BEYOND PASTA – Understanding Italian American Culinary Culture in Federal Hill
Nuances of culture are lost from an outside perspective. This one – sidedness perception brings confusion and can lead to stereotypes. As a “Country of immigrants’” it is crucial to break stereotypes born in America to understand the complexity and uniqueness of every immigrant's culture. As for stereotypes of Italian culture in America, these are always related to food.
As an Italian American neighbourhood with many layers of history, Federal Hill has experienced several transitions. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Fabre Line offered the only transatlantic route which brought a large number of Italian immigrants to New England. Providence was one of the most popular ports, and many immigrants settled in the area from 1900 onwards. The majority of these immigrants were escaping poverty, lack of access to education and food scarcity in Southern Italy. These new Italian Americans earned a livelihood by running restaurant businesses or working in the garment industries. After a hundred years, the Italian-American story can be read as a successful, difficult, mutual cultural assimilation: Italian immigrants adjusted to American culture, and American culture adjusted to Italian Americans. Some restaurants in historically Italian neighborhoods maintain a traditional appearance and menu that tell the story of their immigrant roots, though few Italian Americans remain. Federal Hill, in Providence, RI, is one such neighborhood with few remaining Italian Americans, but many Italian restaurants. This thesis will start from Federal Hill, taking food as a tool to tell the Italian immigrants’ stories and break lingering stereotypes.
By creating a sensory experience through street installations centered in Depasquale Square, visitors are able to engage with the stories of those immigrants as they walk along the historic street. Some of their stories speak to larger historical moments; some of them are personal memories, which would relate to the restaurant business they owned. All of the existing Italian restaurants would be part of this exhibition. Visitors can navigate the 18 Italian restaurants by the graphic that runs through the exhibition. The reorganization of Depasquale Square would bring a new center garden and create more space for the visitors to walk through at the same time. An archive of Italian American cuisine will anchor around the garden, with videos of the chefs from different Italian restaurants in the neighborhood cooking dishes. Color, sound, smell, all these sensory experiences will lead the visitors to the most important part in this neighborhood – taste.