The April 12 round table From Ethnic to Multi-cultural Italian Media in the U.S hosted by the Inserra Chair at Montclair State University brought together Bénédicte Deschamps, Associate Professor in American Studies at the University of Paris Diderot, Maurita Cardone, Deputy Editor at La Voce di New York, Lucia Grillo, producer of Italics, and journalist Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush. These media representatives and scholars discussed the evolving role of Italian media and how the press has functioned since the 1880s, but with particular emphasis on the contemporary period. Each panelist discussed how the Italian media have presented “America” over time and how Italian communities abroad shape the image of Italy while reporting on Italian news, politics, and culture on platforms including newspapers, television, and social media. The experts presented their wide and in-depth views of Italian and ethnic media in the United States through the lens of their different backgrounds.
As Dr. Teresa Fiore, Inserra Chair, highlighted in her introductory remarks: “The panel is part of an increasingly more established interest in supporting Media and Communication Studies on campus. This interest is reflected on this occasion in the collaboration with the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University for this program.” Its current coordinator, Joseph Amditis, illustrated the Center’s newest project, In The Shadow of Liberty, which addresses immigration to the U.S., a topic that constituted the backbone of the entire panel.
Introduced by Nancy Carnevale, Associate Professor in the Department of History and a scholar in Italian American Studies herself, Bénédicte Deschamps gave the opening speech about a topic on which she has published extensively: the Italian American press. In her brief but rich historical survey of Italian newspapers, she underlined how since the early period of Italian migration in the 1800s, Italians have consistently produced and published newspapers in all the countries they moved to. The first Italian newspapers published in the U.S. were considered Exile Press and ran from the 1830s to the 1880s. At the turn of the twentieth century all the way up to WWII, Italians printed immigrant dailies, weeklies, monthlies mostly based out of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut, which hosted large communities of Italian immigrants.
Italian newspapers such as, L’Eco d’Italia, Il Progresso Italo-Americano, L’Italo Americano,L’Opinione, La Questione Sociale, and La Libertàtranslated America to Italian immigrants by providing information about all kinds of services, from leftist and rightist peerspectives, but also kept Italianness alive by reporting about Italy and preserving values. It is hard to know how many papers were published as even the official lists were not comprehensive (anarchist publications were not included) but according to an estimate, there were 150 Italian newspapers published in America between 1884 and 1944. These newspapers were published in Italian to reach Italians abroad, from immigrants to authorities, yet they addressed issues related to American life. The 1940s marked the printing of what could be called Italian-American Press given the level of integration of the community. These papers were more intent on showing the cultural, economic, and diplomatic impact of Italy in the U.S. and reported on general news as well, beyond the concrete needs of the community.
This phase has paved the way to what Deschamps calls “Italic Press” today, represented by La Voce di New York and i-ITALY NY. Deschamps presented a 2004 chart about Italic Media in the world: 36% is active in Europe, 20% in North America, and 34% in South America. While not as widespread as in the first half of the 1900s, the Italian press abroad is still very active, and constantly looking for new tools of communication.
This is certainly the case of La Voce di New York, a strictly online Italian news source, based out of New York and supporting the motto “Liberty meets Beauty.” Deputy Editor, Maurita Cardone, explained that La Voce di New York began in 2013 and was re-designed in 2016. With roots in traditional Italian media in the United States (its director Stefano Vaccara used to work for America Oggi, the only printed daily left in the U.S.). La Voce has 150.000 readers, 22% of which between 25-24 and 23% between 35-44. Cardone says, “At the very core of our editorial idea, there are two ideas; two concepts, liberty and beauty…Liberty is very much connected with the American part of our soul, and Beauty is connected with the Italian part of our soul, what we call “italianità del pensiero,” a more complex and nuanced take on life.” Liberty is defined by freedom of expression that is threatened in Italy and Beauty is defined by the Italian lifestyle. This creates a successful bridge between journalism in America and the Italian identity: La Voce is growing its community on this ground. It talks to Italians in the U.S., Italian-Americans, Italians in Italy, Italian around the world and Americans who are concerned with Italian news and culture, in both Italian and English. “The language issue is crucial for us,” Cardone says, “Italian is the language of our culture, thoughts, ideas, and lifestyle.” La Voce is keen on keeping an eye on New York, and builds a community by telling stories of a new Italy and of new Italians. As Cardone says, “Italy, today, is something else…Let’s show it!”
Like La Voce di New York, Italics, represented by producer and award winning filmmaker Lucia Grillo, also uses the media to shape the identity of Italy in America. Grillo explained that Italics began in 1987 as a television show, state funded by Queens College, but once was a printed magazine. The pilot episode debuted in 1986 and the subsequent reviews led to the continuation of the show. Produced by a small crew of one full-time producer and two part-time aids, the show is aired once a month in half-hour segments on CUNY TV, throughout New York City and the boroughs, and cover various topics including science, sports, academia, and politics. Grillo gave examples of stories covered by Italics, such as a special trip to Nevada for a cowboy poetry festival that featured some authentic Tuscan “butteri,” recipes for contemporary Italian vegan and vegetarian dishes, and stories about gay and lesbian experiences within the Italian community. Her hope is that Italian Americans will become increasingly more open and inclusive.
The last presenter of the evening, Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush, freelance columnist, former Deputy Editor of TIME Magazine’s Latin American edition, and former executive Editor of El Diario/La Prensa, the oldest Spanish-language newspaper in the country, addressed the issue of greater access to news, politics, and culture for immigrants in America. In his view the audience of the Latino media can be divided into three generational categories: the first, one and half, and second generations. The first is made up of immigrants who need “basic institutional and civic information” about rules and rights to be able to thrive in America. It is crucial that journalists in these ethnic media embrace service journalism. In creating a bridge between the homeland and the new country, the one and a half generation uses both the native language and English in the media. The second generation is almost always part of the American mainstream. The ethnic media addressing this generation identifies linguistically and culturally with America, yet it is more prone to challenge authority. Whether we look at Latino or Italian media, Vourvoulias-Bush remarked that “The ethnic press in the United States has a glorious, remarkable history,” which includes media sources in all languages addressing issues about the entire world.
The panel effectively showed how the Italian media has gone from serving an ethnic community to responding to an increasing transnational group of people with a more global take on politics, culture, etc. Topics that surfaced during the Q&A included the role of blogs and social media in the circulation of news. These would be of particular interest to the new generations, and future meeting on these aspects of contemporary media as part of the Inserra program of events can only further enrich the conversation about audiences and writers of the Italian media based in the U.S.
By: Vittoria Fronte, major in Italian, Montclair State University (NJ).