Category: Culture

Trans-National Identity

by Riley Hubby, NYU Florence student 

There are two types of bigotry in the world: one born from hatred and one born from ignorance. The second is more forgivable; people aren’t born knowing everything, and as time progresses, society’s morals and values change. This is a normal part of life.

When I was packing for Italy, I prepared for open bigotry. As a genderqueer, non-binary trans person who usually presents more masculine than feminine, I was prepared for transphobia, or more likely, homophobia. I knew Italy was Catholic, I knew they had pretty regressive views on gay people, I knew about statements the Pope put out about trans people. I was ready.

Instead, what met me at the airport, was invisibility. I wasn’t read as queer. I wasn’t read as trans. No one saw anything different because, as a concept, my identity didn’t exist.

It’s hard to explain the frustration of not being seen as different when difference has defined your life. It’s even more difficult when the people you are confiding in have no grasp of the concept you are trying to describe. Much of my first month here was explaining what genderqueer meant to everybody I met, and then following up with “yes, ‘they’ as a singular pronoun is grammatically correct in English.”

But I can’t be mad at these people. They weren’t trying to be hateful. Even in America, trans issues aren’t widely discussed, much less issues specific to non-binary people. I fully believe everyone who asked just didn’t know any better.

However, for me there’s a difference between being genderqueer in the US and in Italy. I had a community in the US. People I could go to who knew how frustrating the little microaggressions were. People who could sympathize and distract me with a story about how ignorant this one guy they met was. Friends who I could see, and who could remind me, that I am not alone in this identity. I did not make this up. My feelings of binaristic dysphoria are valid, because they feel the same way.

I don’t have that here. I’m the only genderfluid non-binary person in Italy I know. And it’s lonely.

To be a non-binary person in Florence is to be out and closeted at the same time. Think of Schrodinger’s cat, which was both alive and dead until the box was opened. This, instead, is Schrodinger’s closet, except the door is open and the paradox remains. People don’t know I’m supposed to be different. That I don’t see myself in their binary. That their language has no room for me. To them, I’m just another American woman stumbling on basic Italian.

The worst part about it is the internalization of this invisibility. When I arrived, I flinched when people used my birth name, or referred to me with female pronouns. Now it’s happened so many times I barely realize it. I stopped wearing my binder because no one noticed a difference, and all the walking made it hard to breathe. On days when I feel more femme, I hesitate to wear dresses, because pants are the only symbol I can cling to to remind myself I am non-binary. Then I wonder why go through the trouble in the first place? No one will be able to tell anyway.

There are two types of bigotry in the world: one born from hatred and one born from ignorance. I believe the second is more exhausting. The second is explaining your life, your experiences, your humanity over and over again to everyone you meet. The second is politely correcting someone that, after knowing you for three months, still forgets your pronouns, even though they’re “trying really hard” to remember. The second is slipping up on your own pronouns after months of getting it right.

It’s constantly reminding yourself that you are not the person everyone around you sees. That who you really are is someone that doesn’t even exist in their world. And trying your hardest not to get used to that.


(View this post on LPD’s new blog)

Remembering Primo Levi

Video by Riley Hubby, NYU Florence student


Auschwitz in Florence

By Matilda Mahne, NYU Florence student

(This piece is reprinted from the La Pietra Dialogues website).

I reached out to a non-existent tissue in my bag. I would understand Primo Levi’s words and depictions of Auschwitz better if I could only see through the tears that forced their way to my eyes. While my vision was momentarily impaired, the experience of the night was far from curtailed.

“Everything was as silent as an aquarium, or as in certain dream sequences”

The stage in the middle of the amphitheatre was unadorned. There was a small background screen that had a wooden wall projected to it, and in front of it there was a stool, a bench, and a man. English subtitles were projected on both sides of the screen.

“Hell must be like this”

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Florence Vigil for Peace Coming up on September 11th

New York University Florence and the City of Florence invite the Florentine community to a special Vigil for Peace to commemorate September 11, 2001 together in Piazza della Signoria with a celebration of peace.

Students and Florentine residents from all ethnic and religious backgrounds and nationalities are invited to submit ‘readings for peace’ – texts, song lyrics, poems, or any other written form. Texts can be selected from any cultural tradition and be in any language. Selected submissions will be featured on the project website Florence Vigil for Peace in the lead up to a public reading of the texts on September 11, 2017, followed by the lighting of a candle. The readings and candle lighting will end with a collective moment of silence for all victims who have lost their lives on and since September 11 and a public reaffirmation of our collective commitment to peace and the value and dignity of human life.

Here are some scenes from the past 2 years’ vigils:

The Florence Peace Quilt, started in 2016, will also be updated and unveiled at the ceremony.

Quilting, a longstanding tradition that has deep roots in both European and American cultures, as well as other cultures around the world, embodies the harmonious interweaving of disparate and distinct elements – patches, or blocks – into a unified and complex whole – a patchwork.

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World Premiere of ‘Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me’ in The Season at Villa La Pietra

Coming up in The Season at Villa La Pietra, the World Premiere of PBS biographical film of Sammy Davis Jr. directed by Sam Pollard and written by Laurence Maslon, who will be in attendance to present the film. It is the first documentary to examine the personal and artistic identity of this extraordinary entertainer in the context of the social and racial evolution of the 20th Century.

Sammy Davis Jr. (1925-1990) “was the ultimate hipster, who lived at both the margin and the center, who indeed brought the margin to the center of American life.”

– “Rat Pack’s Sammy Davis Jr. Lives on Through Daughter’s Stories”, NPR, May 8, 2014.

The film screening will be followed by a conversation with Laurence Maslon.

June 20, 6pm

Villa La Pietra

NYU Florence

For more information visit the Villa La Pietra Website.


“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” — Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison. Photo Credits: Athena LeTrelle

In April of 1952, Ralph Ellison, an African American writer, highlighted numerous social and intellectual issues regarding black identities, black nationalism and racial policies that have been existing in the American society with the publishing of his iconic book Invisible Man. In April 2017, 65 years later, we are going to reflect on these issues again by re evaluating the book onto the unsolved problems proposed there. Read more

POP-UP SHOP and Opportunity to Meet the Harakat Sisters

Photos by the Harakat Sisters from the Harakat Sisters’ website

The Harakat sisters will be opening  a pop-up shop at the Middle East Now Festival this Friday, April 7th 2017. Born to a Moroccan father and a Lebanese mother, Nasrine and Sara Harakat have been designing jewellery from a young age. Sara and Nisrine, aged 24 and 20 respectively, study architecture and design in France. With the support of friends and family, they posted their jewellery creations on social media, generating a following that allowed them to sell their collections. Read more

Last Men in Aleppo showing tonight at Cinema La Compagnia

This week, on Tuesday, Last Men in Aleppo will be showing at the Middle East Film Festival in the Cinema la Compagnia on Via Cavour 50r at 8:45 pm tonight. The film is a documentary directed by Firas Fayyad (co-director and editor: Steen Johannessen) about the life of three “White Helmets,” members of a volunteer civil defense group working in Aleppo– Khaled, Mohammed and Subhi. The film follows the volunteers as they rush towards recently bombed buildings to search for survivors and recover the dead. However, as the situation in Aleppo edges towards a full siege, these three men must decide whether they will stay and continue helping those remaining in Aleppo, or whether they will flee before Bashar Al-Assad’s army closes in on the city. The film recently won the Grand Prize at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, and both directors will be present at the screening. The film was released on March 16th, roughly four months after the city of Aleppo fell to Al-Assad’s army in mid-December of last year following a protracted battle and siege. The siege of Aleppo was the subject of much international criticism after the alleged war crimes perpetrated by Assad’s army that took place during the assault on the city garnered the attention of the mainstream media. However, following the end of the siege, it seems the spotlight has been taken off of the situation in Aleppo. Hopefully, this movie will help remind people of the ongoing challenges faced by those still living in Aleppo, now suffering under Assad’s rule.

Aleppo Before and After: Photo Gallery

Since 2011, the Syrian Civil War has devastated the region and displaced thousands. The past five years brought immense damage to Syria and its fate remains uncertain. Prior to the conflict, however, the city of Aleppo stood as a cultural and economic hub. It was Syria’s most populous city greatly noted for its history – it was first mentioned in records dating to around 3000 BC. Today, the streets tell a much different story. Scroll through the photo gallery below to discover Aleppo before and after this terrible crisis.

For more information on the Syrian conflict, join us for “Women on the Front Lines: Kurdish Female Fighters Battling ISIS,” tonight in Villa Sassetti.

Women on the Front Lines: Kurdish Female Fighters Battling ISIS
Featuring Imma Vitelli, International Correspondent for Vanity Fair Italy
March 29, 2017 6:00pm
Villa Sassetti

The 13th Century Citadel of Aleppo was previously marked one of the oldest, largest and most iconic castles in the world. Today, it is marked with post war bullet holes.
Previously these open freeways in Aleppo served as major passageways for many citizens to travel between school and work. Today, they are covered with ruins and demolished buildings.
The Umayyad Mosque was also known as the Great Mosque of Damascus; it was one of the world’s largest and oldest mosques and is often considered the fourth-holiest place in Islam. Today, it is no more a place of peace, but a place of turmoil.
Previously a city known for its beautiful sites and rich culture, Aleppo is now a post-war zone.

Anthony Appiah Lecture on Identity at Villa La Pietra

Anthony Appiah presented a calm, unassuming figure as he stood in front of those gathered at Villa La Pietra Monday to deliver his talk on identity. Appiah began by breaking down our idea of identity into three categories: Nationality, Race and Culture. Appiah examined  the idea of nationality as a form of identity, looking at the concept of the nation and what it represents. Soon, it became clear that even our idea of what a nation should be is primarily a social construct, so fluid and arbitrary that a concrete definition of identity based on nationality is essentially impossible. Appiah looked at some important interpretations of what a state is through history: it has often been founded on the idea of a group of people with a shared sense of ancestry who care about that ancestry, people who share a genetic heritage. However, if we look at the sort of nation that that definition connotes, it is one known as a Romantic State, something along the lines of Benito Mussolini’s ideal Italy. A Romantic State would be one where people share a single consciousness and have no disagreements. To refute this idea, Appiah looked at many nations in Africa, such as Ghana, where despite not having a shared ancestry, (Ghana is composed of many different tribes), a national consciousness is forming nonetheless, as a product of the people of Ghana living together and working together to govern their nation–for evidence of the emergence of this national consciousness, Appiah cites the example of how people from Ghana have adopted kente cloth as the national cloth despite the fact that it is only truly native to one or two of the tribes that make up Ghana. Appiah ended his discussion on nationality by highlighting the importance of the Liberal State: a state where the people may not share the same ideas and same will, but do have a willingness to compromise with one another, to find a middle ground in an effort to move forward. Appiah pointed out that, because there is no definite national essence, a nation represents a medley of cultures and identities, meaning that we need a state where different people are capable of coming together and finding common ground. Read more