The Changing Face of Little Italy: The Miss Colombo Pageant and the Making of Ethnicity in Trail, British Columbia, 1970-1977

By Fielding, Stephen A. | Urban History Review, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

The Changing Face of Little Italy: The Miss Colombo Pageant and the Making of Ethnicity in Trail, British Columbia, 1970-1977


Fielding, Stephen A., Urban History Review


This article examines gender and ethnicity as part of the same social experience. It argues that the annul contest to crown Miss Colombo in Trail, British Columbia, during the first half of the 1970s, together with the campaign to preserve the beauty pageant after 1973, offers a unique gendered context to understand the making of ethnicity in a small city. Broadly speaking, the pageant reflected specific social, economic, spatial, and cultural change within the local Italian experience a strong sense of place, occupational success, movement to ethnically mixed neighburhoods, and positive relations with non-Italians. These processes played out in a paradoxical forum of the Colombo pageant--a paternal institution that celebrated and evaluated young Italian women's bodies. Never contesting the institution itself, which carried a gendered power imbalance, Italian women--both as volunteers and contestants--worked through the pageant to promote their own interpretation of Italia belonging and endorse a range of new possibilities for themselves. The women dramatically recast, but did not overturn, the gendered structures through which these changes took place--a pattern that points to the resiliency of paternalism in discourses of ethnic belonging.

Cet article examine genre et ethnicite comme faisant partie de la meme experience sociale. If fait valoir que le concours annuel "Miss Colombo" a Trail en Colombie-Britannique au debut des annees 70, de pair avec une campagne visant sa preservation a partir de 1973, offre un cadre genre unique pour comprendre la construction de l'ethnicite dans une petite municipalite. D'une maniere generate, le concours reflete des changements specifiques sociaux, economiques, spatiaux et culturels au sein de l'experience locale italienne: un fort sentiment d'appartenance, la reussite professionnelle, le displacement vers des quartiers ethniquement mixtes, et des relations positives avec les non Italiens. Ces processus se sont deroules dans le forum paradoxal du concours de beaute, une institution paternelle qui celebre et evalue le corps de jeunes femmes italiennes. N'ayant jamais conteste l'institution en soi, porteuse d'un desequilibre de pouvoir entre les sexes, les femmes italiennes - tant benevoles que candidates - ont travaille dans le cadre du spectacle afin de promouvoir leur propre interpretation de l'appartenance italienne et de souscrire a une gamme de nouvelles possibilite's pour elles-memes. Les femmes ont refait de facon spectaculaire, sans toutefois renverser, les structures genrees a travers lequel ces changements ont eu lieu, fait qui souligne la resilience du paternalisme dans le discours de l'appartenance ethnique.

In 1973 the Colombo Lodge in Trail, British Columbia, almost cancelled its annual queen pageant. Bedevilled by rivalries, suspicions, and accusations of foul play, the event attracted only a single contestant. Surprisingly, the dispute arose not among the young Italian (1) women eligible to participate but instead among their fathers who, interpreting a daughter's loss as an affront to their manhood, discouraged their daughters from competing. The effort of the Colombo men's lodge to preserve the competition, by asking the women from their affiliated Sisters of Colombo Lodge to select the candidates, set the stage for a major re-evaluation of the gendered character of Italian belonging in this small working-class city.

One year later, the honoured speaker at the Colombo Lodge men's banquet stepped up to the podium to put this gendered arrangement into perspective. After reminiscing about his childhood in Trail's Little Italy--noting, for example, that since moving to a larger centre he now paid for food his Italian mother had routinely made at home--he got to the main point of his address, the centrality of the family in Italian Trail. Repudiating popular stereotypes of domineering men and passive, submissive women, the speaker aimed to clarify the gendered division of power and place in ethnic Italian households. …

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