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Donato Named New Graziadio Chair

Published: May 16, 2011

The first community-funded chair in the United States, the George L. Graziadio Chair of Italian Studies, has a new occupant in longtime Romance/German/Russian Languages and Literatures faculty member Clorinda Donato. Her appointment follows the retirement of former chair Carlo Chiarenza, the first academic to occupy this post.

In a recent review of her first term, she praised the First Annual Frank De Santis Lecture Series that began in March and which featured Anthony J. Tamburri, Dean of CUNY’s John D. Calandra Institute for Italian American Studies speaking on “Re-Thinking Italian American Studies in the Third Millennium, Where Have We Been? Where Can We Go?”

Donato Named As Graziadio Chair
Clorinda Donato

“First, it is our goal in the short term to endow the Frank J. De Santis Lecture Series in Italian American Studies,” said Donato, who joined the university in 1988. “This endowment goal of $250,000 will enable us in perpetuity to offer this annual event with an outstanding speaker on topics of Italian American relevance and urgency. It honors Frank, whose leadership and vision made it possible for the University to enter into contact with the Italian American community in the first place. It also honors the memory of George and Reva Graziadio and their generosity, which reminds us all of the importance of staying focused on educational goals.”

Donato describes her generation of Italian Americans as “the bridge generation.”

“I attended a university when my immigrant parents did not,” she recalled. “My life and travel to Italy have shown me the role Italy played in immigration. I have put these things into a historical context which helps me to see both sides of the cultural coin. When Mr. George L. Graziadio funded CSULB’s center, he did it out of his interest in Italian Americans and how they intersect with Italy today. With the debut of the De Santis lecture series, it means that the CSULB Italian Studies Program will highlight the Italian American community in an official way once a year.”

Donato feels it is a good time for Italian Studies in the US. “I feel a cultural awakening by Italian Americans,” she said. “`Wait a minute,’ they say. `We’ve lost something that we want our children to re-connect with.’ Plus, right now, the world seems crazy for Italian things. For instance, everybody wants to rent a villa in Tuscany. But that only addresses the surface of Italian Studies. You end up ignoring the deeper aspects of Italian culture. UNESCO has declared that 60 percent of the world’s art treasures are in Italy. When students begin studying Italian, they are immediately drawn into the ongoing legacy of Italy in design, music, literature, high and popular culture.”

Graziadio logo

Donato’s long-term goals for Italian Studies include the possibility of a Masters Degree to afford students with the BA and Single Subject Teaching Credential the opportunity to pursue an advanced degree. She also looks forward to making exchange and study-work abroad classes a concrete part of the program. “That translates to putting students in situations where they can apply their languages in work situations,” she said. “My colleague, Dr. Enrico Vettore and I met recently with representatives of the Italian American Chamber of Commerce to create internships. The executive director, Letizia Miccoli, visited CSULB for career day in the Department of Romance, German, Russian Languages and Literatures to talk about the importance of learning a language. She was impressed by our students’ skill level in Italian and their interest in working abroad. She herself had studied Spanish at the university in Italy and remarked on the linguistic talent of heritage speakers of Spanish who choose to learn Italian. Our Italian program is committed to serving those students. While we have been honored as a Hispanic-serving institution, Italian Studies has started a program of Italian instruction for Spanish speakers. Many of our students are not of Italian origin by any stretch of the imagination, but they are able to use what they learn in Italian Studies as a viable means towards gainful and meaningful employment.” She added that CSULB is the only university in California that offers a credential in teaching Italian.

Donato gave an invited talk at New York University in March 2011 on the global enlightenment and the circulation of knowledge through the translation of encyclopedias. In 2005, she became a Chevalier of the French Order of the Palmes Académiques. She received a Distinguished Faculty Scholarly and Creative Activity Award in 1998 and served as RGRLL chair from 1992 to 1998. She speaks English, French, Italian, German and Spanish. She has published extensively on in both French and Italian. In 2009, University of Toronto Press issued her latest co-edited book, Discourses of Tolerance and Intolerance in the Eighteenth Century. She received her bachelor’s from UC Berkeley, studied in English and French Literature at the University of Urbino and received her PhD in Romance Languages, Literatures and Linguistics from UCLA in 1987.

Donato underscored CSULB’s debt to the Graziadio family. “Without them, the George L. Graziadio Center for Italian Studies would not exist and neither would the Italian Studies focus on our campus,” she said. “It’s amazing what a gift can do. Gifts like these can change the face of an educational institution, creating opportunities for access to enhanced learning ventures that serve hundreds of students every year. In times of bad budgets like these, donors and their gifts protect and promote precious areas of the curriculum like Italian Studies. We, the students, and the Italian American community of Southern California are incredibly grateful for their ongoing support.”

–Richard Manly