Louis “Luigi” Borda came from Italy in 1969. His 1967 Fiat 500, which he bought about five years ago, made that trip at about the same time. Borda came with his mother, Angelina, and older siblings Anthony and Adeline from Calabria at age 3 to reunite with his father, Fioramanti, who had come to South Philly earlier to work as a laborer with his brother.
“My father had come in September of ’68. We came June 4, 1969. We were in, the five of us, two adults and three children, we were with my cousins who took us in, in a two-bedroom house on [the 1000 block of South] Fernon Street,” Borda, 45, said. “So four adults and seven children, half spoke English and half spoke Italian.”
Borda turned his immigration experience into the subject of a children’s book, “Andiamo… Let’s Go! Luigi Discovers Philadelphia.” The book features the young boy named Luigi coming to Philadelphia and traveling around in his bright red Fiat while he discovers what the city has to offer.
“My family is in it. [My daughters Angelica, 15, and Veronica, 12, and wife, Tracy] are characters in the book,” Borda, of the 2300 block of South 21st Street, said.
Self-published in 2009, the book is Borda’s first in what he hopes will become a series, where Luigi will eventually travel to all 50 states and abroad.
“Most people agree that most Americans don’t know enough about geography. I teach world history and I teach about everywhere and many kids don’t know about Philadelphia, Pa. and the United States,” Borda, who currently teaches seventh-grade social studies and geography at Center City’s J.R. Masterman, said. “I thought this might be a fun way to get to know your immediate surroundings and eventually Luigi is going to travel the world.”
The author thinks the 20-page illustrated book helps children understand geography, and he has been using the new-found celebrity that the book has given to Luigi as a platform to advance his message about the current state of public education.
“I realized I could use it as a real way of showing people the impact of education and get people involved,” he said. “I found people are not informed or that they really don’t care, both of which really worried me. So I decided to combine the three most important things to me: Parenting, teaching and running, and put them all together.”
The resulting project was a 100-mile run from Philadelphia to Harrisburg over a three-day weekend in June to advocate for more funding for education.
“I’m planning it again this year. I want 100 teachers to run across the state with me,” Borda said. “I usually do it the day after school ends. Because school has ended but I want people to still be thinking about it.”
Once the family settled into their South Philly digs, Borda attended St. Nicholas of Tolentine, 913 Pierce St., Masterman and then Central High School. He went on to get a bachelor’s degree from West Chester University in education and two master’s degrees — one in education from Temple University and one in administration at Gwynedd-Mercy College.
“I started teaching the day I was out of college at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, [2329 S. Third St.,] right here in South Philly,” Borda said. “I’ve been a teacher for 20 years.
“I think the main thing about teaching and parenting is that it is incredibly important to set a good example, to lead by example. Teaching children, you can talk all you want, but people follow examples. That was the idea with the running, too.”
Running, which is now one of Borda’s greatest passions, is an activity he picked up only five years ago. After reading a narrative that showcases the athletic skills of the Tarahumara Native Americans of Mexico, Borda was convinced that everyone should be running on a regular basis.
“The book ‘Born to Run,’ it’s by Christopher McDougall, he grew up at 16th and Oregon. It really changed people’s thinking on running. I read the book and I was convinced,” Borda said. “There’s not a day that goes by now that someone doesn’t say that either I made them start running or getting involved [in education]. [The 100-mile run] was really rewarding in that respect.”
Borda’s message to citizens is to learn about the state of education and then get involved. There are many ways to start to create change, and Borda wants to help people get there.
“My ultimate goal now that I have this sort of notoriety of the car, I want people more involved and informed in their local education. The only way [to achieve that] is if everyone gets involved,” he said. “First, [people can get involved by] volunteering and learning more about the election process — get informed about it — … then literally running for public office.”
Borda entered last year’s City Council at-large race, but realized before the election took place it wasn’t the right time for him to be running and withdrew his candidacy. For now he is focused on helping others get into seats in local office in order to effect change.
“We have to get more people involved and informed, Borda said. “I want to use the car literally as a vehicle to help people get more informed and involved.”
As far as Luigi’s storybook life, Borda is in talks with a publisher to pick up the series and he’s already developed the next installment, where Luigi learns about Pennsylvania. His idea for when Luigi begins to visit other states is to hand over a template to residents who will then write about their home state.
“My girls and I love to travel. We drove across country in a motor home two years ago. And coming from Italy, I’m always intrigued about places around the world and travel,” he said.
Borda is very excited for the warmer months when he gets to take Luigi out to more events and see people’s reaction to the little Fiat that took a parallel journey from Italy to Philadelphia more than 40 years ago.
“I’ll go to school and read to the first grade and … the kids [are so excited] when they see the car. They just think it’s a book and then its like the car literally jumped out of the book,” he said. “When I got the car, I found that this car — literally people age 2 to 92, their face would light up when they saw the car.” SPR
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