Ramzi Harrabi is a musician, a poet , cultural mediator and an immigrant from Tunisia, living in Italy. While I have often reported on the difficulties that immigrants often face, Ramzi represents success—through determination and understanding of himself and those around him. He interacts with his community in an open and honest way, which has earned him the trust and respect of many. He took some time to answer some of my questions. His perspective is a unique one: informed by his own experiences, yet circumspect and full of hope.
MR:How did you come to live in Italy?
Well, Initially, I came here thinking that I would only be staying a few months. I wanted to find my father and get documents as every body had said that Italy was planning an amnesty for all illegal immigrants. I arrived from Germany where I had overstayed my visa. My idea was to come here to Sicily where my father who is an immigrant, would host me , wait a few months , get documents and then travel again. But as you can see I m still here.
MR:You are well integrated into your community now, aren’t you?
RH:Yes and I always was. I think that human beings have a natural tendency to be part of any community where they are hosted. I can tell you it took me a couple of years for me to adjust mentally and to accept that Sicily was my new address.
MR:You are a cultural mediator, what are your views?
RH:I think that the most dangerous thing for people today is the “ethnocentrism” , as it makes us think only to support who we belong to and become less rational in our operations and actions . That is why I try always to mediate between cultures and try to help people around me to interact as one group and one global community, with a unique goal of having different perspectives . Planet earth is one and so is mankind. Humanity is a bit disorientated from this point of view, as generally countries and communities have acted to promote a culture of superiority and hostility towards others. Thus in turn leaving less space for curiosity and harmony .
So a cultural mediator is a person who acts as a bridge between two different people and helps them to absorb each others perspective without prejudice and with the advantage of comprehension and tolerance.
Above all, you should be a good listener , because listening is the most important criteria in communication. Furthermore, observing others, deciphering individuals and cultures and trying to accept them as they are is the key to constructive dialogue.
In my opinion , any human being who has this quality can happily be integrated and coexist in any social reality.
MR:You are the president of the council of immigrants in Sicily. What exactly is your role?
RH:I spend more time trying to convince the Italian associations that are part of the council to act with intercultural competence and with less with the intention of charity. We need to help people with professionalism and with the placing the right figures in the right posts. Charity is welcome but it is never enough, by itself, in the process of integration.
As the council of immigrants we try to help the municipality to prepare its projects for the integration of neo-Italians and to train the figures that will work with immigrants plus a daily work of mediation, wherever it is requested.
MR:What have you done that you are particularly proud of?
RH: “Futuro Inter-Culturale” is an educational project in an elementary school that I designed and managed myself for the municipality . I also taught a few subjects related to Islam, Arabic culture and ethnic music . I taught local kids a Tunisian song that they performed with me at the closing of the project; today after 5 years they still sing it when they see me. It is an incredible feeling, knowing that I left an imprint in their lives. I am pretty much sure that those kids ( around 70 of them ) would never willingly act with racism against any body.
Another great experience has been leading Arcadia University (MCAS) students in Tunisia and introducing them to my homeland while helping them to discover the beauty of diversity, thus planting the roots with them for future peace between the USA and Arabic nations.
MR: So, are you a singer , a painter or a poet?
RH:I am simply a human being that is trying to express certain feelings via Art. Communication is based on listening as I said earlier, but also it is mainly based on tapping in to people’s hearts and minds. So if you want to be listened to you should be able to reach those hearts and those minds.
MR: Well, said. Thank you, Ramzi!