Recent graduate Anthony DiBello’s desire to be able to communicate with Italian family members during trips to Italy sparked his interest in studying Italian in RLL.
“I always felt there was a language barrier between me and my family members in Italy, and I felt that was making it harder to connect with them personally,” he said.
After studying Italian on his own during high school, Anthony began with Italian 102 in RLL, taught by Luisa Garrido Baez, Lecturer II of Italian. He noted that “it was a wonderful beginning to my formal instruction in Italian.”
This positive experience led him to pursue a six-week Italian 230 study abroad program in Ferrara, Italy, with the same instructor.
“I really liked Ferrara, it was a very beautiful city and very accessible by bike,” Anthony remarked. “I enjoyed it, as it was not a big enough city to be crowded with tourists the entire time. I thought it was a great place to really try to immerse yourself with the locals and with their culture.”
“It is really beneficial to live and study in another country, for reasons aside from just being able to travel or to find out what is similar and different about day-to-day life in another part of the world,” he said. “I do think you come to know more about who you are and what your strengths are. In a new environment and in new surroundings, you get to work past language barriers to find commonalities with people, which can be a really rewarding experience. And of course, if improving language skills is a goal, I think that is one of the best things you can do, especially with a host family.”
Anthony’s passion for Italian language and culture inspired him to complete an Italian minor, in conjunction with a History major and a second minor in Business.
“In my Italian classes, I came to a deeper understanding of Italy and the contemporary understandings of Italian identity,” he said. “There is so much diversity within the country, and tracing change over time in Italian classes and History classes has added complexity to my understanding of many things, including Italian identity.”
One of his favorite Italian courses was Italian 415: Italy and the Muslim World, taught by Professor Karla Mallette.
“It was interesting to trace the impact of the Middle East and North Africa on Italian history and culture, trying to better understand whether that past is neglected or how it is incorporated into a contemporary understanding of Islam and Muslim immigrants to Italy,” he reflected.
In Professor Vincenzo Binetti’s Italian 340: Contemporary Italian Culture course, Anthony said he learned a great deal through reading works by Italian authors, including Igiaba Scego, who “complicate discourses about who is Italian and what it means to be Italian.”
Anthony also highlighted Assistant Professor Giulia Riccò’s Italian 422: Global Fascism: Legitimizing State Violence Across the Atlantic course. He said he enjoyed “looking at the developments in the late 19th- and early 20th-Century and what intellectual conversations were happening,” and learning about the “development of Italian fascism; how it changed cityscapes and relations of church and state.”
During his senior year, Anthony completed an Honors thesis, titled, “One Ethnicity, Under Columbus, Divided: Christopher Columbus’s Evolving Role in the Formation of Italian-American Identity and the Celebration of Italian-American Heritage,” co-directed by Professor Riccò and History Professor Deborah Dash Moore.
Anthony said his Honors thesis focused on “the evolution of the Columbus Day celebration and of the Italian-American community’s relationship with Christopher Columbus since he became an ethnic hero in the late nineteenth century.”
“I looked to determine how - and to what extent - race, class, and regionalism influenced the adoption of Columbus, and I tried to challenge the modern image of Columbus as a linchpin in the broad celebration of Italian-American heritage,” he said. “I traced the holiday through the Italian-American community, and I found that since the 1960s, the celebration has shifted. It was once used to advance Italian-American unity and to assert Italian-American belonging, but once Italian Americans became a largely assimilated group, Columbus Day became a way to honor Italian-American heritage and sacrifice of immigrant ancestors.”
He then presented public memorials, saints’ day parades, and ethnic festivals as more effective and direct ways to celebrate and commemorate such ancestors.
He explored his own extended family’s annual picnic gatherings in the Pittsburgh area within his thesis as well, lending a personal connection to his work.
As a student, Anthony actively participated in U-M’s Italian Student Association (ITSA) during all four of his years at U-M. During his first year, he joined ITSA, his sophomore year he served as the Media and Marketing Chair, his junior year he was Vice President, and his senior year he became President of ITSA.
“At the beginning I was looking for another smaller community on campus, which I definitely found there,” he said. “ I knew ITSA would offer opportunities to improve language skills and meet new people with shared backgrounds and shared interests.”
“Our main objective [in ITSA] is to offer a resource for people who want to know more about Italian culture or improve their language skills. I think we do a nice job of offering a variety of ways to do that, each week,” he said.
Anthony said a main priority of his this past year as ITSA President was bringing back popular in-person events ITSA used to hold prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. These events included a cooking demonstration by Italian Lecturer II Guglielmo Audiberti at South Quad’s kitchen, Bocce games on the Diag, ice skating at Yost Ice Arena with other U-M language clubs, Italian card game Scopa tournaments, film screenings, and conversation hours.
“I was happy to bring back those tried-and-true events this year,” he said.
Currently, Anthony is exploring various options for his next steps, post-graduation. He is especially interested in the possibility of joining the Foreign Service, doing consular work at an Italian post with the State Department. He is also considering working in the legal field, as a professional legal assistant, and may apply to law school in the future. He also is researching Fulbright Program opportunities.
“I would love to be in Italy because I have family there, and even though I have studied and experienced Italian culture, I believe there is always more to learn in a country that has so much history and cultural diversity,” he said.