Participants flocked to Melbourne from all over the world, including the US, Canada, Italy, Switzerland and Argentina, and of course, Australia, to create a lively atmosphere which fostered the exchange of ideas across three continents.
Those involved in this valuable exchange included academics, journalists, artists, architects and teachers, to name a few.
The convention began last Wednesday with greetings from authorities and the event’s organisers, and a speech by Sir James Gobbo, regarding the Australian multicultural model.
That was followed by a discussion about relations between Italians and Indigenous Australians, organised by Francesco Ricatti from Monash University.
This important theme was also explored in the following days and Joseph Pugliese, from Sydney’s Macquarie University, highlighted that we are not only migrants in Australia but in 500 Aboriginal nations which still exist and whose sovereignty was never touched despite colonisation.
The convention was entitled ‘Living Transcultural Places’ and this theme was explored in various ways, looking at both Australia and Italy, which has become a migrant country and – like in the past – a crossroads of languages and cultures at the centre of the Mediterranean.
This aspect was underlined by Rita Wilson, Professor in Translation Studies at Monash University, who spoke about three books by multicultural authors: Roma Negata by Italo-Somali writer Igiaba Scego, Milano, fin qui tutto bene by Italo-Indian author Gabriella Kuruvilla and Swallows by Joshua Santospirito, an Australian with Aeolian background.
Referencing these books, Dr Wilson demonstrated how languages, cultures and migration stories are continuously contributing to the identities of our cities, such as the signs in Mandarin on Milans’ Via Sarpi, or the monuments dedicated to the past Italian colonisation of the Horn of Africa in Rome’s streets.
Also speaking about multicultural Italy was Enzo Colombo from the University of Milan, who discussed how “new Italians” feel 100 per cent Italian but also feel 100 per cent that they belong to their own culture depending on the circumstances, without getting confused or disoriented.
Many personal stories were also told, especially by visitors from the US, including Steven Sacco from San Diego State University, who shared his struggle to learn Italian at the age of 50.
As happened to myriad second-generation Italians here in Australia, many parents in the US preferred not to pass on the Italian language and dialects to their children out of a fear of discrimination, causing a loss of these languages as a result and, now, a desire to regain them.
The Italian language was undoubtedly one of the most prominent topics discussed at the convention.
How is it seen and how much is it spoken by descendents of Italians?
How can we preserve it in Italian communities across the globe?
According to Joseph Lo Bianco from the University of Melbourne – who opened Friday’s schedule – simply teaching the language isn’t enough.
He argued that there also needs to be a desire to learn it and the opportunity to use it in everyday life.
This is where institutions within the local Italian community – from clubs to the media – come into play and, in Dr Lo Bianco’s opinion, must continue to provide a space in which the language is used and preserved.
The convention explored all generations of Italian migrants, through the efforts of a group of researchers from the University of Melbourne and those of Loretta Baldassar from the University of Western Australia, all of which focused on the influence of new technology on first-generations and the topic of new Italian arrivals.
Everybody was considered, from the first generation of Italians (which is slowing dying out in Australia, as shown in results from the last census, presented by John Hajek from the University of Melbourne), to second- and third-generation Italo-Australians and their struggle to live between two cultures, and finally, the most recent “wave” of Italian migrants and the potential and needs they bring with them.
It would be impossible to sum up the entire four days, but one thing is certain: all participants went home with new ideas to fuel the discussion and reinforce the Italian identity across the globe.