A Reflection on the Race, Racism and Xenophobia Series @NYU Florence

By Amanda Gelbart, NYU Florence Student, Major in Mechanical Engineering, NYU Tandon School of Engineering

Throughout the 2016 Spring semester, the La Pietra Dialogues program has hosted a series of dialogues that focused on the issue of race in a global context. The events ranged from regular dialogues to an all-day conference that was held on March 24, which hosted people such as lawyers, musicians, and photographers.

One of the most impressive aspects of this series was the realization of how race affects every field of study in some manner. The particular dialogue that struck me the most was “Representing Race in Opera: Text and Performance, Past and Present” with Professor Emanuele Senici on April 27. Within his dialogue, he exposed the evolution of opera as it includes racial issues. At first, he explained that operas had people of different races within them, as described by the words in the libretto, but the music gave no indication of differences. However, as operas continued to be written into the colonial and imperial ages, race became a central theme of the words and the music of many operas. Composers, such as Puccini, began inserting culturally important musical themes into the overall score in order to signify the “diversity” of the others, and in operas like Madama Butterfly, the naivety of the non-European was emphasized.

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It’s Time to Start Paying Attention

By Isabelle Caraluzzi, NYU Florence Student

About two weeks ago, an estimated 500* refugees drowned after the vessel smuggling them to Italy from Tobruk, Libya wrecked somewhere in the Mediterranean. Crowded into a dilapidated, repurposed fishing boat, these Somalis, Egyptians, Ethiopians, Sudanese, and Libyans set out to cross the sea with hopes of escaping the tyranny, poverty, danger, and instability they faced in their home countries. On April 16th, 41 people were rescued near Greece after days of drifting at sea.

It’s hard not to wonder why there hasn’t been much productive conversation in the last two weeks surrounding the aftermath of this tragedy. Or to wonder why it took major media outlets like The New York Times and CNN until almost a week after the fact to post their first acknowledgments. Or why this story wasn’t given the chance to occupy major headlines long enough to touch people the way it should have. Or why the E.U., NATO, and the U.S. are choosing to treat these people’s struggle for safety and freedom as a police issue, deploying more warships to turn individuals and their families around. People don’t cram themselves into a 30-meter-long boat with 100-200 other people and head for the open sea simply out of frivolity. They do it because risking their lives trying to reach sanctuary is less dangerous than staying at home. They do it because they face the relentless threat of death, or torture, or kidnapping, or rape, or bombing, by any of the numerous assailant groups active around them. They do it because they want safer, more stable lives for themselves and their families.  

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Civil Society Activism and Democracy: Risks and Promises

“Civil Society Activism and Democracy: Risks and Promises” will analyze non-governmental organizations, think tanks, foundations, universities and activists that act as agents of participatory democracy at both the national and global levels. The dialogue was organized by NYU Florence professor Gianluca Sgueo and will take place on May 2 at 6 p.m. in Villa Sassetti. It will feature journalist and activist Angela Gennaro, scholars Jamal Shahin and Vigjilenca Abazi, and lawyer Giulio Carini.

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“Fighting Racism In Sports and What It Means For Those Who Watch”

Jackie Robinson is no doubt one of the most famous baseball players to ever play the game. While his .311 batting average, 1947 Rookie of the Year award, 1949  AL MVP award, and six world series appearances are impressive enough; it was his ability to overcome the difficulty of being one of the first black players within a segregated America that solidified his spot in history. Now, April 15th is known as “Jackie Robinson Day” within Major League Baseball, and on that day every player wears Robinson’s number, 42. Read more

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Syrian Refugee and Jewish Displaced Person, Are We Making the Same Mistakes?

With the current refugee crisis facing Europe and the United States, there are many people and policymakers who are debating how to ethically deal with all of the refugees. There are currently many different ways in which countries are aiding refugees.  In Italy there has been a huge influx of refugees, over 153,000 in 2015 alone according to the online newspaper West. The Italian government is working with the EU to provide aid. According to the European University Institute’s Migration Policy Centre, last March Italy pledged more than 19 million USD to provide aid and humanitarian support to the Syrian refugees in Italy, see Syrian Refugees: Aid and Asylum Map. The United States has been under heavy criticism for being extremely selective in who they will allow to seek asylum. In many cases, EU countries do not have that option. Agence France-Presse correspondent Dave Clark wrote that “U.S. President Barack Obama has promised that the United States will admit 10,000 Syrian refugees for resettlement over the next 12 months, after criticism that America is not doing enough.” (Business Insider UK). One thing I have found extremely interesting while listening to the debate surrounding current events, is how much the approach to Syrian refugees is similar to how Jewish Displaced Persons (DPs) were dealt with following the Holocaust and World War II. Read more

Taksim square peaceful protests. Events of June 16, 2013.

“Post-Revolutionary Tunisia”

2010 marked the beginning of what would come to be known as the Arab Spring, a series of both violent and nonviolent protests and movements that took place throughout the Middle East and northern Africa. It’s launching point? The Tunisian Revolution. After 23 long years, the Tunisian people decided to revolt against dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ail, after street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi publicly lit himself on fire until death in protest of his government. In January of 2011, Zine El Abidine Ben Ail was ousted from his seat, and a democracy was instituted. Read more

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Diversity in the Film Industry

Italian Ghanaian director and activist Fred Kuwornu will come to Villa Sassetti at 6 p.m. on April 21 for the dialogue  “Diversity in the Film Industry,” part of the “Race, Racism and Xenophobia in a Global Context” series that NYU Florence is organizing this semester. Kuwornu will present his documentary “Blaxploitalian: 100 Years of Blackness in the Italian Cinema” (2016), which explores the careers of black actors in Italian film. The documentary’s website describes it as “a call-to-action for increased diversity” and more dignified roles for these actors. Read more

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Ruwwad: A Regional Initiative for Development and Community Empowerment

Fadi Ghandour, founder of the Ruwwad community center in Jordan, will be on the NYU Florence campus for a dialogue discussing the center as a source of community empowerment at 6 p.m. in Villa Sassetti on April 7. Ruwwad was founded in 2005 for the refugee community of East Amman and has multiple locations in the Middle East, helping different underprivileged communities. The non-profit offers resources such as job training programs and youth scholarships. Read more

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Citizen Journalists: Reporting from the Capital of ISIS

Abdel Aziz al-Hamza and Hussam Alissa join Imma Vitelli at Villa Sassetti on April 6 at 6 p.m. for the last of Vitelli’s Craft Talks on Journalism, “Citizen Journalists: Reporting from the Capital of ISIS.” Al-Hamza and Alissa are two of around 17 Syrian activists who helped found Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (R.B.S.S.) in April 2014, an underground citizen journalist group based in Raqqa, a city in northern Syria that has become the capital of ISIS. R.B.S.S. works to document life in Raqqa and has captured evidence of crucifixions, beheadings, sexual abuse and other violent acts. It serves as a source of information for the foreign press who are unable to have reporters on the ground in Raqqa. Read more

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Alessandro Penso

The upcoming dialogue on April 18th, The Lost Generation, will discuss the numerous phases of the European welcome of refugees as documented by photographer Alessandro Penso. Penso studied clinical psychology at Rome’s La Sapienza University and photojournalism at the Scuola Romana di Fotografia. His deep dedication to social issues is reflected in his decision to focus on the issue of immigration in the Mediterranean in recent years. Penso’s experience witnessing an attack on a group of migrants in Corinth, Greece when young man, Mostafa, was hit by a car has continued to motivate him to redouble his efforts in raising awareness and combating the issue of injustice at Europe’s margins.

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