THE SHIFT THE ITALIAN CULTURE UNDERGOES FROM NEWLY ARRIVED ITALIANS

Rosaria Zarro has acted as VMC Commissioner since 2017, when she was first appointed for this role by Minister for Foreign Affairs Robin Scott acting on behalf of the Daniel Andrews Labour government in Victoria.

As VMC Commissioner some of her main responsibilities are working ‘at grassroots level to gain a solid understanding of the issues facing ethnic communities’, attending events, liaising between different faith and community groups, attending monthly meetings, and developing “strategies to address community issues”.  

The role is to bring together people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, drawing from both personal and professional strengths. It requires the capacity to be sensitive to the cultural needs within certain communities, and to be flexible and open-minded when dealing with these community groups.  

Rosaria is herself of Italian heritage and has taught Italian, science and history at both government-level and for cultural organisations.  

What inspired you to embark on your culturally and ethnically inclusive professional trajectory?

I was nominated by a friend whilst I was overseas: My friend Carlo Carli, ex-parliamentarian in Victoria for some 12 years. He thought that with my experience at Museo Italiano and within the Italian community, I could contribute to this role at the VMC.

How do you draw from your previous professional experience and expertise as part of your current role as commissioner?

My background is in Education and so I have very strong contacts with the network of teachers of Italian. I have presented at many conferences both locally and nationally. This has enabled me to make some strong contacts in Victoria and interstate. I also worked in the cultural sectors at Museum Victoria for some 8 years, so I worked on exhibitions and events at the Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum and Scienceworks. My experience in exhibitions and events were useful skills for Museo Italiano where I worked on the core development team. Working at Museo Italiano provided opportunities to link with the Italian community but also the various communities in the Carlton precinct. I involved the African community in festivals and events to engage and invite locals to Museo Italiano. This linking with CALD communities was something that I considered important and it has provided many opportunities for my role as commissioner.

In what way do you help bring different ethnic communities together as part of your very important role?

I believe making links to other CALD communities and sharing my experiences as commissioner and community member is crucial to begin dialogue.

What are some of the issues facing ethnic communities in Victoria and Australia today?

I believe the new arrived migrants face many similar issues that the Italians faced in the 60s. Language is a barrier and learning a good level of English takes time. The most recently arrived migrants have other pressures of finding work and housing. This can add to the pressure.

What can be done to rectify these issues?

There are many more organisations set up to help migrants, which is helpful, but maybe a person’s mental health needs to be considered as part of the overall resources that are given to newly arrived migrants.  

You serve also the Italian community. How does your own Italian background benefit you in your work dealing with members of the Italian community?

My Italian background and the ability to speak the language helps to provide the link to those in the community who prefer to speak in their mother tongue. Also understanding the various types of organisations within the Italian community provides an insight as to what interests the community at present.

With regard to the Italian community, are there any areas that require further development – i.e. what can be done to further promote the Italian culture also among members of the younger generations?

Promoting opportunities for the younger generations to get involved in the Italian community. One club that does this well is the Eolian Club, they hold events that attract all ages and the committee boasts a wide range of Italians and Italo-Australians so that the younger generation feel included in the decision-making within the club.

Why is it important to keep the Italian culture active and alive within the Melbourne community?  

The Italian culture is strongly embedded in the Australian culture, through the introduction of food and beverages which are evident throughout Victoria. Culturally also there is a shift to cultural events by recently arrived Italians to Victoria which includes traditional and contemporary music and dance. Also there are many opportunities to be involved in cultural events through Museo Italiano and the Italian Institute of Culture. Smaller organisations are also providing opportunities to view exhibitions from Italy, like GAIA.

What, more specifically, do you feel can be done to make the Italian culture thrive and prosper in Melbourne and Victoria?

I believe the Italian culture has a strong presence already in the community but maybe working with Italian communities in regional Victoria and promoting cultural events like festivals and Street parties or “festas”.  

Is there any particular project that you would like to embark on as part of your work supporting different ethnic communities in Victoria – including the Italian community?

I would like to do more with refugee groups and with youth. Providing them with support and guidance where they need assistance.

Finally, why is it important to celebrate cultural and ethnic differences?

We are lucky that in Victoria we have a very accepting community that promotes cultural diversity and celebrates this diversity. We have a state government that understands the need to promote cultural groups and when there are issues the government is quick to respond to rectify any issues. This is done by meeting with community group leaders and actively helping particular communalities with their issues.  

What role do you see yourself fulfilling in the future?

I hope to continue with the VMC for the next two years and afterwards continue working within the department of premier and cabinet in a different capacity.