Guest Lecturers Present “Spaghetti Sissies: Queering Italian American Studies”

Julia Heim, Ph.D., and Sole Anatrone, Ph.D. present to students on their book “Spaghetti Sissies: Queering Italian American Studies.” GRACE CARDINAL / COURTESY

By Grace Cardinal, Asst. News Editor

In a thought-provoking event, guest lecturers Julia Heim, Ph.D., and Sole Anatrone, Ph.D. led a discussion based on their book “Spaghetti Sissies: Queering Italian American Studies.” The event revolved around a discussion of how queer identities and Italian-American ones can co-exist in the modern world and how they are represented in audio and television media. Both lecturers identify as queer Italian-Americans and were excited for the opportunity to share their perspectives with students from all backgrounds. 

Heim, a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania school of arts and sciences, explained that the book she helped co-write didn’t read as a traditional academic work. It was important to them to include the testimonies of real people who had to navigate the intersection of queerness, Italian-American identity and everything that comes in between. 

“We decided to incorporate the personal reflections from queer identifying Italian-Americans working within media to stress that these studies and these representations are actually about and affect real people,” Heim said. 

Heim explained that one of the main reasons she and Anatrone, an assistant professor of Italian studies at Vassar College, were inspired to write the book together from their own personal experiences of each having one parent who immigrated and one from America, yet both failing to understand how the identity of Italian-American fit them. 

“The consequences of having an Italian-American identity be so culturally determined by mediated representations is very personal for us, it’s one of the driving forces that led us to start working on the book,” Heim said. “Both of us have a parent who immigrated to the U.S. from Italy. As a result of this, we’ve lived our Italianness as one part of our identity and our Americanness as another, never understanding the ways that the identity of Italian-American ever applied to us.” 

Both Heim and Anatrone spoke to the lack of representation of queerness in audio and visual media of both the queer and Italian-American experience. 

“We never saw anyone who lived or acted or identified as we do reflected in these representations,where were the queer people? We wanted to know,” said Heim. “This is precisely the power of representation…the meaning we have given a specific identity, our identity, has been formed through the lens of American media, this siloed vision of identity caricature and stereotypes and reproduced for an American audience with such discursive power as to convince us of our own belonging.”

Anatrone concurred with Heim’s comments, explaining how the lines between stereotypes and culture have become blurred.

“This is really about the consequences, the effects of media representation for a whole group of people,” said Anatrone. “Stereotypes became, in some cases, mistaken for and indistinguishable from cultural values and markers, blurring the distinction between the stereotype and the culture, both for non-Italians looking in and for members of the Italian-American community itself.”

Anatrone went on to emphasize the importance of people from all cultural backgrounds being able to recognize and identify with those of a shared identity in modern media. 

“In order to exist within a society, you have to recognize yourself, you have to be able to understand yourself and see yourself,” said Anatrone. “This [stereotypes] can be comical and reassuring. We do in fact, have loud family gatherings around food. We talk with our hands a lot. But it can also be dangerous and alienating particularly when it comes to queer folk who do not fit within the deeply binarized gender roles and hyper heterosexuality that have come to represent the [Italian] culture.”

Anatrone presented food for thought for future media scholars and consumers of the media alike. 

“We have to ask ourselves: what is our unique identity as LGBTQ Italian and Sicilian Americans?” Anatrone said. “How have we found a place for ourselves in today’s Italian Sicilian-American community and in our families? How do we make the media and the country look at us as more than the characters on Jersey Shore or The Sopranos? How should movies and TV depict us? How would you depict us?”

Junior physics and philosophy major Lara Celik spoke about the modern-day vision of the intersectionality of identity, and how the current generation seems to have a greater understanding and acceptance of various identities. 

“I think in our generation, we are more than ever aware that people can identify as multiple things,” said Celik. “A lot of us [current students] will probably go into media. Those of us that do— we can spread the message that we can change the system and dive into these multiple identities and actually have representation for everybody, and that will create a more inclusive and engaging environment.” 

Celik presented a call to action: as a society, we can learn from identifying with more than one group or identity.

“We should engage more with intersectionality,” Celik said. “I think it’s really significant that we can’t just be a woman or just be American, but that we are a myriad of complexities and identities. And that’s okay. We don’t have to be just one thing.”