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December 2023 Spotlight: Italian-American Heritage Month

The month of October was Italian-American Heritage Month and Pepperdine Caruso Law is pleased to feature alumnae Angela Zanin (JD '03) and Rachel Enders (JD '21). Zanin serves as president of the Italian American Lawyers Association (IALA) Los Angeles chapter. Enders is an active IALA board member and past IALA scholarship winner. Both Zanin and Enders are accomplished attorneys of Italian–American heritage and hold a deep love and appreciation for their Italian roots. Zanin and Enders shared inspiring thoughts on how their family origins have shaped them and impacted their work as attorneys and leaders.

Zanin’s family is from Asolo in the Veneto region. Some of her family still resides in this northeastern area near Venice, home to St. Mark’s Square, illustrious carnival celebrations, and nearly 200 canals from which it has affectionately been given the name, “The Floating City."

“My grandfather Armando, who served in World War II, was able to elevate his family out of poverty with the G.I. Bill. After he served in WWII, going to war against his home country of Italy, he came back and was able to go to college and become an engineer.”

Zanin continued sharing her family’s story and their tenacity to overcome obstacles due to the intolerance of some towards Italians after the second World War. She explained that IALA was formed in 1977 partly because of the racism Italian-Americans faced during that time.

Zanin is from rural Minnesota and is a partner at the office of Lewis Brisbois in Los Angeles, where she practices in the Bad Faith Litigation and Insurance Coverage groups. She is also a part of the Italy Practice, whose main office is
in New York. The main focus of Italy Practice is handling transactional items for Italian Companies outside of the United States. She has demonstrated her commitment to service in her community for many years. While in college she had the opportunity to teach and study in Milan; a city she considers the most fashionable city in the world. While she knew she wanted to become a lawyer at the age of eight, after seeing a lawyer on television, she said that living in Milan shaped her in a lot of ways and has impacted how she practices law. 

Enders’ mother is from Sicily. She was born and raised in the small town of Monreale within the city of Palermo. Monreale overlooks what is known as the Golden Valley because of the beautiful open view of the golden rolling plains below. Monreale is known for many attractions and lies at the heart of the rich culture of Palermo’s cuisine, citrus groves and beautiful architecture including the Monreale Cathedral.

“She [my mom] had the opportunity to come to the United States when she was around 16 with her family. She moved back and forth and decided to stay in Italy to study to become a nun, then she decided she didn’t want to become a nun after all and moved back to the United States permanently.”

Enders explained that her mother travelled to the United States because her uncle won the immigration lottery at the time. Her mother had not studied English prior to her move to the United States and began her
journey during a time that was difficult for many Italian immigrants.

“She came to the United States at a time where it was still post World War II sentiments so she didn’t teach my sister or myself Italian. What we did get the opportunity to do is when I was 14 was to go to a very small town in Sicily , sort of near where my mom grew up with sort of like my adoptive grandparents and I got to be a part of their family, and go to their summer tomato events, canning the tomatoes… the whole process; and I was a part of it and I was an extra pair of hands to work. It was also ferragosto and so I was hanging out with the local kids… I love that part of my heritage a lot…it was a big impact on my life. Now, through the Italian American Lawyers association we try to keep that culture
alive through the food mainly. As far as community outreach, I’ve gone to Pepperdine Caruso Law a few times to inform students that our organization exists and try to publicize the scholarship.”

Enders practices in the Real Estate sphere in the area of unlawful detainer and was inspired to be a “Landlord’s Attorney” because of the impact of her grandmother being a landowner in Italy and her mother owning land and property in the United States.

Both attorneys are passionate about their work and the work that IALA does to support Italian Americans and all lawyers in the Los Angeles area and in the United States. The IALA, as well as recognized months such as Italian-American Heritage Month, provide additional opportunities to help educate individuals about the Italian culture as well as celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of Italian Americans in the law field.

There are often misconceptions or biases that are associated with the Italian American culture as a result of films and other media outlets that are not truly representative of the culture, Italian individuals, or the values Italian Americans hold.

“Our group was [also] founded to work on getting more Italian Americans appointed to the bench and to break down the stereotype…we are law-abiding, we can be judicial officers. It is important to celebrate all of the great things about Italian culture…now we are more about food, but it’s not so long ago that our parents and grandparents faced discrimination," said Zanin.

Zanin also emphasized the importance of IALA’s role now and why it is important for law students and attorneys to get involved in organizations like this one. “If I had to give one piece of advice to share with law students I would tell them to become members of the Student Bar Association as well as IALA or organizations like it. It is really important to get involved and stay connected with other lawyers and individuals in the field. IALA is not only for Italian Americans. Anyone can join and we welcome everyone," said Zanin.

Enders shared another reason why she joined the organization,“I joined IALA because the Italian culture is very social, very family oriented and very community oriented…I’m a first generation attorney. I didn’t really know any attorneys growing up; there are none in my family, so this organization is that Italian community and that social aspect, which is culturally a big deal to Italians in general but also when you’re a new attorney and you’re a female or any kind of minority, knowing people in that community helps a lot with networking [and] in business.”

The Italian American Lawyers Association collaborates with other bar association organizations to hold joint culture evens where everyone can support each other. During Zanin's time as president she has earned several unique accomplishments including planning and hosting numerous events in collaboration with other bar associations to offer support and to cultivate a space for diversity and belonging in the area of law, including joint events with the Mexican American Bar Association, the Latina Lawyers Bar Association, Southern California Chinese Lawyers Association, Japanese American Bar Association, South Asian Bar Association, Asian Pacific American Bar Association, Asian Pacific Association of Women Lawyers, Korean Community Lawyers Association, Korean American Bar Association, Phillipean American Bar Association, Irish American Bar Association, Beverly Hills Bar Association, California Lawyers Association, Los Angeles County Bar Association, LGBTQ+ Lawyers Association, Multi-Cultural Bar Alliance, and the Women Lawyers of Los Angeles.

For more information on joining IALA and the organization's law student scholarship and Annual Supreme Court Night, please visit Italian American Lawyers Association