Local Italian American Scholar in Italy

Anthony Dion Mitzel Anthony Dion Mitzel

Anthony Dion Mitzel è un caso di “immigrazione inversa”. Docente di lingua inglese e linguistica presso l'Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna a Forlì, è figlio di immigrati italiani negli Stati Uniti. Nato e cresciuto a Youngstown dove si è laureato presso la Youngstown State University, Mitzel ha studiato Italianistica sia all'Università di Durham che alla University College London. Le sue ricerche sono rivolte allo studio dei cambiamenti e della diffusione della cultura italiana nel quadro della sua evoluzione. La Gazzetta Italiana ha avuto il piacere di intervistrarlo e parlare del suo lavoro.

Anthony Dion Mitzel is Adjunct Professor of English language and Linguistics at the Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna, Forlì. He’s a graduate of Youngstown State University (YSU). Mitzel has done postgraduate work in Italian Studies at both the University of Durham (UK) and University College London. Among other things, he investigates how the culture of Italy changes and diffuses as it goes from one place to another. The following interview was conducted with him via Skype.
La Gazzetta (LG): Anthony, buon giorno to you in Italy. Thanks for connecting with La Gazzetta. You’re a case of reverse immigration. Your ancestors left Italy and now you’ve settled there. For starters, what is your background?
Anthony Dion Mitzel (ADM): Buon giorno, Ben. I was born in Youngstown and lived in the greater Youngstown area until I was 26. I'm Abruzzese, Lucano on my maternal side. On my father’s side, the family came from around Trieste and Istria.

LG: How did you end up in Italy?
ADM: My wife is Italian. She did her masters at Youngstown State University (YSU), where we met. She decided she wanted to do her PhD in Italy, so I came here with her. I found work at the University in Bologna, where I teach English and do research in linguistics and culture.
LG: Tell our readers a little about your time at YSU.
ADM:  Coming from the working class, I didn’t have a lot of options. In my family, it’s not where you go, but what you do while you’re there. The good advice I was given was, “Do your undergraduate work at YSU, save some money, and then go wherever you want.” Many area students have done their work at YSU and have gone on to earn advanced degrees at other universities. It’s a quality institution.
LG: I’ve heard the same from many people.
ADM: YSU is next door to the Butler Institute of American Art. I loved visiting this art museum. At the Butler, you could get your head out of the box and enjoy classical Americana and other art traditions. The Maag Library at YSU is a tremendous resource. When the steel industry was thriving, wealthy industrialists created private libraries that they eventually donated to the Maag. These two institutions, along with excellent university professors, made the University a great place to get an undergraduate degree.
LG: Can you tell us about your work with the Calandra Institute of Italian American Studies?
ADM: While teaching in Italy, I came in contact with the Calandra Institute, at Queens College/CUNY. I wanted to find course materials that my Italian students would find of interest. I thought that the culture of Italian Americans might serve not only as a bridge to teach English, but also as a way to understand U.S .culture. In my reading, the names of Fred Gardaphé, Joseph Sciorra, and Anthony Tamburri kept coming up; all people associated with the Calandra Institute. After having citied some of the Institute’s articles and media in my classes, I asked Fred to give a lecture to my students, and he obliged.
LG: So that’s the connection.
ADM: Since that time, I’ve presented at two annual conferences at the Calandra Institute. Last summer, I was lucky enough to receive a fellowship from the National Italian American Foundation to participate in the Calandra Institute’s summer program in Calabria on the Italian Diaspora, the worldwide migrations of Italians. It was a great experience.
LG: What’s it like teaching Italian students?
ADM: I’ve noticed that my Italian students don’t differentiate between their nationality and ethnicity. In Italy, we have a lot of influx from migrants, either through legal or illegal immigration. I think the Italian American experience makes a good case study. In the U.S. you can identify both as a member of an ethnic group and as an American citizen. In Italy, that hasn’t happened yet. Here, for the most part, your ethnicity is your identity. In the future, what will it mean to be Italian in Italy? I look forward to taking part in this debate as it evolves. I know that the lessons of the Italian Diaspora and Italian American history can add to the discussion.
LG: Can you explain how the experiences of Italian Americans can inform this debate about identity in Italy? I’ve seen the anti-Italian editorial cartoons that appeared in the mainstream press in the early 1900s.
ADM: A lot of violence was committed against Italians when they arrived in the U.S. There was a mass lynching of Sicilians in New Orleans in 1891. We’ve pushed a lot of those bad experiences under the rug because of the pain they caused. I think history is important. Learning about these past inequities can help rectify current situations, both in the U.S. and in Italy. Solidarity with other peoples could go a long way as they confront the same problems that Italians in the U.S. faced over a century ago. That’s one value of teaching Italian American history to my Italian students.
LG: You’ve coined the term “Youngstalians.” Please explain.
ADM: “Italian Americans from Youngstown” is such a mouthful. I needed a shorter term in my work that focuses on Youngstown as a microcosm of the Italian Diaspora and an example of working class culture. The U.S. is mainly a working class construct, made by work. As Italians became more Americanized, they were able to work their way to the upper echelons of American society. Youngstown is a good example of that history. “Youngstalians” gives that history a special recognition and a handle, a hashtag if you like.
LG: One last question. What surprised you when you began living in Italy?
ADM: The actor John Turturro expressed it well, when he came to Italy. The taxi driver is Italian. The guy working at the store is Italian and the lawyers are Italian. Everybody is Italian! I know this is a rather obvious view, but as Italian Americans, we’re so used to being one of many ethnic groups; however in Italy, Italians rule. Also for myself, I’ve noticed that Italians value city living. For just one example, you don’t need an automobile to participate in this society. Italians own cars, but it’s not a necessity. In Youngstown, if you don’t own an automobile, you automatically drop one social class. The public transit system here isn’t perfect, but I have no trouble getting to work on it.
LG: Anthony, thanks so much for your time. You’ve given us a lot to think about. Best of luck in your work.
ADM: You’re welcome.