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Agenda for Italian American Students

Agenda for Italian American Students

Paul J. Carvet (October 2, 2007)

Young people between the ages of sixteen and thirty-two, the following is a “to do” list that may open not just your mind but also some doors to greater social acceptability and maybe a meaningful job. It is part of what my colleagues call (re)making Italian Americans. ...


... You don’t have to actually do all of the following tasks, nor do them all at once, as it would impossible when not foolish.

Just simply paste them on the wall above your desk, or the inside back cover of your notebook, refer to them as often as possible, share their claims with family, friends and, when appropriate, your foes, add variations and deviations as the course of life often demands, but always, I mean consistently, stay with them. For the stakes are high. They involve nothing less than creating, within a decade or so, a new generation of Italian Americans who can stand tall, speak critically about any number of arguments, and begin to redress about a century and a half of silence, misunderstanding, stereotyping, racism, exclusion, ignorance and shame. For the the time being, I am limiting myself to a simple list, without much description. Further explanations will come in subsequent postings.

1.    Italian Americans – from hereon ITAMS -- should demand that colleges and universities offer a Major in Italian American Studies, with required complementary courses in at least four of the following subjects: history of Italy and America, linguistics, cultural anthropology, international relations, political economy and the history of legislations that have impacted on demographic shifts.

2.    If a Major is at first difficult to attain, begin with demanding that a 21-credit Minor be offered, to piggy-back on a Major in any of the other fields listed in No. 1. The ultimate goal is to have a PhD Program in which Italian American Studies could be a track, a concentration or a specialization.

3.    ITAMS should demand from their institutions that the Office of Development or their Foundations reach out to wealthy, famous and powerful Italian Americans to donate money and create funds for scholarships, internships, year abroad fellowships, publications of monographs and the like.

4.    ITAMS should help their colleges locate such sources, with unabated persistence. To get their ear, work through one of the many college student associations or clubs, seek allies, learn to network and learn the art of politics.

5.    ITAMS should accept the reality that culture requires money, that culture is capital, and that capital takes different forms, including symbolic ones. Anyone who feels that Italian American culture is an end in itself and should not be connected with business and politics, lives on another planet, or at least is not aware of how, where, and thanks to whom culture in both Italy and America has been produced.

6.    No matter what their field or career plans, ITAMS should learn some Italian, a minimum of three years study, and/or at least a year living and studying in Italy (which is why item no. 4 is crucial)

7.    ITAMS should constantly question their Italian peer and friends who, arriving to the States, have a tendency to explain Italy and America to them, and speak in ready-made categories. That is why studying history is indispensable: too often the Italians from Italy don’t know, have suppressed or conveniently forgotten, that nearly a fourth of the population had to leave so that they could build a rich and vain middle-class, known as la borghesia on the othe side of the Atlantic.

8.    ITAMS should stop thinking that the Great Exodus can be explained with reference to on or two single factors, such as the North-South divide, industrialization, racism, British Imperialism or the House of Savoy: all of these, and many more, were the factors that contributed to the origins of Italian Americans.

9.    Founding mythologies: if the North Americans have the Revolutionary War, the Latin Americans the Conquista and mestizaje, the African-Americans slavery, and the Jews ceaseless persecution as their defining historical experience and source of mythologies and identity discourse, Italian Americans have th Great Migration: know it, study it, reflect upon it, talk about it, compare it, do theses on it, build museums about it, erect monumens to it, write and teach about it, do films and plays about it, accept and try to grasp its complexity, its drama, its uniqueness, what it teaches about history, society, capitalism, Italy, America, the human condition.

10.    ITAMS should look forward to the day when buildings, monuments, theaters, streets, symphony halls, elementary schools, graduate schools, foundations, scholarships and malls bear the names of Italian Americans. For that to become a reality, they must be successful, smart, generous, unintimidated, persistent.




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