Yale Italian Studies promotes cross-cultural connections at speaker event
In collaboration with UC Berkeley, Yale Diversity in Italian Studies Working Group is hosting a talk to promote diversity in Italian Studies.
Zoe Berg, Senior Photographer
The Yale Diversity in Italian Studies Working Group co-hosted a talk about cross-cultural connections between Italy and China on Oct. 11 alongside the Italian department of the University of California, Berkeley.
The speaker event — titled “’Dogmeat, Chop Suey, Mozzarella Gialla: Communicating Chinese Migrant Alimentary Stereotypes in Italian Pop Culture” — is one in a series started in fall of 2020 by the working group. Gaoheng Zhang, an associate professor of Italian studies at the University of British Columbia who focuses on socio-cultural relations between Italy and China, was the event’s main speaker.
“He was speaking about stereotypes that Chinese people and Chinese cuisines have in Italy, and how they are very prevalent in representations of Italian media, in advertising and in films,” said Lydia Tuan GRD ’26, one of the event’s organizers.
Tuan and Federica Parodi GRD ’25, two doctoral students in the working group, co-organized the event. The working group usually hosts two to three events each semester. Tuan, who studied at UC Berkeley as an undergraduate, said the working group’s official collaboration with UC Berkeley started in the fall of 2021.
“[UC Berkeley] regularly also host[s] speaker events,” Tuan said. “And so I thought it would be a good idea to do them together. This would also represent more networking opportunities for students at Yale, as well as more opportunities for students at Berkeley to network with students over here. This inter-University exchange is beneficial, I think, for the both of us.”
Previous events have been held on Zoom because of public health restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Tuan, the main audience at such speaker events typically consists of graduate students, postdoctoral students and faculty.
Zhang said the talk offered a good opportunity to present part of his current research. Given his Chinese culture background, he identified himself as “a non-traditional Italianist.”
“The event was a good venue for me to showcase how such diverse backgrounds and research specialties can make an impact on our understanding of Italy,” Zhang said.
This is the first time this working group’s series has examined the exchange of East Asian culture and Italian culture, Tuan explained.
The group wanted to “spotlight some research that does not receive a lot of attention within the field of Italian studies,” said Tuan, noting that there is currently limited research on the link between East Asian and Italian culture.
Zhang’s talk examined how Italian public discourses on Chinese food can sharpen, strengthen or refashion white Italians’ identities. Rather than examining canonical literature and culture, Zhang said he feels drawn to popular media and culture, which tangibly shape public perceptions in society.
“Gaoheng Zhang’s work is critical in sensitizing us to the many ‘contact zones’ of which contemporary Italy is constructed — and enabling us both to recognize the stereotypes that are at play in contemporary discourse, and to move beyond them,” said Jane Tylus, chair of the Italian studies department,
Parodi commented that today’s conversation “was very productive and very interesting,” with Tuan agreeing. Tuan elaborated, saying the discussion on Chinese people and food demonstrates some facts which are still contemporary and relevant to contemporary Italian society.
The next Diversity in Italian Studies Working Group event will be held on Nov. 15.