Picture an Italian American.
Now, picture a Texan Italian American.
Documentary filmmaker Sergio Carvajal-Leoni said he wants to give Texans, and everyone, a picture of the Italian American culture in Central Texas.
“We’re not telling our own stories,” he said, adding that people come from other places, like California, to tell the “Texas” story.
Carvajal-Leoni’s stories focus on hyperlocalized and community media. The Venezuelan-born Texan received his undergraduate degree at the University of Texas, but chose Texas State University for his master’s, where he started this project.
“The stronger the storytelling is, the more the community feels a sense of belonging,” he said. He’s worked on his documentary series entitled Texan Italian Stories for about two and a half years. The screening of the series during Mass Communication Week was only the project’s second premiere.
“To me this is just fascinating,” he said. “Why not Italians? You know?”
UT graduate Claire Soto worked as an intern for ItalAustin, the documentary’s host company, during the filming process.
“I met so many people part of the Italian community and I’ve made so many connections that have helped me network,” she said. “I was definitely very unaware of all the Italians that live in Texas and how successful they all are.”
Senior Texas State student Conor Yarbrough felt the same after watching the documentaries.
“It was really revealing of all the Italian culture that we have in Texas,” he said. “I didn’t know we had this much.”
Carvajal-Leoni said many people don’t know about the Italian American presence in Texas and that’s one of the reasons he chose to make this series.
“Their history goes back just as far as every other lineage in the Central Texas area,” Yarbrough said. “I know Central Texas is often famous for being associated with German descent, but apparently there’s also a huge Italian descent.”
“The series allowed us to naturally progress,” Carvajal-Leoni said. “There was this wall that existed at the beginning. Putting things out, it allows us to more so gain respect and we’re more comfortable with everybody.”
Soto said one of the important things the videos cover is just what Italians and Italian Americans have contributed to Texas.
Carvajal-Leoni is now working on a feature film that will take a fictional approach to an Italian coming to Texas.
Watch the first episode of Carvajal-Leoni’s series below: