I am going to step out of the Sicilian context in this post to tell you about Domenico Lucano, a smart and incredibly compassionate man. Lucano is the Sindico (Mayor) of Riace, a small seaside town in Calabria, who took a chance to try and save his town (in one of Calabria’s poorest regions) with a simple solution to the complex and controversial issue of immigration. He called his project Citta Futura (The City of the Future).
With a dwindling population and a population of approximately 1,700 , former residents left Riace to seek life elsewhere, leaving homes empty and decrepit. Working with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)Lucano actually began a campaign where he not only actively encouraged immigrants to come and settle in Riace, but offered them incentives as well: a roof over their heads and sponsored work. One of Riace’s schools, closed in 2000 for lack of students is now open and flourishing with pupils from Africa, the Middle East and other places.
In televised interviews, Domenico Lucano is intense and passionate, often with immigrant children by his side. He speaks eloquently of the need to do what is right, which works to everyone’s advantage . He seems to be a proud and humble man, a real man of the people , who the locals call “Mimmo”. The new arrivals occupy the empty homes and others are converted into workshops where some of the sponsored work takes place.
Approximately 230 refugees now live and work in Riace , alongside the locals who have , for the most part, welcomed them with open arms. Even the famous German movie director Wim Wenders has called Riace, perhaps with hyperbole, a “utopia” and has produced a 30 minute documentary called “Il Volo”, (The Flight) which focuses on immigrants , migrants and refugees and the positive rather than negative aspects of their experience: collaboration, cohabitation and hope and a town in revival mode.
In some stories I have read, Lucano believes the Mafia does not like the success of the integration in the town because it loosens their grip there. This is unfortunate, but not surprising. In light of this and perhaps because life everywhere these days is hard, it is probably a mistake to call Riace and their “integration model”there a “utopia.” But, no one can argue that not only has it been wildly successful, but is now serving as a model for other towns in the region. Whether or not this model is sustainable over the long term remains to be seen, but the people who have already benefitted from it cannot be underestimated.
It should be noted that Lucano , for his work in Riace, was the second runner up in the 2010 World Mayor competition and was awarded a World Mayor commendation for passion and courage.
Nothing is perfect , but the forward thinking and compassionate Mayor, as far as innovation and pure heart go, is pretty close to it. For Lucano, who believes that ‘man is a man with or without legal documents,’ life has found greater meaning for so many. Hopefully the world has taken notice and will follow his example.