Reimagining White Ethnicity: a Conversation with Joseph Sciorra
Calandra Institute’s Annual Conference promises to be a memorable one in 2012. From April 26 to April 28, the Institute will host a series of panels approaching the topic of white ethinicity in America today.
“Reimagining White Ethnicity: Expressivity, Identity, Race” seeks to reclaim white ethnicity as a complex and historically situated site that invites reflections on those heterogeneous and hybridic identities that often challenge hegemonic narratives and histories.
It locates European-American ethnicities in relation to recent scholarship on whiteness, transnationalism, and diaspora. the conference positions collectives such as Greek America, Irish America, Italian America, Polish America, and others as historically distinct yet interrelated cultural fields, whose complexities have not been sufficiently recognized by scholarship.
Conference participants investigate historical trends and recent developments in the cultural expression of these ethnicities, including revitalization of heritage, institution-building, transnational exchanges, hybridities, and progressive cultural politics that emerge in the wake of globalization and multiculturalism.
i-Italy has interviewed Dr Joseph Sciorra, Associate Director for Academic and Cultural Programs at Calandra Institute, to learn more about the conference and the important topics it draws the academic attention upon.
Where did the idea for the conference come from?
Until now, Calandra Institute has been organizing its annual conference on the topic of Italianness. In the past it was about Italian immigrants and their descendants returning to Italy, about the notion of land, landscape and geography, and last year the conference was about film, food and fashion from everywhere: Italy, United States and Canada.
This year is different, because we have expanded beyond the Italian realm. I was inspired by reading a book by Yiorgos Anagnostou called Contours of White Ethnicity: Popular Ethnography and the Making of Usable Pasts in Greek America. He is a Professor at Ohio State University and he will be one of the two keynote speakers.
I am involved in Italian-American studies, and it was interesting to see similar topics and similar things discussed from a Greek-American perspective.
It seemed that there were enough differences but enough similarities to broad in scope beyond Italians. In addition, the idea that some academic circles have that European immigrants melted in some general whiteness is a little simplistic. That emerges in part with older studies on immigration from 1970, but as well as in recent studies on whiteness. The idea is to have a large conversation about the differences and similarities among white communities.
Identity, multiculturalism, ethnicity, race. These words are part of the program of the conference. Could you help us understand their real meaning in this context?
It's a key term for a self and group representation. In the context of that, the conference explores issues of Identity. There's no single definition, the conference will leave it to the participants to discuss, argue, debate about what that means. I think that identity is going to have a different sense for every scholar, anthropologist, sociologist.
Any of those words is problematic, but I think the word Ethnicity is the most complicated. For many contemporary scholars, ethnicity doesn't mean Italian-American or Polish-American, it means more “people of color.” It has come to me from some scholars, not from all, and this conference is an opportunity to also raise a sort of contemporary subject for academia. This conference will provide a forum for the these kinds of conversations.
What can you say about the relationship between the topic of the conference, white ethnicity, and the city where this conference will be held, New York City?
I wouldn't say ethnicity, but ethnicities, because ethnicities are plural and this is exactly what the conference is about. There is no single white ethnicity, there is no single form of white ethnic expression. There are multiple ones. The appearances or existences or performances of white ethnicity in New York City takes many forms.
The right topic, in the right place, in the right moment...
It is not necessarily a hot topic, I don't think it is more important today than it was yesterday or it will be in the future. As the program shows, it is a topic that has gotten some shift in Academia in the present.
The idea, for example, that because the contemporary Italian-Americans are the third, fourth, fifth or sixth generations they don't have the sense of Italianess is a false one.
Sense of ethnic identity is not necessarily based on proximity to an immigrant population. You can express yourself as an Italian-American and not speak Italian and not eat spaghetti and not dance tarantella. That's one of the elements of the conference.
In your opinion, what is the main feature of this conference?
I'm very excited that the conference is engaging with scholars who deal with other communities than the Italian-American. This conference in part of an ongoing contemporary scholarly conversation that we are part of. And we will be able to engage in multiple panels with colleagues studying different communities.
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Welcome and Reception
Queens College, CUNY
John D. Calandra Italian American Institute
Christos P. Ioannides
Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies
Queens College, CUNY
Consulate General of Italy in New York
Friday, April 27, 2012
Representing Italian Americans
Chair: Dennis Barone, Saint Joseph College
Images of Italian Americans in African-American Literature during
Samuele F. S. Pardini, Elon University
Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin and the Erasure of Italian-
Nancy Caronia, University of Rhode Island
Homespun History, Youngstown Style: Ethnic Representation in Do-It-Yourself Narratives
Anthony D. Mitzel, Università di Bologna
Missed Opportunities: The 1970s Resurgence of White Ethnic Identity and the Left
Chair: Gaia Giuliani, Università di Bologna
The Threat of a Good Example: Twentieth-Century Solidarity Identities in Working-Class White Communities
James Tracy, San Francisco Community Land Trust
White Lightning: Organizing the White Working Class in the Bronx, 1971-1975
Gil Fagiani, Italian American Writers Association
Lynn Lewis, Picture the Homeless
11 am-12:15 pm
Keynote: Ethnic Acts: On "European Ethnicity" Cultural Politics
Yiorgos Anagnostou, Ohio State University
Negotiating Scandinavian Identities
Chair: Samuele F.S. Pardini, Elon University
Lox and Lax: How Marcus Samuelsson Merges Ethnicities
Jonathan Bean, The New School
Latex, Hijabs, and the Refiguration of the Swedish Folk Costume
Anna Blomster, University of California, Los Angeles
Heritage Envy: Selecting the "Danish Days" Maid in Solvang, California
Hanne Pico Larsen, Columbia University
Family, Food, and Cultural Capital
Chair: Robert Oppedisano, Editor
Traditional Greek-American Child-Rearing
Marilyn Ann Verna, St. Francis College
Italian Foodways as a Marker of Ethnicity: Italians Are What They Eat
Patrizia La Trecchia, University of South Florida
Italian-American Cultural Capital
Paola Melone, John D. Calandra Italian American Institute
The Greeks of New York City: Contemporary Trends and Historical Contexts
Chair: Christos P. Ioannides, Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, Queens College, CUNY
Greek Americans of Queens: Ethnic Identity in the Second Generation of Post-1965 Immigrants
Nicholas Alexiou, Queens College, CUNY
Greek Immigrants and Greek Americans in New York City Observed through the National Census
Anna Karpathakis, Kingsborough Community College, CUNY
Films about Greek Americans in New York: A Case Study of the Greek-American Image in American Cinema
Dan Georgakas, Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, Queens College, CUNY
Clef Notes on Music
Chair: Gil Fagiani, Italian American Writers Association
The Wanderers: Italian-American Doo Wop, Sense of Place, and Racial Crossovers in Postwar New York City
Simone Cinotto, Università degli Studi di Scienze Gastronomiche
Living the Dance in Tarpon Springs
Panayotis League, Hellenic College
Polishness in Terms of Authenticity, Social Conservatism, and Whiteness in Buffalo, New York
Marta Marciniak, University at Buffalo, SUNY
Chair: David Michalski, University of California, Davis
Beyond Racism, Beyond Whiteness: A Critical Investigation of White Privileged Discourse
Kathryn Peterson, New York University
The Dialectic of White Privilege: Resisting Habits of Privilege with Merleau-Ponty
Kristin Anne Rodier, University of Alberta
Antiracism as Rhetoric: Arizona's House Bill 2281 and Saving Ethnic Studies through a "Dis-Knowing" Critical Pedagogy
Julia Istomina, Ohio State University
Saturday, April 28, 2012
Historicizing Italian Americans and Race
Chair: Cristina Lombardi-Diop, Loyola University Chicago
"Fatti di sangue": Italian Americans, Race, and Justice in the Late
Bénédicte Deschamps, Université Paris Diderot
A Race Destined to Expire: Prominenti, Native Americans, and the Boundaries of Civilization and Race
Peter G. Vellon, Queens College, CUNY
The Social Construction and Contestation of Whiteness in York
Justin D. Garcia, Millersville University
The Body and Sexuality
Chair: Donna M. Chirico, York College, CUNY
The Sports Race: Alexi, Cioffari, and Body Versus Brain
Dennis Barone, Saint Joseph College
"I Must Maintain This Rigid Posture or All is Lost": The Trials and Tribulations of R. Crumb's Whiteman
Joseph Cosco, Old Dominion University
Public Sexuality and Whiteness in Gentrifying Neighborhoods: A Comparative Case Study in Williamsburg and Park Slope, Brooklyn
Laura Braslow, Graduate Center, CUNY and Lidia K. C. Manzo, John D. Calandra Italian American Institute
11 am-12:15 pm
Keynote: White Ethnicity and the Discourse of Authenticity
in Modern Paganisms
Sabina Magliocco, California State University, Northridge
Questioning Race and Whiteness
Chair: Peter G. Vellon, Queens College, CUNY
How Ethnicity Trumps Race in the Struggle for Self-Identity
Donna M. Chirico, York College, CUNY
Italian Americans and Whiteness through the Lens of Americanization: Toward a Critique of Racial Reason
James S. Pasto, Boston University
From Oppressed to Oppressor without Even Trying
James S. Pula, Purdue University North Central
Imagining Greek Americans
Chair: Dan Georgakas, Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, Queens College, CUNY
Changing Images of Greek Immigrants within American Mainstream Society: A Historical Overview Based on Documentary Sources and Case Studies
Constantine G. Hatzidimitriou, New York City Department
The Book Culture of Greek Americans
Maria Kaliambou, Yale University
Schadenfreude, Anxiety, and Representation in the Era of the Greek Debt Crisis in a Greek Diasporic Community
Leo Vournelis, Southern Illinois University
Continuities and Discontinuities in Italy's Racial Identity
Chair: Patrizia La Trecchia, University of South Florida
An Anthropological Perspective on Italian Ethnicity from the Colonial Age to Post-Colonialism
Moira Luraschi, Università degli Studi dell'Insubria, Varese
The Construction of Italianness: Masculinity and Race in Liberal and Early Fascist Italy
Gaia Giuliani, Università di Bologna
Spotless Italy: Hygiene, Advertisement, and the Ubiquity of Whiteness
Cristina Lombardi-Diop, Loyola University Chicago
Chair: Bénédicte Deschamps, Université Paris Diderot
White on Arrival?: A Comparison of the Racial Status of Italian
Immigrants on the East and West Coasts
Stefano Luconi, Università degli Studi di Padova
"What if I'm Too Spicy-Italian for Them?": Italian Canadians and
Krysta Pandolfi, York University
Foreign Shades of White: The Transnational Experience of Greek and
Italian Communities in Australia and the United States
Andonis Piperoglou, La Trobe University
Heritage Festivals and Roots Journeys
Chair: Sabina Magliocco, California State University, Northridge
Czech Heritage Festivals in the Midwest: Symbolizing Ethnicity in Rural Spaces
Karen Kapusta-Pofahl and Elizabeth Nech, Washburn University
The Lost Apostrophe: Race and the Irish-American Roots Journey
Sinead Moynihan, University of Exeter
Reconsidering White Ethnic Revivals: Italian Americans and Italian Immigration in the 1950s and 1960s
Danielle Battisti, Colby College
Deconstructing and Reconfiguring Italian Americans
Chair: Joseph Cosco, Old Dominion University
Race and Taste in the Olive Garden: On the Tuscanization of
David Michalski, University of California, Davis
"Calling Myself Olive": Italian Americans as Mediterranean Americans
Jim Cocola, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Beyond the Ghetto: Deconstructing White Italian-American Ethnicity
Dora Labate, Rutgers University