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Conference and Exhibit Explores Italian Immigration Experience

Posted: September 22, 2009
A conference and exhibit, Dear America! The Italian Immigrant Experience in Buffalo and the Thomas Sgovio Story, will be held on September 25 and 26 at Buffalo State.

In spring 2008, Buffalo State's History and Social Studies Education Department signed a memorandum of understanding with the Teca del Mediterraneo, the regional library system of Puglia, Italy, establishing a formal relationship between the two institutions. This collaboration establishes an institutional partnership in the United States for Italian scholars to study the dynamics of emigration and immigration.

The partnership has grown to include the Apulian Historical Institute for the Study of Anti-fascism and Contemporary Italian History in Italy, and St. Anthony of Padua Church in Buffalo. Father Secondo Casarotto, pastor of St. Anthony's, has spent some 25 years gathering information on Buffalo's Italian immigration history.

The first project of the collaboration is an exhibit and conference on the immigration experience and the story of Thomas Sgovio, a Buffalo-born artist and author, whose parents were from Puglia. In the mid-1930s, Sgovio's father, a non-citizen, was deported for Communist sympathies. Imagining the Soviet Union to be a worker's paradise, the Sgovio family settled in Moscow. Sadly, the idyllic dream became a Stalinist nightmare. In 1938 Thomas Sgovio and his father were arrested on separate charges, sent to the Gulag in the Pacific East of Siberia, and never saw each other again. Thomas Sgovio was released for good in 1954 and finally returned to Buffalo in 1963. He worked at General Motors in Tonawanda until his retirement in 1987 and died in 1997. 

As an artist, Sgovio penned numerous drawings of his beloved Buffalo, but was determined to make the atrocities of the Gulag known to the world. Dear America!, Sgovio's self-published book, was released in in 1979 and gave the world rare pictorial images of life in the Gulag. His drawings and paintings of his experiences are now on permanent loan to Stanford University’s Hoover Institution collection.

In June 2008, the regional library system of Puglia highlighted Sgovio's work with an exbihit and workshop at its annual convention in the Italian city of Bari. The event attracted librarians, archivists, and history specialists from almost a dozen countries.

The conference's opening session examined the Buffalo-Puglia partnership as a study in the use of historical records and research in recovering a shared human heritage. An international panel participated at the session, which included presentations by Father Secondo Casarotto and Buffalo State faculty David Carson and Martin Ederer.

The same exhibit that opened in Bari last year will be on display in E. H. Butler Library for the month of September. A conference, Dear America! The Italian Immigrant Experience in Buffalo and the Thomas Sgovio Story, will take place on September 25 and 26. An opening reception will be held on September 25 from 5:00 to 7:30 p.m. in E. H. Butler Library. The conference on Saturday, September 26, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. will be held in Classroom Building C122. The event is free and open to the public.

This event is the culmination of a collaboration facilitated by Lucia Caracci Cullens, honorary vice consul in Buffalo for the Consulate General of Italy in New York, with the Teca del Mediterraneo. The Puglia Regional Council, through the guidance of its president, Pietro Pepe, has underwritten the costs of this project.
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