The South East of the United States is an interesting area, where the state of Florida – the biggest and the most advanced in terms of economy and trade – is surely one of the most representative. Among its cities, Miami is undoubtedly the main one, because of a prosperous rate of tourism, finance, art, and, more generally, culture.
In this picture, the Italian diplomatic delegation in the States, nominated by the Farnesina, is doing a great job, keeping strong and solid the relationships between the two countries. This indicates that the Ministero degli Esteri (The Ministry of Foreign Affairs) is doing its best to maintain a good diplomatic harmony, regulating the affairs between the two, and the Italians living there. Today, I am honored to interview the Italian Consul General in Miami, Gloria Marina Bellelli.
Consul Bellelli, your consulate includes the states of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, and some famous Caribbean islands. How many Italians are there in this area? Can you please tell us something about them?
We have more than 32,000 Italians residents here, who are also registered at the AIRE. However, we presumably have more than the double of this number, as not everybody is registered. Moreover, we are witnessing a constant growth: 500 Italians per month are regularly registering their residence here, a phenomenon that has especially increased in the last years, as a result of the recession in Europe, and the economical situation in Italy. Therefore, we have many Italians migrating towards areas where they set previous contacts and references.
Most of the Italians who came here in the past were mostly restaurateurs and pizza makers. However, this has changed. Many pensioners come here for the nice weather, but there are also many Italian Americans who move from New England for the pleasant climate. But then also young graduates who come here for educational exchanges and university reasons: the start of a potential career here in the States, considered the higher probability of a job or a scholarly career. Of course this does not involve only Florida, but also other states of the same consular area, such as Georgia and its Georgia Tech University, but also South Carolina, which attracts many Italian scholars. And, moreover, the big number of professionals, entrepreneurs, and artisans... the Italians who originally moved in South America and that, in order to get better opportunities, come here, where they can speak Spanish.
Differently from other states, in Miami the number of Italians born in Italy and then emigrated here is higher than the one of Italian Americans, who mainly live in other cities. In your opinion, what is the reason of this phenomenon?
Certainly, the distribution of the Italians and the Italian Americans has changed a lot. In the middle of the last century, we had a first flow of Sicilian immigrants, who arrived to work for the production of Cuban cigars. This was a rather common model of immigration, which involved those zones where the opportunities of a job were higher. Then, gradually, it changed. The Italians have preferred the biggest centers, those with higher potential to grow; therefore, Miami and Orlando became a point of reference for those in search of a job or investment. Particularly Miami, which called – and still does – many Italian professionals, such as lawyers, architects, designers, and researchers, who come here because they find an area that looks at the North of the continent, but that, still, is close to the Latin American world.
On the other hand, the Italian Americans prefer slower cities, such as Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton, which attract pensioners and those in search of wide spaces and calm: basically an easier lifestyle and a pleasant weather along the coast. For this reason, Miami would be too chaotic for them.
We noticed that Miami is the only American city without an Italian organization dedicated to Italy and Italian residents in the state. In other zones, only private organizations run by Italians or Italian Americans have started projects like this. Is this changing?
We have always had newspapers dedicated to Italy here, actually. We also had some issues on a local level on the topic, which unfortunately slowed down the system.
Today the most popular magazines are "Bel Paese" and "Oggi Italia", with 10,000 printed copies and online versions also. This is a datum underlining there is a lively exchange of information reaching the Italians living here in Miami. Of course, we still need to work a lot, but it is also a matter of where and how get the funds.
Before arriving in Miami, you also worked for the promotion of the contemporary art section of the Farnesina collection. Only few know it is an outstanding art collection. Have you found a productive atmosphere for the Italian contemporary art here?
We have the "Art Basel Miami Beach" here in Miami, which is a very important event gathering an international parterre. It is a great occasion for many artists. For this reason, everybody wants to be in Miami in December, not only in the pavilions of the Art Basel Miami Beach, but also in all the galleries around the area.
Moreover, here in Miami we have Wynwood, an area that is known for its murals, its art studios and galleries. There are also Italian artists, and, along with the Società Dante Alighieri, we collaborate to promote some of them.
Certainly, Miami has a very interesting artistic scene, there are artists from all over the world: the city is a sort of "navel" of the United States, as it serves as a conjunction between the North and the South, and, as in other fields, there is a certain fervor in the Arts. Recently, some Italian artists decided to come here and start their career, preferring Miami to New York, where it is harder to get fame and visibility. New York is better for those artists who are more experienced, more advanced in their career; for those who are at an intermediate stage, instead, cities like Miami, which are very active, flexible and dynamic, it can be easier. As a result of this flexibility Miami is becoming a perfect destination for many artists starting their careers, who come here to make their art grow and develop, to then go and find their fortune in the more competitive New York.
Apart from Florida, how would you describe Italy in the other states of your consular area? Are there associations, people (present or past), any place of particular importance?
Italy is represented by many Italian associations around the whole Consular area, some of which are very active, and some others which are a bit less. However yes, we have associations promoting activities, gathering people of any generation, and which are about Italian topics.
Italy is not celebrated by Italians or Italian Americans only, but also through our culture, music, gastronomy, technology, art, and architecture. Speaking of this, I gladly remember I recently visited a hotel in Orlando, "Portofino" hotel. It recalls the famous maritime city, with its typical houses, narrow streets, the little squares with the fountains... It seems to be in Portofino.
I would like to underline that all the states of this consular area have honorary consuls, who are central points of reference for the local community. Some of these are very active in networking, sharing ideas, and welcoming new arrivals.
In Tampa, the association of Italians has a very prestigious location, so prestigious that even the locals use it for private events.
We also have people in charge of organizing cultural events to spread the Italian culture, such as the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, through which some Italians have created an association to stimulate cultural relationships with the region (Umbria).
Teaching Italian is a very important vehicle to promote our country. How does this work in your consular area?
It seems that, after New York, this consular area is the one that has most widely increased the promotion of the Italian language. Through the ODLI (Organizzazione per lo sviluppo della lingua italiana) we promote many activities sponsoring the Italian culture and language, reaching a satisfactory number of students of Italian, who are now around 7,280 units. In the last years, the teaching percentage reached the 33-35%, and this year, more than the previous one, we got to a satisfactory 36%. We organize dedicated exam sessions for the AP (Advanced Placement), which many students use to get more credits for their college admissions. Also in this sense, we increased the number of students. Between 2013 and 2015, we got from 1,980 to 2,570 units.
Apart from its fascination, our language also shares its roots with Spanish, which is widely spoken here in Florida. In this way, those students who speak already Spanish clearly choose Italian as their additional language. As a matter of fact, every year around 30,000 American students decide to go to Italy to study at a university level, a significant datum, which also comes from the Italian teaching experience they get here in the States.
A significant shift occurred in 2015, when the Commissioner of Education of Miami signed a contract to include 20 teaching institutions with programs in Italian. In this way, we obtained didactic programs starting from primary education and gradually going to the end of high school. As part of the several missions I am carrying out with the ICE, the Italian Chamber of Commerce, the Società Dante Alighieri, and the ODLI, we also expanded the teaching opportunities in the North of the country. And I have to say that when I tried to promote the "Sistema Italia" (lit. "Italia System") in regular schools or universities, I have always had great enthusiasm and openness.
Therefore, we are now working in Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Bahamas, which are the first States that demonstrated an interest in the language. The process goes in this way: the ODLI is the one that pays the teacher for the first year, who starts the activity; from the second year on, it is up to the American institution (university or school) to fund the whole program. This is a very important opportunity of employment for the young teachers interested in teaching Italian.
We know that the "Made in Italy" has great success in the South-East of the States. Is there a sector which is particularly growing?
The most popular sectors are the ones of hi-tech and IT, which generate intense collaborations and exchanges. These also include the world of sophisticated research and the one of the health industry. The United States give great consideration to the world of the Italian research; I personally met, in fact, some Italians in Georgia, Atlanta, where there is a very interesting technological center at the Georgia Tech University. After coming here for an exchange university program, and succeeding on an academic level, these students found a job and got recognized as "valid researchers".
Of course, the broader sector is the one of the new technologies. But, apart from this, Italy is among the first producers of luxurious goods in the world. Florida has gradually specialized in the production of high-quality products, of which we, as Italians, cover the branch of the naval industry and yacht, where we got a rate of 66% more than last year. We are currently the first naval provider in the States, surpassing Canada, which was first until 2012.
Another sector in which we significantly grew – more than 30% from 2014 – is the one of interior design. Thanks to the undistinguishable Italian design, the advanced technology, the "green" side in the production, and the competitive prices, the Italian design is being very much appreciated. Moreover, aside from the "Art Basel Miami Beach", we have a new parallel event exclusively dedicated to design, where our companies are having great success.
Finally, I think we should put a bit of emphasis upon the role of Miami, the city in which the General Consulate operates. It would be a bit restrictive if we only looked at the city as a mere destination for vacations, pleasant weather... Nowadays, Miami is a primary economical center, the second in the States after New York, where major companies can find a strategic point – between the North and South of the continent – for contemporary art, design, naval industry, and celebrated international expositions, which take place and recur every year.
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