Monthly Archives: June 2012

The Peculiar Politics of Identity and “Lega Nord”


It would seem that immigration and migration in Italy keeps Lega Nord (Lega Nord per l’Indipendenza della Padania) powerful and influential.  This extreme and right wing, xenophobic political party has spewed hateful rhetoric against immigrants in Italy, particularly those from Muslim countries who they believe threatens the “Christian” identity of Italy.   I’ve read about the “immigrant” soap they are marketing, able to wash away the germs if one should be unfortunate enough to come in close contact with one. As well you can credit someone within their ranks for a  video game called “Bounce the Immigrant,” which, unfortunately,  needs no explanation.  This is the ugly mandate of a peculiar “politics of identity.”  Nothing that I could write here about this hateful ideology could explain better than the countless articles on “Lega” as they are popularly called, that about in both the popular literature as well as academic articles.  Suffice it to say that as crazy as their stance seems, it has its adherents—mostly in the North of Italy of course, but that kind of nationalism always breeds an undercurrent of suspicion and hate, that has the potential to fester and explode.  We can blame Lega Nord for Italy’s current immigration policy.   And still, men and women risk their lives’, crammed in boats, afloat in the sea.  Some make it. So many don’t.   And Lega Nord points the finger and laughs.

Above is a picture I took in the Sicily last year. Though the words are misspelled the hatred comes alive.

This quote by Aime Cesaire seems so apt and yet, they are only words, but ones that certainly resonate with me:

And most of all beware, even in thought, of assuming the sterile attitude of the spectator, for life is not a spectacle, a sea of grief is not a proscenium, a man who wails is not a dancing bear. . . “

So true, and yet. . .



And the future?

Migrations are the most powerful means of social transformation and the most powerful way to know the “other.” The internationalization of Italy at the end of the nineteenth century was created from below, starting from the lower classes, and it is all thanks to the Italian poor and the farmers.  Today’s closed-door policy. . . [is]  a consequence of the (passive) defense of [Italy’s] wealth and of the privileges acquired in the economic development after World War ll.  This is also a very important cultural and anthropological change because the beginning and the end of the century locate Italians on opposite positions.

—Massimo Livi Bacci, “Demografia”Image

And the future?

“Too many Tunisians, Not Enough Toilets”—an Interview with Guido Gazzilli

Guido Gazzilli is a Roman-born photojournalist covering stories as vast in theme as music and geopolitical events around the world.

I was moved to interview him about his photomontage on Tunisians arriving at the island of Lampedusa, which originally appeared in You  can view here.

Guido, I was thrilled to find your photomontage on the Tunisians at Lampedusa.    I was really moved by the project, in part because of your sensitivity and knowledge of the issue.  You definitely, as we say in the states “get it.”  Talk about what you encountered there and how that experience of what you’d been reading in the press about the situation there—was it better or worse?

As soon as I arrived I realized that the situation was much more dramatic than the media talking about it, there was no real organization, nobody knew what to do, there was only a big chaos. The immigrants were sleeping in fishing boats. Some locals were hosted by families, others by churches in the country, but most of them in tent cities called the “hill of shame“. Lampedusa was not ready to handle a situation like an emergency. I believe that politicians have deliberately waited that would create a situation of emergency and general collapse then get publicity, in this case that landed in Lampedusa Berlusconi saying to buy houses and properties on the island then is magically returned calm and quiet.

Many Tunisians who fled from their homeland to find themselves once again trapped on an island without knowing their fate.

How do the native Lamdedusan’s attitudes toward the immigrants differ from the rest of Italy’s attitude and treatment toward them?

The Lampedusans have welcomed immigrants in their homes, and that’s how I met Ahmed. He was hosted for 6 months and was treated as a child.  This shows the solidarity of Lampedusans. I think that there are not so many differences with the rest of ‘Italy—we are a united people, and even if we are, economically in crisis, we try to help others.

The photo of Ahmed, alone, could launch a thousand stories.   The way he is sitting on the bed, the darkness of his clothes against the stark brightness of the room—complete with the framed Madonna and Child hanging over the bed.   He seems to be truly loved by the people who help to care for him.  Did this surprise you?

I always try to create a strong intimacy with my subjects; in this case we were in the house of the family that hosted Ahmed. They are very religious and believed that this meeting was a sign of the lord, amazed me most was the fact that Ahmed stayed a long time there and they did everything they could to help him even after some time.

That you were a witness to charity there, gives me hope.  Please speak a bit about that.

I would call it more solidarity with the people who are not so different from us, if we consider that Lampedusa is closer to Tunisia than to Italy. I would say that I was a witness of brotherhood, solidarity and respect for others.

How do you feel about the Italian press and media who you feel is distorting and deliberately representing the situation there?  What do they gain from this?

The media, in general, (not only Italian the Italian media, either)  try to make more news, and get a bigger  audience and tell a more truthful or less serious events happening in the world. For myself I always try to decode the information that I read and, when I can, I prefer to go to the area to see what really happens.

The details never cease to move me.  One was the so-called “Hill of Shame” where the med would wait to be transported.  The other was the fact that, as you say, the Church was “everywhere.”  Yet another that many of those stranded on Lampedusa did not realize that it was not mainland Italy.   Did these details surprise you, as well?

I was very touched to see the expressions on their faces before they were deported to the identification centers, exhausted from the long and dangerous boat trip to Italy, fleeing their country and not knowing where they would end.

They wandered all day up and down the island, trapped again and no possibility of escape. No sooner had they reached some destinations in Italy, many of them fled towards France.

As the men began to trust you and tell you their stories, which account moved you the most, the one that you will, perhaps, never forget?

I think the memory is the only thing that remains in the future and thanks to photography, you can create a record of human experience. Not everyone is willing to tell their stories, it is very difficult to find people available, but if you approach it with grace and respect, you get more confidence.

What did you aim to capture with your photos?

I wanted to tell a story of a boy as young as me, and his hopes for the future. I also tried to convey in my photographs the link that Ahmed had created over time with the island.

Has this project deepened your interest in the plight of immigration and migration?

I’m more interested in young people living in the territories through conflicts, wars, and revolutions.

Thanks so much, Guido.

Sappiamo Chi Siamo: Siamo Italiani, i Nostri Amici Sono Italiani!

For two young men born of Tunisian parents in Italy, becoming Italian citizens, while certainly welcome, did not make them feel any different than before.    In a Imagehighly publicized ceremony in Ortigia, Sicily this week, Firas and Amir Jerbi, stood, rather shyly, in front of a room full of people while they were bestowed official citizenship of Italy.  Surrounded by the friendly faces of the Consulta deli Immigrati, they stood and listened to short speeches praising them while their mother, Moufida, born in Lamta, Tunisia, but  a resident of Sicily for 21 years, smiled with pride.

Several television news crews were present as well as newspaper and magazine reporters.  I watched as everyone clamored to have a word with the Jerbi boys at the end of the ceremony.  They had microphones thrust into their faces while they were expected to hold forth on the honor they’d just received.  Everyone wanted a sound bite.  They interviewed Ramzi Harrabi, the President of Consulta deli Immigrati , as well as Moufida and the mayor of Siracusa Roberto Vinsentin.   


I managed to grab them for just a few moments to ask them how they felt and what it all meant to them.  I should not have been surprised by their reaction.  The older one, Firas spoke:  “Let me tell you—we know who we are.  We are Italian.  We have Italian friends. We speak Italian.  This is a formality!”  When I pressed him further on his Tunisian heritage, he said , “We are very, very proud of our Tunisian roots.  So we are Tunisian and Italian!”    I asked him if he had anything special planned for the rest of the day.  He laughed as though it was a rather silly question.  “No,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.  “It is just another day!”


Just another day, and yet, everyone in that room, and there were many , understood the import of the ceremony we had just witnessed.  While speaking to the boys, a man came over and  good-naturedly chided them:  “Why are you talking with this straniero when we still have things to say to you?”  


And with that, he led the boys away from me.  I kept snapping pictures.  There was energy in that room.  And despite the brothers’ exhortations that it was “just another day”  they were filled with pride.  A blind man could see it.   It was their moment. Their day. And it was a good one.