By Daniela Enriquez – Blog Editor
Every month, Italians in DC interviews an Italian man and an Italian woman who live in the Washington D.C. metro area. The interviewees tell us about their lives in the capital of the United States, and about their experiences of American culture. This is a great opportunity to exchange ideas and get to know each other better. If you are interested in being interviewed, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This month we interviewed Giuliana. Giuliana told us about her work at the World Bank, her bicultural and biracial life & her “blitalian” family!
IDC: Can you tell us about your childhood as an American visiting Italy during your summers?
GD: As a child, I was fortunate to be able to visit Italy almost every summer – sometimes for as long as two months. This gave me the opportunity to perfect my spoken Italian, and also I was able to get to know my Italian cousins, aunts, uncles and grandmother very well. From a young age, my younger brother and I flew to Italy alone and one of my mother’s brothers would pick us up at the airport. My parents would then join us later in the summer. I loved spending my summers in Italy, it was different and fun and of course as the “cugini americani” we got a lot of special attention! I credit these summers with contributing to my bicultural identity, even though I was raised in the U.S. and my father is American, I have a great appreciation for and familiarity with many typical Italian experiences – for instance I loved watching Carosello with my nonna! And to me there is no beach in the U.S. with water as clear and beautiful as the Ionian Sea in Calabria, where my mother’s family still vacations every summer.
IDC: You studied law in the United States but also spent one year studying in Italy. What are the main differences between the American and Italian university & teaching systems?
GD: I received my Bachelor’s degree and my J.D. here in the U.S., but I spent my junior year of college at the Università Bocconi in Milan. I wanted a “Junior Year Abroad” experience where all of my coursework would be in Italian and since my undergraduate major was economics, the Bocconi made sense. Plus one of my cousins was attending the Bocconi at the same time so that was helpful. The university system in Italy is completely different than in the U.S. The most challenging difference for me was the oral exams which are common in Italian universities but do not exist here. There is also no real campus life in Italy, and few extracurricular activities, so students very much have to fend for themselves whereas the U.S. universities have more support structures, clubs and a myriad of sports and other activities in addition to the academic coursework. I would say that Italian universities focus on professional specialization, while U.S. universities have a broader emphasis on the formation of the individual overall (at the undergraduate level).
IDC: Tell us about your job at the World Bank: when did you start to work there and what are your responsibilities?
GD: I joined the World Bank in 2006 as an Institutional Integrity Officer; in that role I investigated allegations of fraud and other misconduct by Bank staff. After a year I moved to the Bank’s Legal Department as a Senior Counsel. In the Legal Department I have served in several capacities, my current assignment is Special Assistant to the General Counsel. Before joining the Bank, I had worked as a lawyer in private practice in New York and also as a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice here in D.C.
IDC: Being both the daughter of and married to an African American, you can give all of us a genuine and original perspective. Do you think that racism is still a reality in both Italy and the USA? What kind of impact do movies like “The Butler” and “12 Years a Slave” have on the modern society?
GD: I am both bicultural and biracial, my mother is from Italy and my father is an African-American originally from Alabama. It is with great interest that I watch as Italy becomes more of a multiracial society. I would say that Italy is currently suffering “growing pains” in this regard and that integrating African immigrants into Italian society will be a difficult process. Italy is behind other European countries such as the UK and France in this area since there just have not been significant numbers of non-White Italians. So yes, I do think that there is racism in Italy and of course there is still racism in the U.S. as well – sometimes blatant other times more subtle. But every time I visit Italy I am encouraged to see more and more brown kids whose native language is Italian! As for the films you mentioned, the arts are always a strong force behind influencing cultural change. But I also think that people who are inclined to see such films in the first place probably already tend to be more open-minded.
IDC: Your kids are growing up in an Italian-American family: What are the pros and cons? How are you dealing with the bilingual “issue”?
GD: I do not characterize our family as Italian American, which in the U.S. refers to the descendants of Italian immigrants. Rather, we are African-American and also part Italian. As a girl, I coined the term “Blitalian” to describe our family! My daughter Michela, who is almost 9 years old, loves visiting Italy and is very proud to be part Italian. She does not speak fluent Italian like I do, but she is interested in both the culture and the language. I hope that as she gets older she will continue to embrace her Italian side and spend more time in Italy to improve her language skills.