60 seconds with Katrina Lolicato

Katrina is a PhD Candidate; Social documenter/Oral historian; mum; Lalor resident.

What is the best thing that has happened to you today?

Today I managed to get my three primary school-aged children out of bed, fed and ready for school 5 minutes early. Phew!

If you were a super-heroine, what powers would you like to have?

I’d like the power of persuasion please. I wish I could use language in the way that Sukhjit Kaur Khlasa did on Australia’s Got Talent to stake her claim in this nation. Or in the way that Alma Thorpe and Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli did to change policy and achieve self-determination for their communities. I’d like the power to convey a message that connects, but also bonds, those with resources to those who do not – to mobilise compassion and pragmatic, person-to-person giving, like Rochelle Courtenay, founder of Share the Dignity.

For you, what’s the best thing about being a woman from an immigrant refugee/background? 

Wow! What a question! Here’s the long answer:

In the third generation, we tend to live our multiculturalism from a very special kind of privileged position. I grew up in a large extended network, brought about by a migration policy that permitted ‘chains’ of related individuals to transplant entire families, entire villages from Italy to Australia. Unlike many migrants and refugees today, my family could work together as a very efficient but informal network to ensure the financial security and emotional health of the group. While they were busy surviving, growing, stabilising, for better or worse, the convivial, approachable, industrious image of the Italian-Australian was created around them. Over time, racism dissipated or at least, it moved on and I have undoubtedly benefitted.

I have access to the education, the language and the resources that my family did not and that many still do not have. While I must contend with a narrower, almost kitsch understanding of ‘Italianess’ than I would like, I do not face daily, overt prejudice or disadvantage in the same way that they did, and many still do. And unlike my brothers and male cousins, who were encouraged to keep working in family businesses, because, as one of their teachers once quipped, ‘they are good with their hands and can make a good living’, I was encouraged to pursue a life of learning.

So, the best thing about being a woman with my background is that much of the groundwork in overcoming the structural inequalities my family was -and many still are – subjected to has been done for me. I might still be asked, ‘Where are you from?’ but when I respond, there’s little animosity or apprehension. Lucky me.

The short answer: I stand on the shoulders of traumatised, poor, illiterate, colonised, powerfully resourceful, incredibly knowledgeable and painfully humble giants.

Oh, and the food is good too.

During the pandemic Mano Nella Mano provided nearly 350 grocery vouchers and hampers to international students.

During COVID-19 you contributed to the wellbeing of women on temporary visas. Can you tell us about that?

In March 2020, Italy was the global ‘ground zero’. The Covid-19 epidemic exacerbated the ongoing challenges for women on temporary visas – precarious employment, higher cost of health and education, the experience of social isolation and vulnerability to family violence. Unexpectedly stranded with no source of income, no reprieve from school fees, ineligible for income support, many were experiencing food insecurity and mental distress, worried for their families back home. We would later learn that several of the women who contacted us were forced to stay in very difficult home environments.

My sister Gracie and I sensed an opportunity to mobilise our family and friends, to show the newest, most vulnerable in our community that they were not forgotten. We hoped that in the absence of consular support and Australian government assistance, the community might be willing to help. We found Vincenzo De Paolis who had independently instigated a similar initiative , we connected on social media, joined forces, and that’s how we started Mano Nella Mano! Supported by the Italian language newspaper, Il Globo, particularly journalist Susanna Burchielli, we raised awareness of the issues at hand. We used our social and professional networks to raise funds through crowdfunding and with additional grants from the Inner North Community Foundation, we passed on a nearly 350 grocery vouchers and grocery hampers.

But the real success was the personal connections made across cohorts. Feedback from those who gave and received tells us that the vouchers and gifts became invitations for friendship and reminders of the potential in small, but collective acts of compassion.

A message and gift card from the team at Mano Nella Mano for international students in need of support.

Finish this sentence: “We need feminism because….”

We need a feminism that reflects our distinctive experiences, knowledges, and concerns. We need a platform from where to bring to the fore, the rich history and current work of women from non-English speaking backgrounds who advocate and mobilize for a better Australia. And we need to frame it as activism and them as leaders. We need it so we can all learn from a history of women who look and sound and think from the perspective of our grandmothers, our aunties, mums and sisters. And we probably needed it 50 years ago!

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