What does being Italian mean? Come with me on a journey from Italy to the USA, from 1800 to today

This is the story of a journey made of conflicts, rivalries, self-given defects and illusions of superiority. This is the story of how Italians became white

On a rainy, Saturday afternoon I talked about Italian identity to an audience of more than 40 Italians of first, second and third generation at the COI - Acli, the Italian Cultural Centre in Utrecht. It was an incredibly moving and engaging experience to talk about one of my dearest research topics, Italian migration and Italian identity.

Being a migrant myself, I personally feel many of the struggles I write about in my research

Being a migrant myself, from the North of Italy to the South first, then back to the North, then to England and now to the Netherlands, I personally feel many of the struggles I write about in my research.


An uncompleted journey

In my presentation, I took the audience on a painful journey towards the construction of a shared notion of Italianness. A journey that started at the beginning of the 19th century and, as strange as it may seem, it is still far from being completed. It is a journey made of conflicts, rivalries, self-given defects and illusions of superiority. In Italy, there has never been space for a totally positive Italianness and more often than not over the years, the negative narrative has been exploited as an easy explanation for this of that problem, rather than for bad politics.


A different Italianness

In the USA, on the contrary, a conscious change in the public narrative about a positive Italianness successfully built a sense of pride in the 4 million of Italians who migrated to the New World from 1880 to 1920 and helped them negotiate inclusion into the American society. Such a positive narrative pushed mainly by the Italian press in the USA has helped the Italian American community escape racism and become accepted by the American society.

If we think that we are like we are because we could not be otherwise, what possibilities are there for us to change?

An ongoing question

This idea that our Italian past has left a sort of genetic mark on the Italian peoples, like a bad DNA that no Italian could ever get rid of, leaves very little room for any possible hope for change. If we think that we are like we are because we could not be otherwise, what possibilities are there for us to change?

Many thanks to the fantastic audience and to the COI - Acli Utrecht for inviting me.




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