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The Über-Country: Italy at 150 Years

The Über-Country: Italy at 150 Years

Laura E. Ruberto (June 1, 2010)
"The Contribution of a Great Race" 1924
cover of the THE CONTRIBUTION OF A GREAT RACE, published in San Francisco, 1924, by “The Italians of California to their American Brothers"

Some thoughts on Italy’s mythical status, migrating identities, and the creation of an online salon to talk about it all.


  “But Italy is different, national yet something more, broader in spirit, apparently undying. Italy is old and new at the same time.”

-         Ubaldo P. Maggetti, Professor of Italian, University of California, 1924

In the 1924 pamphlet, The Contribution of a Great Race, published in San Francisco by “The Italians of California to their American Brothers,” Italy (the country) and Italian civilization are conflated into one mythical place. Both are characterized as overwhelmingly significant to the world at large: full of beautiful landscapes, creative people, and events of monumental importance. And even the “desirability of the Italian immigrant” is applauded.
In the epigraph above, taken from this publication, Maggetti calls attention to the melding of nation and civilization by suggesting that Italy is almost an Über-country. Indeed, it’s not hard to see how Maggetti’s characterization of Italy as superstar is related to so much of what gets discussed within Italian and Italian American Studies—from exoticized images of Italy to Columbus-as-Italian-American-hero claptrap, from stereotypes of Italian Americans as guidos, gangsters, or madonne to the problematic of Italy as a country of both emigrants and immigrants.
In fact, all of these topics—which so often spur both intellectual debate and bold artistic responses—are timely given the approach of the Italian nation’s sesquicentennial celebrations.
Indeed, not long ago, on Facebook, Pasquale Verdicchio and I started una chiacchierata on a variety of Risorgimento-related themes. It all started around an episode of Bruno Vespa’s RAI Uno TV program Porta a Porta that Pasquale had posted.
This particular episode, “L’Italia riparte con Garibaldi” (“Italy Re-launches with Garibaldi”) featured, as is often the case for this show, an impressive lineup (listed here with the titles with which they were introduced while the theme from Gone with the Wind played ):
-          Sandro Boni, Minister for Cultural Affairs
-          Francesco Rutelli, Leader of the Alliance for Italy Party
-          Roberto Castelli, member of the Lega Nord
-          Mauro Masi, RAI General Director
-          Anita Garibaldi, descendent of Anita & Giuseppe Garibaldi

While Pasquale and I exchanged comments on Facebook about the show—with its odd quips about brigantaggio, cultural unity, and social progress coming from politically disparate positions—we came up with the need for an online discussion forum that was different from anything we knew already existed. We imagined a forum expressly designed as a place to exchange ideas about Italy in light of its 150 years as a nation, especially in relation to issues related to migration.
And thus we determined to start a free public blog site for online-discussion, and in no time we launched Diasporic Continuities: A Salon Discussion Point on the Changing Face of Italian Unification on the Verge of Its 150th Anniversary. It’s a simple site, mimicking in its fluid structure—or so I’d like to think—the ebb and flow of migration. Here's the beginning of Pasquale’s first post:
One hundred and fifty years of nationhood. But what does it mean? Laura Ruberto and I thought it might be useful to consider what the legacy of that moment in history might be as Italy is changing demographically after a period of zero growth. 
The celebration of Italy’s 150 years as a modern nation state offers an opportunity to create new links among scholars, artists, and others while also reinvigorating connections that already exist. Of course, I know I’m preaching to the choir here: such intellectual alliance-making is the basis of what is about after all!

But there’s no time like the present to give thought to what Italian national and cultural identity means, in relation to practical politics and expressive culture in particular. Even more, it’s an opportune time to consider italo-identity in terms of transmigratory experiences, through the Italian diaspora broadly and new migrants and their families living and working in Italy today.
Italy is getting ready for 2011, and Italians throughout the diaspora are getting ready, too. What are you doing?

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