Calling Italian Americans from Ohio... Dr. Daniele Fioretti Wants to Interview You

Written by Mary Kovach, Ph.D.

Dr. Fioretti is a university professor who graciously applies his Italian upbringing to his career. At Miami University in southwest Ohio, Dr. Fioretti developed a project entitled “Italian Americans in Ohio Oral History Project” (IAOOHP). The goal of this project is to obtain a collection of personal Italian American oral histories, specifically from Italian Americans living in (or associated with) Ohio today. In addition to oral histories, submissions include photographs, letters, and other artifacts in this digital database. This interview presents more details around IAOOHP and how to become a candidate for interview. It also explains how Dr. Fioretti came to live in the U.S. and how he navigates between the two cultures.

Dr. Fioretti, you were born in Florence, Italy and earned your first Ph.D. from Università degli Studi di Firenze and your second in the United States. Can you please share with us some of the highlights about growing up in Italy and how it differs from growing up in the United States?

While I enjoy both cultures, there are differences. I think that Italian culture is more centered on family and community than the mainstream American culture. In Italy, all the family members eat together at the family table, and when I was a kid it was unthinkable that you could leave before everyone had finished eating. It may look like a small thing, but it is an important for getting together. In terms of education, students who live in big cities tend to go to university in that very same city. I studied at the University of Florence because I am from Florence, and I lived with my parents until I was 24, which is very different from the experience of the typical American students. However, from the point of view of popular culture, Italy is getting more and more Americanized. Italian FM radios are full of American songs, and I can say that Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry, for example, are as famous in Italy as they are in the U.S. Italian television is full of American movies and shows; the only difference is that they are dubbed in Italian and that they arrive in Italy several years later. It may sound strange to an American, but I grew up Hanna & Barbera cartoons, watching Happy Days, Magnum P.I., and several American sitcoms.

Knowing how important family is within the Italian culture, what made you decide to come to the United States and settle down here with your family?

It was a tough decision leaving family and friends, but I am very happy that I had the opportunity to move to the U.S., get a second Ph.D., and look at Italian Studies under a different perspective. I did not really think that much about my Italian identity when I lived in Italy; paradoxically, I started to appreciate more several aspects of Italian culture living abroad. Why did I leave? Italy is a wonderful place to live under many respects, but the job market does not offer many opportunities for an academic career. Many of the people I studied with in Italy are abroad: someone in France, someone in England, Spain, Canada, and even South Africa. I think I chose the United States because my grandfather, on my mother’s side, was an American, so I can say that I am 75% Italian and 25% American. Unfortunately, he died before I had the chance to meet him.

Can you please share with us some of the Italian traditions you continue with your family today?

We all speak Italian at home, and we try to eat Italian with real Italian ingredients as much as possible. We also celebrate Italian festivities, even the ones that do not exist in the U.S., like April 25 (the liberation from Nazi-fascism) and Ferragosto on August 15.

Italy recently won the UEFA 2020 European Championship! How excited were you and did you do anything to celebrate?

I watched all the games with my wife and my daughter. My son is not into soccer; he stayed in his room playing his bass guitar and came to see what was going on when he heard us screaming! We are very excited because this is the best Italian team in history. This is the team of records: it has been unbeaten for 34 matches in a row, and I hope it shatters the world record of 35 consecutive victories now held by Spain and Brazil. We are so close! We all had a big meal together to celebrate.

You are a professor at Miami University who teaches a class on Italian culture. One of your initiatives, the Italian Americans in Ohio Oral History Project, is to build a database of Italian Americans living in Ohio. What makes this project so special?

The project is special for me because it collects the memories and the voices of many Italian Americans in Ohio. It is fascinating for me – and is historically relevant – to learn about the relationship that people of different ages and from different generations have with Italian culture, including when and how they (or their ancestors) came to the U.S., what jobs they had, what obstacles they had to overcome to assimilate to the American culture... I collected stories of Italian families threatened by the Ku Klux Klan, of Italian individuals being discriminated and stereotyped, but also many stories of courage and resilience, and the family is always at the center of every story. These are the voices and the experiences of real people, and I discuss some excerpts of these interviews with the students in my Italian American culture class. This makes a big difference for students; history comes alive.

You already built an exciting database, which can be seen here. Can you discuss what people can expect if they visit your site as it stands today?

The website is aimed at anyone who is interested in Italian American culture, with a particular focus on Ohio. They can watch the interviews, review the digitized materials shared by the interviewees – letters, pictures, objects – read articles related to Italian American culture, learn about events and Italian American festivals happening in Ohio. I am also working on a map of Italian American organizations and on a database of schools K-12 that offer courses of Italian language.

If there is an Italian American living in Ohio who is interested in interviewing with you, how can he or she contact you? Moreover, can you please explain how the interview is conducted (video, phone, etc.) and what can be expected? What if someone wants to be interviewed but lives outside of Ohio or has an Ohio affiliation?

They can contact me at the email address on the website, and I will respond. If the interviewee lives in proximity of Miami University, or in Cincinnati or Dayton, we can schedule an in-person meeting to record a video or audio interview. If they live far from this area, we can have an online interview through Zoom or by phone. I send the questions in advance, and I explain all the procedures. The format is very simple, and I tend to avoid any kind of editing, if not requested by the interviewee, because I treat these interviews as historical documents that will be useful not only in the present but also in the future as materials for scholarly research. Everyone who has relationship with Italian culture is eligible to participate; I hope I can expand the project to a national level in the future, but now I am mostly interested in people who have any relationship to the State of Ohio- people who are born in Ohio, or moved to Ohio (from Italy or from other States in the U.S.), or whose family is connected to Ohio in any way. As I said, the project also collects digitized images of pictures, objects, and letters, so I am available to work with people who maybe do not want to be interviewed but who want to share images of relatives or of family heirlooms, letters, prayer books, etc. I am also available for those who have letters in Italian to translate into English, either they are interested or not in sharing them on the project’s website. Let me stress again the historical nature of the project: all the interviews and the materials shared will be handled properly and with consideration of copyright laws and regulations. I have to thank the librarians at Miami University for helping me in the preparation of the necessary paperwork. Let me thank you for the opportunity to speak about this project; I am very excited and I am looking forward to hearing from everyone who is interested in participating!

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