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 highly 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.