Italian Studies gets a boost from $7,500 grant

Portland State World Languages and Literature faculty member and Assistant Professor Silvia Boero was recently awarded a $7,500 grant from the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF).

Portland State World Languages and Literature faculty member and Assistant Professor Silvia Boero was recently awarded a $7,500 grant from the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF). The grant will enable Boero, a native of Genoa, Italy, to increase visibility for PSU programs in Italian language, culture, literature and cinema.

“I am planning to organize a cycle of lectures on Italian and American-Italian studies,” Boero said. “Lecturers from the most accredited universities in the nation, and possibly from Europe, will be invited to PSU, giving our institution an even wider public prominence.”

Boero is in a good position to recognize prominence in the field, having taught Italian language, history, literature and semiotics in Europe before beginning her career in university-level instruction in 1999. She came to PSU in 2007, after having taught the previous year at Duke University.

In addition to teaching six courses each academic year, Boero is an academic adviser, serves on various departmental committees and actively publishes her research in the field of Italian studies.  

However, there is still more that Boero does to serve both PSU students and the community.  

“Every academic year, during winter and spring, I host the PSU Italian Movie Night,” Boero said. “I show non-mainstream films. This event is free and open to anyone who wants to expand his or her knowledge in Italian cinema, or in Italian culture and history. Moreover, this event is a great opportunity to reach the greater Portland community.”

Boero believes that this relationship with the community is vital in shaping a positive image of Italian-Americans, a belief that aligns strongly with the mission of the NIAF.

A study conducted by the Italic Institute of America between 1996 and 2002 examined film portrayals of Italian culture from 1928 to 2002, concluding that 69 percent of these portrayed Italians in a negative light. Of these films,

40 percent featured Italians as mobsters or criminals, and 29 percent portrayed them as bigots, buffoons or bimbos.

The study found that only 31 percent of all films portraying Italian culture during these years featured complex or realistic characterizations of the Italian or Italian-American experience.

 “What we desire is to make known how Italian is not only the stereotypical language of love, good food and wine, and, more recently, fashion,” Boero said. “Italian is the language of a country who shaped and shapes the cultural history of Europe and a good part of the world.”

According to Boero, she does not intend for the programs to exude a nationalistic attitude.

“Italian is the still the language of freedom fighters and great thinkers,” she said. “It is a language of resistant material, so to speak, whose legacy is our culture, never to be intended as circumscribed by borders, but always open to the wider community of the world.”

With enrollment increasing each year, PSU now has more Italian minors than ever before, and with a dedicated but limited faculty, Boero said that grants such as this can make an enormous difference.

In addition, this support may be critical to the World Languages and Literatures Department, in which all PSU students enrolled in bachelor’s programs must take classes if they have left high school without two years of foreign language competency.

However, though the department is affected more drastically than others in the face of rising enrollment, there are no guarantees of expanding its faculty in these times of economic uncertainty.

The lecturers and outreach programs that grants like the one Boero has received from the NIAF may help to bridge this gap by attracting much-needed support, while highlighting the prominence of PSU’s Italian studies program.

 “In order to continue expanding Italian studies, we want to reach out even more to…Portland, of which the Italian-American community is a thriving and extremely helpful force,” Boero said. ?