and the move to America seemed to be a good idea at the time. Before leaving, I had mixed feelings of sadness and excitement. I had high hopes for a better life in U.S., better incomes, travelling and visiting the country, discovering a new world and new cultures. However, I was sad to leave my family and to move so far away from them. I missed the food, language and culture of my birth.

What were the first few years of American life like? Was it easy to adjust to American living – in terms of diet, language, fashion, music, entertainment, etc?

RC: When I arrived in 1987, it felt as if I landed in a food desert. Nothing tasted good at the beginning. Chinese food was the closest cuisine to my liking. I literally was in culture shock. I couldn’t believe how people could lunch at a 7-Eleven, for example, or at best, at a fast food restaurant, and call it lunch or dinner. Fast food tastes so bad to me. I can never feel satisfied with mainstream American food. When Thanksgiving came around, I couldn’t understand why people would get so excited eating turkey.

Local fashion and style trends were another thorn in my side. It was frustrating to be always asked if I was going somewhere nice when I dressed my “normal” way regardless of the day’s schedule. I eventually gave in after years of living here, to start wearing flip flops and jeans everywhere, which is unfortunate. However, I feel like I don’t fit in with everybody if I dress like an Italian or even a European. As for as music and entertainment, I started enjoying live music becoming very familiar with Jazz, Rhythm and Blues, and live performances. I still enjoy it very much.

VC: The first years were hard and exciting at the same time.  I was learning to be a wife while studying intensively to learn English and working three jobs to learn about American culture. I was a babysitter for three children, I was a hostess in an Italian restaurant in downtown Palo Alto and assisted an Italian professor teaching at the Palo Alto adult school.  My husband was in the MBA program at Stanford and we needed all the help we could get.

ES: I studied English for five years, but in Italy they teach you British English so I had to learn American English once I got here.  It was tough without the support of family and friends, and I split up with my boyfriend on Christmas Eve.  It felt like I didn’t belong, and that my only asset was that I was young and good-looking. As I was working and studying full-time, I didn’t have a lot of time to socialize.

Regarding the food, it was difficult in the beginning and I couldn’t eat Italian except at home.  Thanksgiving dinners and BBQ’s were great, but there wasn’t the quality and variety of eating establishments like we have now. So, I was eating at home mostly.  It wasn’t easy making friends, because they didn’t know who I was, and because Los Angeles is a very transitory city.  I could only make friends with other immigrants, mostly from Italy.

What were your first impressions of America upon arrival?

VC: I thought I landed in heaven.  It was so clean, plentiful, organized and spacious.  I could bike everywhere and use the pool at Stanford.  People were so friendly.

RC: I was lucky enough to land in Monterey and lived there for 10 years before moving to the Bay Area. Even though Monterey Peninsula is a stunning place, I always felt that it lacked a sense of community and culture, the type of culture I was accustomed to in Italy. Perhaps this is due to the fact that if one is born and raised in the same town it is easier to connect to others. Looking back and comparing Monterey to the Bay Area, I see the lack of community is even greater here in the Bay Area where the distances are greater. In general, I still find that everything needs to be planned way ahead of time here in U.S., and that there is a lack of spontaneity in social life and lack of community.

ES: The day I arrived, as I got off the plane at LAX, I thought they were shooting a movie.  There were cops taking a black guy in handcuffs, and it was very brutal.  I was looking around for cameras, and then someone told me it was real, not a movie.

I was really happy with the spaciousness that California had to offer, because Rome is a densely-populated city environment and living spaces are super tight. The natural beauty of Los Angeles was amazing, Malibu, Topanga Canyon, Santa Monica.  No wonder they call it the “city of angels”.  I was blown away by the old Getty museum, the outstanding Roman villa.  LA was so big.  I loved the architecture of the Griffith Observatory, and movie sets.  Disneyland.  The Chinese Theater, the endless beaches. California is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

In Rome, we have the Coliseum and Forums. In California you have gorgeous natural parks and the constantly innovative high tech industry.

Since then, has life here supported or erased those impressions?

ES: My initial opinion didn’t change. Too much violence, racism and too many guns. But the natural beauty is still stunning. California is ahead of the rest of the world in both science, technology and going into the future.

VC: I have fond memories of this country and I am very thankful for the opportunity and trust I’ve been given.  I have worked hard and conducted myself with honor and respect.  The Bay Area is changing in front of our eyes and I no longer feel the connection I once had.  The cultural and financial shifts has disarmed me and I don’t feel it is a healthy place to live.  Undeniably, I do feel lost in a sea of people I have little in common with.

RC: I have learned to accept the reality and the culture of the place I live and as a way of life. If one really pays attention, one can find interesting and beautiful things everywhere in the world.

Is there anything that you miss from your home country?

ES: I miss the social life and getting together with family members and friends on the spur of the moment without relying on schedules and a rigid time management structure. Today we can eat really wonderful meals in California, especially in San Francisco.  People put care into their food.  But I miss having the time to enjoy it.  Your life is sucked into work here. It’s tough to find the balance between personal life and work.

VC: The loyalty of my family and friends, the social etiquette, those looks that speak a thousand words without a single utterance.

RC: I still miss my family, food, fashion, and the spontaneity in human relations.

Will you be cooking any family recipes for the event?

VC: Anne (our venue host and Tapestry Suppers board member) chose the menu for us.  She is a phenomenal cook and a food connoisseur.  I love the menu because it is simple, basic and nutritious.  I grew up eating pasta e fagioli (fresh borlotti beans and pasta).  It definitely has its origins in the Italian countryside tradition similar to what I grew up with.  Frittata is also a very common dish where I come from.  It is easy, colorful, rich and comforting.

ES: Pomodori ripieni con riso (stuffed tomatoes with rice) brings a smile to my mind, because I can see my Mom and Grandma in the rustic kitchen in Tuscany making that dish.  It was refreshing because it was tomatoes from our backyard, lots of fresh basil, Roman mentuccia (mint), rice, and extra-virgin olive oil.  Everything was organic with fresh ingredients from our land.

The other dish is Broccoli Romana, lightly baked with extra virgin olive oil that my father adored in the summer.  It can be served warm or cold with a fresh lemon vinaigrette.

And the stuffed zucchini (Zucchini Ripieni).  When my Mom asks “what do you want to eat when you come home in August?”  she know this dish is at the top of the list. (Hers is better than mine.)

RC: I will be making Insalata di Polpo (Octopus Salad), which is representative of the typical diet in Southern Italy. It is based on fresh fish and seafood with plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits.

Are there any other anecdotes about your immigrant experience in America that you would like to share? 

ES: I started working as a waitress after quitting my job as an assistant nurse in LA, working at my friend Luigi’s restaurant on West Pico Blvd.  Shortly after, the Rodney King race riots began.  The restaurant had bullet holes, there were no cars on the street, and Luigi wanted to keep the restaurant open.  Then a huge rock smashed the front window, and all the glass flew inside near the pizza oven.  Luigi grabbed the cash register, dumped it into a trash bag, and we ran out to his car to get away.  We left so fast that we didn’t even bother locking up the restaurant.  It was terrifying. After those riots, I was seriously thinking of going back- I didn’t think I could live in such a violent society.  But I was too young, too proud, and too stupid to give up and go back.  I am glad I didn’t, but I do miss Rome. I wish I could split my year between the Bay Area and Rome.

VC: Come to America when you are young, come when you are full of drive, dreams and energy.  Never forget where you come from and trust your heart.  At the end there is nothing like home.

  • To attend this lunch on Sunday the 25th, head over to Eventbrite to purchase tickets and register.
  • Sign up for our newsletter to be the first to know about upcoming events.
  • Send me an email if you’d like to host and/or cook a meal, or if you know of someone who would be a good fit.
  • Follow us on Instagram.
  • Donate: this is very much a labor of love so any support for operating expenses are always welcome.

Tapestry Suppers had our third event in as many months last weekend, this time featuring a spread of veritable Persian delights for almost 40 guests. We raised over $1,000 for the selected charity Moms Against Poverty (MAP), and everyone went home with full bellies and full hearts. Can’t wait to do this again for our next event, an Italian lunch benefiting Mercy Corps on Sunday June 25. Tickets go on sale June 12 and if you’re on our mailing list you’ll be the first to get access. In the meantime, enjoy the photos from Saturday!


For our next Tapestry Suppers event I’m really excited to share the words and culinary talent of my friend and yoga teacher, Mojdeh Z. Coming from a family where the cooking and sharing of food was part of the fabric of daily life, she understands, intuitively, the power of the meal in forging connections with others, as you will see in her story below.

A few years ago she invited a small group of us for a simple Persian lunch. We were greeted with a spread enough to feed 10 or more hungry souls. There was rice prepared two ways, an assortment of salads, a range of stews, dips, herbs, bread and don’t forget the sweets! It was a homecooked Persian feast, which is always the best kind. I’m thrilled that more people will get to taste her delicious cooking on Saturday, May 20 with proceeds benefiting Moms Against Poverty (MAP). Join us by purchasing a ticket on Eventbrite.

Mojdeh, aged about 8-10 years old here enjoying the sun in her father’s citrus orchard.

Where did you grow up? Please describe what your hometown was like.

I grew up in Dezful, Iran, the oldest of four siblings. Dezful was then a small city in the state of Khuzestan. This region of Iran is famous for its vast oil reserves as well as agriculture. My father owned agricultural lands in the countryside. He had the vision of turning all his land into citrus orchards. I grew up seeing my father growing citrus trees from seeds and eventually planting them in the land. He built a house in the middle of his first orchard and when I was 5 years old we moved from the city into this house. I grew up loving this house, the land, the citrus orchards, and all that comes with living in the country: fresh air, water, fresh fruits and vegetables to name a few. This home and the orchard were a huge playground for my siblings and I. Our house was always filled with other family members and friends and the children always wanted to stay over because we would all have a blast running around in the orchards, climbing trees and playing.

From 1st through 6th grade my father drove me to and from the city daily for school. Once I reached 7th grade we moved back to the city. Again, my father built another house there in order for us to be close to middle and high school. Education was very important in my family and that was the reason that I came to the US: to pursue higher education. When I finished high school, I applied to several universities and the first acceptance letter came from Utah State University in Logan, UT in late February 1978. The letter stated that I had to report to the university office of foreign student advisor in Logan itself by late-March, leaving me three weeks to get a visa and leave Iran. I remember, my father and I drove to Shiraz (the land of Hafiz, the Persian Poet) to the nearest US Embassy, which was over 700 km (435 miles) away. We drove all night to get to our destination.  The next day I received my US student visa. We had nearly two weeks left to get all my affairs in order and say goodbye to family and friends, and go to Tehran to catch my flight. My memories of those days are still surreal, things happened really fast.

It was very hard to leave my family. It was also very scary. I had never travelled on my own within my home country let alone travelling abroad to a country on the other side of the world. As I recall on the plane from Tehran to London, I cried for about five hours. Once we got to London, I decided that I am going to be fine and I stopped crying and surrendered to the circumstances at hand. Initially, I had no intention to stay in the US. My goals were to complete my higher education and return to Iran.  However, once the political climate changed, my plans for the future changed as well.

When did you arrive in the US and what were the early months like?

I arrived in the US on March 20, 1978, in Salt Lake City, UT. I had just turned 18 and had a limited knowledge of the English language. Within a couple of days I was living in West High Rise dormitory at Utah State University in Logan, UT and started my English courses. I adjusted to life in Logan very quickly. I was fortunate enough to have cousins who lived there as well as in other parts of the US and made a lot of friends at the university. People in Logan were very friendly and very respectful. Most of my time in Logan was spent on-campus with other students as well as professors. Utah State University campus was beautiful.  I have very fond memories of my interactions with my colleagues.

For the most part I really never felt alone. During the first six months that I lived on-campus, I started making Persian food in the dormitory kitchen and invited the people that I had met to share the food with. I also started celebrating the Persian new year, NoRooz, and invited all my friends to come to my home for the celebration. I brought people together by making Persian dishes all the time. I would often cook at my friend’s houses just for the purpose of getting together and to share a meal.

Mojdeh (at left) with her younger siblings at home.

Were any other family members able to visit you in the early years?

In September 1978, my younger brother joined me in Logan. This was part of my father’s bigger plan to send all his children to the US but things did not go as planned. By the end of 1979, the US embassies were closed in Iran and travelling to the US became very difficult. In addition, the nine-year war between Iran and Iraq began in September 1980, devastating the whole country. In September 1982 after I graduated from engineering school and before starting graduate studies,  my parents came to visit me in Logan after going to Germany and obtaining a visitor visa. We later found out that my father had been diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer. From September 1982 through January 1983 my father received treatment for his cancer in Ogden, UT. We drove the 50 miles between Logan and Ogden for his treatment on a daily basis. He and my mother returned to Iran in February 1983 where he was taken directly to the hospital and passed away on February 26, 1983. My brother and I were not able to attend his funeral.

Do you still have family in Iran and do you go back to visit them?

One of my sisters still lives in Iran as well as extended family. I have been fortunate enough to be able to go back on a regular basis. The last time I was in Iran, was in 2011 when the four of us, (siblings) and our children were together for my Niece’s wedding.

When did you move to the Bay Area?

After finishing graduate studies I moved to the Bay Area in May 1985 and have been here since. It is very different from Logan and it became my second home right away. I worked for several environmental consulting firms and my last corporate job was with FMC Corporation in San Jose, where I worked as an environmental remediation manager for nearly 16 years. I left FMC in 2007 and after a year of consulting in the environmental field I decided to fully dedicate myself to the healing arts that I had been studying on the side for many years.

Since leaving Iran in 1978, you’re now approaching 40 years of living in the US, how do you feel about that?

I have a lot of family and friends here and have assimilated really well. I am very grateful for my life here in the US. We are blessed with so much. The opportunities are endless. For the most part I have always felt that life in the US has been very supportive of all my aspirations. I am so grateful for the communities that I belong to. Yet, Iran will always be my first home. The energy I feel when I step into Tehran International Airport is beyond explanation. You just cannot help but notice it. I will always miss the sights, the smells, the noise, the conversations in the background, and a lot more. Going to Iran takes me back to my happy childhood memories.

Will you be cooking any family recipes for the event?

Cooking was a big part of our family life. We always had people over for lunch and dinner. My parents threw huge dinner parties and my mother’s cooking was talk of the town. My mother cooked with a lot love.

My family also prepared food for philanthropic purposes. On special occasions, my mother would cook for over 150 people for this purpose. I wish I took pictures of those meals. I have always wanted to do what my parents did, cooking for a good cause. When Danielle asked me to do this, I did not hesitate.

I learned to cook by watching my mother cook. I was 14 years old when I made my first meal for my family.  I really do not have any Persian food recipes written down. I cook from memory. For our May 20th gathering, I will be making Herb Rice (Sabzi Polo), Jeweled Rice (Shirin Polo), Eggplant Stew (Khoresh e Bademjan), Eggplant Dip (Kashk e Bademjan), Herb Stew (Khoresh e Ghormeh Sabzi), and more, all of which are traditional Persian dishes that I learned from my mother.  Persian food is really about pouring your love into your food so that the people you share it with feel that love.

Are there any other anecdotes about your immigrant experience in America that you would like to share?

Being an immigrant is hard for everyone, especially at first when one moves to a strange land. It takes time to grow roots and find a sense of identity. It takes time to find a sense of belonging. It becomes even harder when geopolitical circumstances interfere and affect the lives of ordinary people.  It is not easy to hear the name of the region or an ethnicity that you belong to being mentioned on the news with negative propaganda.

The cardinal rule for an immigrant is working hard. I studied all the time in school. I worked long hours at my jobs. The hardest part was losing my loved ones. Within a span of ten years I lost my father, my grandmother, and my mother and I was not able to attend their funerals. At times I felt a rug has been pulled under my feet.  But focusing on collateral beauty rather than collateral damage is what has allowed me to be hopeful, to look to the future and heal. At the end of the day, we all are the same.

I have seen so much kindness and generosity from American people in my darkest moments. I will never forget my father’s oncologist in Ogden. After my father died, I informed him about my father’s passing. This amazing doctor said that we no longer needed to pay him the remaining medical bills that were owed. There are many more anecdotes like this one.  It would take hours and hours to write about it. This act of kindness from that doctor changed my entire perspective about how generous we can be with whatever we have to offer each other.

To end, I would like to finish with a line from the Rumi poem, “Moses and The Shepherd“:

We are here to bring each other together
We are not here to create means of separation

The story behind this poem is that Moses gets angry when he sees a shepherd talking to God in a very earthly fashion as though he is talking to a person. He starts to berate the shepherd when Moses hears a revelation from God: “You are here to bring people closer to me not to separate them from me…….everyone speaks to me in their own way…… I Pay attention to the intention behind the word…..”. The message of this poem is one of universality and acceptance. That we are all unique and we have our unique ways about us. Ultimately we are on the same path and we are here to enhance each other’s lives .

Next steps:

  • To attend Mojdeh’s Persian Feast on Saturday the 20th, head over to Eventbrite to purchase tickets and register.
  • Sign up for our newsletter to be the first to know about upcoming events.
  • Send me an email if you’d like to host and/or cook a meal, or if you know of someone who would be a good fit.
  • Follow us on Instagram.
  • Donate: this is very much a labor of love so any support for operating expenses are always welcome.
 I hope you will join us on the 20th or at one of our other events!
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