Amidst those protestors, is where I would be right now, had I not chosen to leave. Beginning of March: the world is watching China and, of all places, my home country, Italy, fight the “invisible enemy” COVID-19. It’s impossible to imagine what happens next.
I left New York on March 21st. Destination: not Brussels, where I had come from, but Rome, and then Venice, and then Gorizia. Where I was born. The eternal return-to place. I was so proud to have obtained a Fulbright Schuman grant. I was so ready. Ready for America. I was bound to stay in the U.S. for six months, but mentally (and judging from my suitcase) it was a new beginning, chapter closed, new life, wherever the road takes me. America, show me something. America, what are you about?
Before settling down in Stony Brook, NY, to carry out some good work with the best supervisor, mentor, colleague ever, Margaret Schedel of the Music Department at Stony Brook University, I traveled some. Indiana, Illinois, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, California. Has the ride been worth it? Oh my god, yes. Has it been smooth and problem-free? Oh my god, no! But it doesn’t matter. Matched against the gain, any problem is small and forgettable. But I couldn’t tell you how great it’s been, how amazing the program is, ignoring what is going on right now. It doesn’t make it go away, but things are not “all great” right now.
To tell you how much fun I’ve had in the States, and how grateful I am for the “amazing experience”, passing into silence the pain and horror of the riots and protests, would display my ultimate privilege. The privilege to ignore.
I can’t ignore what’s going on in the U.S. right now. Instability spreading worldwide. I left for fear that the pandemic would get worse, before it hit America. I wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do. I wasn’t happy to go. I developed a sense of belonging. Whatever was about to strike, we were going to face it together. I didn’t just absorb some of the American rhetoric we RoW find corny sometimes: I made it my own. We’re stronger together, we’re going to see this through because we are tough. We’re in this together. New Yorkers, the toughest of all.
I thought America would be spared by the pandemic. For the time it had to prepare, for the civic duty and respectful behavior I had experienced after the early social distancing orders. I thought it’s not gonna happen here. But a week after my reluctant repatriation, I saw pictures of a camp hospital in Central Park. I have seen the representatives of power deliver more and more confusing messages, fighting for resources, acting in a stereotypically American way, and in a very anti-American way all at once. Individualism, and the sense of community. It just became worse day after day. I was disappointed, heartbroken, and worried for my beloved friends from the West to the East coasts.
Fast forward: the pandemic is not the main news of the day. Protests against police brutality and institutionalized racism make headlines across the U.S., and around the world, with emulations in European capitals. Full emulation: the slogan, the cause, the same banners… the same looting. I couldn’t wait for this to be over to tell you about my Fulbright experience, but I couldn’t tell you how great it’s all been either – which I would have because it has been. Maybe with some funny anecdote, for a laugh. We’ll keep the laughter for later. We’ll meet on the other side of this. I’m not going anywhere. Once a Fulbrighter, a Fulbrighter for life.
“These programs have a transformational effect on people” said Rick A. Ruth, Senior Advisor at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State when I interviewed him on my podcast, Technoculture, at the end of 2019. You bet they do, Rick. ‘Thank you’ to you and to the Fulbright Schuman team in Brussels, ‘thank you’ Margaret Schedel at Stony Brook University, ‘thank you’ to all my dear friends in the United States, ‘thank you’ New York. And thank you, Senator Fulbright.
Watch the video version of this blog here.
Dr. Federica Bernardini Bressan IS A 2019-2020 FULBRIGHT Visiting RESEARCHER at SUNY, Stony Brook University. She holds an MD in Musicology and a Ph.D. in Computer Science. The vision underlying her research concerns the co-evolution of technology and culture. Her main expertise is in the field of multimedia preservation, with special attention for audio and interactivity. She is active in science popularization, and she is the host of the podcast Technoculture.
Articles are written by Fulbright grantees and do not reflect the opinions of the Fulbright Commission, the grantees’ host institutions, or the U.S. Department of State.