What Makes A Citizen

Color photograph of a mix of people standing in two rows in a courtyard; everyone is posed and looking at the camera
Front row: John Torpey, Marla Stone, Angelica Pesarini, Brenda E. Stevenson, Daniela Luigia Caglioti, Silvana Patriarca, Stephanie Malia Hom, Hannah Malone. Back row: Michael Vorenberg, Nicola Camilleri, Carmen Belmonte, Pamela Ballinger, Fiori Berhane

On February 9–10, the Academy hosted a conference called Citizenship and Identity in Italy and the United States: Contestations and Struggles. Organized by Andrew W. Mellon Humanities Professor Marla Stone (1997 Fellow), the conference brought together scholars from the United States, Canada, Switzerland, Britain, and Italy to analyze and debate the meaning of identity in Italy and the US from the early nineteenth century to today—a broad topic that led to a diverse group of papers. In her opening remarks, Stone reminded us that “Citizenship implies much more than the legal rights and responsibilities which are awarded with it.”

The keynote speakers were Stephanie Malia Hom (2011 Fellow) of University of California, Santa Barbara, Brenda E. Stevenson of Oxford University, Pamela Ballinger (2002 Fellow, 2011 Affiliated Fellow) of the University of Michigan, and Michael Vorenberg of Brown University. They were joined by a range of other scholars participating in the conference, with AAR welcoming back Carmen Belmonte (2019 Italian Fellow) and Fiori Berhane (2020 Fellow).

On the first day of the conference, Hom argued that “exclusionary logics tend to dominate what is, at heart, the dynamic of citizenships.” Who gets left out, she said, is more salient than who gets included, pointing to Istrians, the Roma people, and even the residents of Washington, DC (who lack voting representatives in Congress). Stevenson, for her part, gave a detailed analysis of the killing of Latasha Harlins by Korean American shopkeeper Soon Ja Du in 1991, and the subsequent criminal case and sentencing, which partly spurred the 1992 Los Angeles riots. She argued that preexisting anti-Black bias and identification with Du as an immigrant and shop owner led the judge, Karlin Fahey, to give Du a very light sentence.

On day two, Ballinger focused on the history of Italian citizenship, race, decolonization, and diaspora. She brought the visual arts into the discussion when she showed slides of a series by the artist Max Siedentopf that subverts the genre of “passport photo,” pushing it to playfully absurd limits. Meanwhile Vorenberg, an American historian, illuminated the fascinating parallels between Italy and the Risorgimento and the US and Reconstruction. “If citizenship is such a troubling category, what do we lose if we abandon citizenship?” he asked, responding to several other papers that had been presented. And what might a replacement be?

The meat of the discussion was not limited to the Lecture Room but continued over coffee and meals in the Salone and dining room. “Through the exchange of ideas and research, scholars in modern Italian and American history and politics, Afro Italian and Afro American studies, Mediterranean studies, and migration studies debated the commonalities and differences in the citizenship policies and practices of Italy and America and the deep challenges remaining in the forging of a true multiracial and multiethnic democracy of equal citizens,” said Stone.

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