John Cabot University Presents Lecture by Dr. Matthew Reza

Dr. Matthew Reza

Dr. Matthew Reza

On October 26, 2016, the Department of Modern Languages and Literature hosted a lecture by Dr. Matthew Reza, a researcher in the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages at the University of Oxford. He is currently focusing on how the migration of Italians to the US during the late 19th and early 20th century affected their oral narratives, particularly the fairy tale.

Dr. Reza began his lecture by giving a general sense of the oral traditions in Italy in the late nineteenth century. Storytelling was not intended for children only back then; it was considered a participatory and social activity. For example, adults would come together in the evenings and one would start telling a story, a fairy tale. Children were exposed to these situations very frequently and that was the key for them to learn these stories by heart. When the children’s generation migrated to America, they brought with them the fairy tales of their families, but how were these affected by the change in context? The US was more industrial and had a completely different culture than what they were used to. This caused a change also in the communal aspect of life and in occasion of gatherings children would be separated from the adults, decreasing the frequency of exposure to the fairy tales.

Reza then continued by providing five examples of testimonials encountered during his research. One of these is Joan Stefano, born in America in 1935.

She recalls the fairy tales about knights and kings that her Italian father used to tell. All these stories ended with the same line: “And they stayed there and I came here”, suggesting a sense of longing, of nostalgia for what he had left in Italy. Another example Reza brought up is the story of Virginia Anderlini, who experienced an absence of fairy tales and storytelling; her Italian parents did not tell any bedtime stories because they could not read. Also, they did not have positive memories of Italy and preferred to leave it all where it was, behind them.

In conclusion, these examples show how the consequences of migration on fairy tales are inconsistent and various, because each person carrying the stories adapted to a new culture and a new context, influencing the oral narratives in their own way.