“Italic Identities and Pluralistic Contexts” (2003)_Rationale

Washington Conference, 23-24 October 2003

Toward the Development of Intercultural Competencies

Rationale of the seminar

This Conference will attempt to examine the character of ”italicita” as a cultural identity beyond the confines of a state by entering into discussion with Italian and other cultural groups as they experience their identities and interrelations in the pluralistic context of North America.


America, it is often said is a land of immigrants. This implies both challenges and opportunities. The challenge has been enormous. A century and a half ago the great waves of immigrants might better be called refugees as people sought refuge from the vast displacements of the industrial and other revolutions, from famine and from war. In this context their main concern was to find safe haven in America, to assimilate to its customs, and to enable one’s offsprings to enter into the life of the host people.

Culturally the common image which directed public policy for this work of assimilation was that of a melting pot. This denoted especially the effort to meld in. Unfortunately, it connoted that, in a generation or two persons were to lose much that provided their distinctive identity and with it much of the set of supports and standards by which they could sustain diversity and resolve problems.

Hence there was great need to provide new immigrants from the cultures of the Old World also with an intermediary to the social and political structures of the New World. This was to work both ways: to inculturate the arriving peoples into the new country and to enrich this nation with their classical heritages.

This work was taken up through ethnic heritage organizations, religious institutions and universities, often with specific emphasis on one or another ethnic group or religion. The intervening decades have been devoted largely to the processes of support, assimilation and interaction of ethnic experiences which have formed a unique integration of personal, family and community values. America as one people today is the proof of the success of the work of these national and ethnic groups operating as NGOs in the best traditions of civil society, and some indeed acquired notable resources for their services as basic insurers and burial societies.

The Present Challenge

Today the situation of Italian descent has evolved, and the opportunities for their cultural identity or “italicita” are vastly expanded. Various social sciences note that cultural forgetfulness appears more as a stage then as a permanent condition, for the questions “who am I” and ”for what do I stand” are not ones that can be put aside, but recur at ever deeper levels. Inevitably, the search for answers to these fundamental questions drives us back to the reconsideration of our common origins and hence of the Italian cultural heritages embedded in contemporary America.

Once fully at home they are able to discover more fully what Italicity can mean in the American experience and to formulate answers to at least three other crucial questions: (1) how they can live their heritage more fully, (2) how they can enrich this adopted land with the riches of Italicity, and (3) how this interacts with that of other Americans of other cultural and racial backgrounds. If a people’s culture is the place where their spirit dwells, then this rediscovery and articulation of their cultures must be central to their life. In this the engagement of university level competencies in anthropology and psychology, ethics and politics, especially with relation to Italian culture in North America is essential in order to identify the gift with which they can endow their adapted land and the intercultural competencies by which to live this.

As we enter into this global context we need now to move away from what separates and toward what unites. If this is not to mean the loss of the cultural heritages which constitute the cumulative process of our humanization, then the challenge is to find within these cultures the radical roots of relatedness. Just as we become good neighbours not by forgetting our family and all they have shown us about being a good neighbour, but by drawing upon this, so it is essential that the multiple peoples mine their heritages in order to enrich the global future. Indeed, this need may be deeper yet, for the immense present challenge is precisely to develop the global society as a place for the progress of all of humanity, and indeed of the whole of nature.

The resources for this lie not in a zero-sum economic search for profit or political search for power, but especially in the cultures such as Italicity which the various peoples have developed and their capacity for contributing to a stronger solidarity and community of peoples. This requires the discovery of the essential relatedness of cultural values and the intercultural competencies required to live convergently with others in a global age.

We must be able to say that it is not in spite of being Italian that we are global, but that global solidarity can be built only by the extrapolation of the deeply humanizing content matured over the ages as italicity and other cultural heritages. We must learn to draw from these wellsprings of life rather than from the poison pools of hatred and hurt.

It is proposed then to bring Italian and American scholars into a conversation focused on their italicity and inter-cultural relations. This is intended not only to enable Globus et Locus and The Center for the Study of Culture and Values to learn and contribute on these issues, but to evolve their own capabilities for the delicate work with all cultural heritages in this new - and newly dangerous – millennium.   

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