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Linguistic activist Vincent Cerda

YouthIt’s not as common as it once was for American kids to learn Italian as their first language — and even when they do, it often fades as they grow. That’s exactly what happened with Berwyn native Vincent Cerda, who grew up speaking Italian fluently but didn’t rediscover his love for the language until he entered high school at Nazareth Academy.

“After some formal study all the language that I remembered from my youth quickly came back in a flood of memories,” says Cerda, 21. “At that point I knew I wanted to help others have the same experience.”

He began giving private Italian lessons in 2012 and continues to do so today. So far, he has tutored more than 50 students ranging in age from 6 to 60.

For those who are lucky enough to learn Italian under Cerda’s guidance, they can boast having someone pretty incredible as a mentor. Cerda has just graduated Lake Forest College with a self-styled major in Italian Studies — a program where he earned a stellar 4.0 GPA.

Cerda’s achievements are all the more incredible given that he’s the first generation of his family to attend college. And it’s to his paternal grandparents, who hail from Carbonara and Valenzano in Bari, that Cerda credits much of his love for Italian language and culture.

“I’d come home after being babysat as an infant and try to tell my Swedish mother what I wanted in Italian,” Cerda recalls, laughing, “and she wasn’t even able to understand me.”

For his final term at Lake Forest, Cerda tackled a subject worthy of a general market book: the differences between Carlo Collodi’s novel “Pinocchio” and Walt Disney’s 1940 film adaptation.

Cerda’s essay “Pinocchio: Traduttore, Traditore” reveals truths unknown to even the most diehard fans of the Disney film. “I took it upon myself to analyze, evaluate and critique the cultural and literary aspects of each story in an effort to bring more attention to Collodi’s brilliant novel,” Cerda says. “It’s a shame that the entire world knows Walt Disney’s film that teaches people and children, specifically, not to lie — when Collodi’s version is actually an incredibly written socio-political allegory that essentially teaches children about the Italian work ethic and what it means to be an Italian.”

For an encore, Cerda is leaping into the world of law, enrolling in The John Marshall Law School in Chicago. He’s open-minded as to the specialty he’ll pursue, but one factor will remain a cultural constant.

“I plan on fully exploring my options and finding a way to incorporate my Italian heritage and background into my career,” Cerda says. “In fact, I’m already involved with the Justinian Society at the law school and I plan on being an active member during my time there and beyond.”

In the meantime, there’s another constant in Cerda’s life that he credits for his successes. “My parents and the Italian values of my family are the reason why I’m the motivated and passionate individual I am today,” he says. “They taught me discipline, hard work and the most important lesson of all: respect. I owe my past, present, and future to my family and I hope to continue making them all proud — and repay the faith and support they’ve always shown me.”

About Lou Carlozo

A former longtime staff writer, editor and columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Lou Carlozo is a personal finance contributor to Reuters and the proud writer of Fra Noi’s Lou&A column, which spotlights important Italian Americans. He is currently studying for his master’s degree at National-Louis University, where he teaches journalism and writing on the graduate school level. He also writes for the Tribune Content Agency and a variety of other freelance outlets including DealNews, Money Under 30 and Yesware. He lives in the North Center neighborhood of Chicago with his wife of more than 17 years, Amy (a hospice chaplain), and two children.