Narrating Race and Italianità: Language and Text in the Construction of Race and Italian Americans
A Symposium Presented by:
The John D. Calandra Italian American Institute and the Catholic Newman Center
Thursday, May 4, 2006, 10 AM-1 PM
The Catholic Newman Center, Room 208
Student Union Building
Race has long been a significant aspect of the Italian experience in America. Italian immigrants encountered a racist system based on socially marked categories of “white” and “black.” During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Italian Americans found themselves in a liminal racial state, not quite black and not quite white, while, at the same time, they received the benefits of whiteness bestowed by the federal government. It was during the 1930s and 1940s that Italian Americans asserted a “white” identity that became entrenched after World War II and during the civil rights era. Recent work by scholars and artists has prompted some Italian Americans to question and problematize the construction and meaning of whiteness in Italian American history and culture.
Spoken language and the written word contributed considerably to the ways that racial and national identities were formed, codified, ascribed, challenged, embraced, and reproduced, and ultimately impacted economic and political realties. Philological scholarship influenced social policy and legislation regarding the place of Italian immigrants in American society. Newspapers, with their daily columns, editorials, and letters to the editor, shaped public opinion concerning matters of race. Fictional accounts created textual narratives that negotiated the reader’s understanding of race and racial status vis-à-vis Italian Americans. This symposium presents recent scholarship on the complex ways in which language and text situated Italian Americans within the context of a racialized America.