REAL STORIES: A Conference about Discrimination and Stereotyping in the U.S. from the Perspective of Italian Americans

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In the land of the Sopranos, a Conference about Discrimination and Defamation in America through the Italian Experience.

The Charles and Joan Alberto Italian Studies Institute at Seton Hall University hosts the conference “ REAL STORIES: Discrimination and Defamation in the History of Italian Americans” to be held on Saturday, December 4, 2004, from 9:30 am to 7:30 pm at Seton Hall University (Kozlowski Auditorium), 400 South Orange Ave., South Orange, New Jersey, 07079. The event is open to the public and there is no admission charge.

“Real Stories” is a daylong national conference devoted to the history of discrimination against Italian Americans, one of many groups that have suffered from discrimination and stereotyping in our history. The aim of this conference is not simply to create another of the victimization narratives in which our society abounds, but rather to look at discrimination against Italians from a realistic and historical perspective by illustrating the many unusual aspects of the history of Italians in America and by trying to explain why negative images of this ethnic group have proved remarkably enduring, even as Italians themselves have prospered and assimilated into the American mainstream. This will be an important occasion to get a comprehensive, practical understanding of the legal, ethical, psychological and political issues involved in discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and stereotyping in the media, and the work that one ethnic group has done to combat these phenomena over the past two centuries.

Questions of stereotyping and discrimination continue to be a mark of modern American culture. In sociology, a stereotype is a rigid, distorted and preconceived description about a certain type of person, group, or society. It is based on prejudice rather than fact, but by repetition and with time, stereotypes become fixed in people’s minds and resistant to change, resulting in a tendency to ignore contrary factual evidence. Stereotypes can prove dangerous when used to justify persecution and discrimination, to the point that one group in society uses labeling to keep another group ‘in its place.’ From the perspective of many Italian Americans, their important contributions to the advancement of our country seem to vanish quickly in the strong accent of every Mafia villain in the movies, or in the image of cheerful pasta-eaters not to be taken seriously.

Real Stories is unique in its attempt to approach this problem from a historical perspective. The emphasis will be on recognizing modern-day discrimination and stereotyping as the result of a long historical process, with important roots in the nineteenth century and even earlier.

Organized by the Joseph M. and Geraldine C. La Motta Chair in Italian Studies at Seton Hall University, the Anti-Bias Committee of UNICO National, and the New Jersey Italian American Heritage Commission, the conference will feature five panels comprised of distinguished members of the Italian American community who will speak on the topics of the history of Italians in America, the present day situation, defamation in the media, the political response to defamation, and the efforts of Italian American organizations. There will also be several short films, including a documentary on the lynching of Italian Americans and an Oscar-winning anti-defamation film starring Frank Sinatra. The proceedings will be filmed for a documentary by an award-winning television producer. Sponsors who have made the conference possible include the National Italian American Foundation (http://www.niaf.org), and the Columbus Citizens Foundation. Additional important support has come from the Commission for Social Justice of the Order of the Sons of Italy in America, the American Italian Historical Association and the Center for Italian and Italian American Culture.

For further information and directions, and to register, contact Dr. William Connell, Director of the Alberto Italian Studies Institute, at (973) 275-2926 or connelwi@shu.edu

About the organizers

The Charles and Joan Alberto Italian Studies Institute was established in 2003 to coordinate Seton Hall University’s many activities relating to Italian and Italian American history and culture, to sponsor cultural events, and to promote curriculum development and community outreach, in order to spread the message of the universal relevance and inclusiveness of Italian contributions in the history of the world and of America, regardless of nationality or ethnic background.

UNICO NATIONAL is the largest Italian American service organization in the United States. Members are united in a national chain, working jointly on national projects and separately on community activities, to uplift the prestige of our people. It is non-political and non-sectarian. The Anti-Bias Committee of UNICO National is dedicated to combating defamation and promoting a positive image of Italians and Italian Americans.

The New Jersey Italian American Heritage Commission was established to build and strengthen the cultural identity of Italians and Italian Americans through public educational programs that preserve and promote an accurate, bias- free and non-stereotyped understanding and awareness of historical and current contributions and accomplishments of people of Italian heritage.

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Daniela Puglielli
ACCENT PUBLIC RELATIONS, INC.
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