The Racialized Who Racialize Others: Chinese Baristas and their Racial Projects in Postcolonial Italy


Giddings House 212, Department of Anthropology

Ting (Grazia) Deng, PSTC Postdoctoral Fellow, Brown University

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Many neighborhood coffee bars in Northern and Central Italy have been taken over by self-employed Chinese migrant families since the economic downturn of the late 2000s. These coffee bars serve as one of the main hubs of community socializing in the Italian urban lifestyle, and they are also one of the few social spaces where marginalized social groups from various racial and ethnic backgrounds meet and interact with each other. How do Chinese owners and baristas, the supposed cultural Outsiders, deal with the distrust and racism from the host society while also managing the diverse racial and ethnic composition of their clientele? This paper will explore the mechanism of Chinese migrant entrepreneurs’ racial perceptions and consciousness in these particular social spaces. It will show how their everyday management strategies are themselves racial projects in which racial dynamics are interpreted and represented through the shifting racial lines that they perceive. It further sheds light on how their racial practices complicate the seemingly monolithic, top-down racial hierarchy of a postcolonial “Western” society.

Deng’s research focuses on the intercultural dynamics resulting from migration. Her current book project, based on her Ph.D. dissertation, is concerned with the emerging phenomenon of coffee bars in Italy being taken over by Chinese migrants. It examines why and how two seemingly opposite and contradictory groups of people – migrants and locals- who are commonly thought to be uncooperative and mutually exclusive, if not outright hostile, are coming together and cooperating to perpetuate an existing form of local culture and an older way of life. She is also developing a new project on Chinese migrants’ everyday healthcare practices and encounters in Italy.