The book’s title consists of words uttered to Gilda in her youth by Pope Pius XII, Eugenio Pacelli. On a family visit to Castel Gandolfo, the summer residence of the Popes, the Pontiff asked her if she spoke Italian. When Gilda said that she did not, this was the Pope’s response: “Gilda, will you promise me something? Promise me you will learn Italian and never forget your Italian ancestors.”
As her autobiography recounts, Gilda kept that promise. She first mastered Spanish and then Italian and worked to preserve the heritage of the Italian American community in New Jersey. The engaging story follows Gilda from childhood to adulthood, caught between generations of traditional Italian cultural values applied to women – that of obedience and the need to make others happy – as measured against her almost pugnacious attitude of a progressive and independently-minded career woman.
Cavaliere Gilda Rorro Baldassari’s memoir relives the fascinating journey from Mexican movie star to a leader in New Jersey’s Italian American community. Always determined to succeed, the book traces her early years and the struggles of the family, the prejudice, poverty and also the generosity of others. The book follows the family’s ascension into the middle class and retells charming stories of youth. On sneaking out of kindergarten on her first day, her mother asked, “Gilda, why are you home from school so early?” Gilda’s response, “The school burned down.” “I’d better call the principal to see what’s happened,” her mother said. “Don’t bother, no one’s there,” the resourceful Gilda said.
Well-traveled from an early age, the book relives her travels to Italy as a young teenager; to Venezuela for her first love and to Mexico on a scholarship. It was there that she became the Acapulco Film Festival Queen. Soon she was in films herself. From an around the world trip to marriage, education and teaching, Gilda brings you into the conversation as though you were there with her as she meets fascinating characters, many famous, others intriguing. The vivid descriptions of her travels transport the reader to experience exotic places, visualize the beautiful sights, sounds, customs, traditions and where you can almost taste the cuisines of various countries. Some of her experiences at times seem bizarre and strange and are unlike anything imaginable in America.
Eventually, her journey takes her directly back to her roots of family and Church. Her conviction of social consciousness and her educator’s passion, led her to create a curriculum for Italian education in New Jersey. The path that Gilda embarked upon is remarkable by any standard and certainly undreamed of by most women of her generation.
Gilda’s narration of her life’s journey will appeal to and hold the interest of readers who like to travel, enjoy new experiences and identify with Italian customs and generation gap issues. The reader will detect the influences by her heritage and traditions and come to see how they shaped her life’s choices.
Dr. Gilda Battaglia Rorro Baldassari’s life is revealed through times of exuberance, sadness, hardships and disaster. But through it all, she manages to stay true to herself and achieve many successes and accomplishments with the goal of keeping her promise to the Pope. The book is filled with fascinating stories, told in the author’s captivating, sometimes biting style. Cav. Baldassari has a way of indirectly being direct, allowing the meaning to simmer just below the surface. Her humorous style is restrained, dry and effective. It makes the book all the more enjoyable. “Gilda, Promise Me” is published by Idea Press and the 432 page autobiography contains 60 illustration. It is available from Barnes and Noble, as well as Jet.com.
About the Author
Cav. Gilda Rorro Baldassari, Ed.D., a long-time educator, was the Chair of the Curriculum Development Committee of the State of New Jersey. She served as Honorary Vice Consul of Italy in Trenton, Emerita Consular Correspondent.