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Representations of self in an adopted country: Culture, conflicts and criticism in the literature of Italophone African authors

Georgia Bianchi

Although the presence of Black Europeans can be traced back to the Greco-Roman times, the study of the members of these European minorities has been isolated and ignored in Europe at large. In an effort to bring the contributions of Black Europeans to light, I will explore the literary contributions of contemporary Italophone African authors.
For some Southern European countries, such as Italy, modern-day immigration is a new phenomenon. Unlike many other countries of longer colonial and immigrant history, Italy has only recently become a country of in-migration, leading to only perfunctory and recent studies of the new members of its society. While issues of immigration and illegality are discussed on the national level, socio-cultural issues are rarely mentioned and immigrants who
have integrated partially into Italian society are forgotten. I will explore dimension of identity of the new African communities in Italy, beginning with the manifestations of African identity and social critique through literature.

African literature is finding its way into the mainstream through many means in contemporary Italy. From independent publishing houses to newspaper contributions, literary contests to bazaars, works by African authors writing in Italian are becoming more widely available. Publications such as these provide a forum for the new and yet marginalized communities in Italy, an outlet for the self-expression of those who have lived in Italy long enough to learn the language and publish in it. They are members of African Diaspora, modern day exporters of their culture searching for their place in a foreign land and merit inclusion in the academic investigation on Black Europeans.

From preliminary readings, it is clear that the authors write about their experiences to engender understanding and dialogue between themselves and the dominant culture.

These writings explore issues of family formation, of daily struggles with legal papers, of transposing their African identity through customs and celebrations into the new adopted country’s social norms. One must also consider the humanizing, therapeutic effect publishing one’s work has, that by exposing and exorcising the injustices and hardships of being an immigrant the authors can externalize the societal pressures that bear on their lives.

In analyzing the contributions of these authors to the Italian literary and societal sphere, many questions can be asked. How do forces like gender, class, and race affect the daily lives of Black Europeans? How is identity-formation and integration documented through the writings; is their self-representation as “other” or black European? What role does literature play in humanizing the oft-demonized immigrant, both to the Italian readership and for the author himself? What issues are exposed by viewing the literature as social commentary on Italian society?

The growing body of literature presents the opportunity to analyze the role of literature and authorship of new Black Europeans, taking their direct contributions to the larger society and bringing it to an academic setting. The works encompass many spheres and above all provide a voice to the members of a too-often silent minority in European societies. The paper is a part of my larger research interest of immigration in Southern Europe, with a view to the contemporary integration of immigrants. As my interests lie in the roles both immigrants and host-country citizens play in re-organizing and adapting society in order to cope wit immigration, the role that Italophone authors play is crucial to understanding the experiences of new Black Europeans in contemporary society. As such,
my paper will contribute an important analysis of Black Europeans’ contributions in Italy, adding to the growing academic dialogue fostered by the Black European Studies Conference.
Empirical research: subjects and objects

  • How best can one integrate the works of the subjects- whether literary, artistic, or other- into academic research interests, in order to provide an academic forum to the contributions of the communities we study?

  • Representing Black European history

  • How can the new Black Europeans best be academically defined- as part of another dimension of the African Diaspora or as a separate phenomenon particular to the modern-age immigration phenomenon?

  • Racism and the academy

  • As self-aware and sensitive to racism as academia can be, it is unescapable that racism will find its way into both the university setting and publications. What are effective countermeasures and how can a wider critiquing audience be reached, specifically to include the subjects of academic research in the critiquing audience?

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