THE LAST WORD
Re-Thinking Italy - The Italian Brain Drain
by Joseph Pivato
By way of example, at a recent conference at the University of Warwick in England, academics looked at the topic of mobility and the ethnic identity of Italians. They presented research on both emigration from, and immigration to Italy. Speaker after speaker explained the nature of the problems, and gave evidence of the serious impact on Italian society.
I was invited to Warwick to speak about Italian Canadians and our writers. I explained the phenomenal development of Italian-Canadian literature as a reflection of the extraordinary cultural and economic achievements of Italians in North America. The flourishing of Guernica Editions and each issue of Accenti demonstrates this.
But what struck me most was the number of Italian academics who live and work in the UK. Since they are still within Europe, these academics return to Italy often and probably do not see themselves as immigrants. They may have started out working for two or three years in the UK with plans to return to Italy, but their return is delayed.
Some, like Michela Baldo of the University of Manchester, were students in the Erasmus Program, which allowed them to study anywhere in Europe and learn another language at the university level. They often found universities in Italy frustrating or dysfunctional and so returned to the UK to do graduate degrees. After completing their graduate work, they were offered university positions at British universities, while Italy offered them nothing comparable. Many like Dr. Loredana Polezzi have lived in the UK for ten years or more and have come to realize that they will never work at an Italian university. Many of these accomplished academics and researchers are women who know that they will never be hired through Italy’s “old-boy system” of cronyism. Despite their Italian passports, they now are wondering what it means to be Italian in the New Europe.
The Erasmus Student Exchange Program in Europe has operated since 1987. It has involved hundreds of thousands of students, 60 percent of whom are women. It is not surprising to find so many Italian women academics in British universities, where they are evaluated on the merit of their work.
There are now about five million Italian nationals living outside Italy. However, this is not talked about in Italy. It is notable that this conference was held not in Italy but in England and was funded by the British Arts and Humanities Research Council. Some Italian researchers are now studying something that was, until recently, of little interest to the Italian academy: that is, the phenomenon of Italian immigration and Italian identity abroad. Are Italians going to learn something new about themselves beyond the clichés? How can Italian language and culture exist outside Italy? How can there be Italian identity for people living outside Italy? Italian- Canadians would, no doubt, have different answers to these questions than their counterparts in the UK. What is encouraging is that Italians outside Italy are asking these questions and critically evaluating their relationship with Italy.
For information on the “mobility conference,” see www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/italian/colloquium/.
For information on the politics in Italian universities see: justresponse.net and unimagazine.it. For work on Italian-Canadian writers, see www.athabascau.ca/cll/pivatoessays.htm
Joseph Pivato is professor of literature at Athabasca University in Edmonton. He is the editor of Mary di Michele: Essays on Her Work (Guernica 2008) and a frequent contributor to Accenti.
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