Monthly Archives: April 2013

“Reality is Not the Shadow of a Dream” : An Interview with Kossi Komla-Ebri on Italy, Immigrants and Integration

I was very excited the first time I read about Dr. Kossi Komla-Ebri, an educated man—a medical doctor, born in Togo and living in Italy. I had been searching, endlessly, for about African  immigration in Italy  from the “inside.”

I was eager to know everything about him—he is a passionate activist and writer, who does not shy away from speaking about racism and other issues that affect immigrants of all kinds in Italy, but most of all, the African immigrant.  Dr. Komla-Ebri speaks from a unique position—to me , he is both an insider and outsider.  He rights both from the margin and within the margin. Yes, he is an African man living in Italy , but one who is highly educated and able to make a successful living in his chosen country which gives him the ideal platform to speak eloquently and truthfully about the condition of the immigrant, a condition he has experienced himself and knows intimately.  His activism and his prolific writing helps to not only bring awareness to the plight of the African immigrant , but is helping to effect change.

MR: There is so much talk about the lack of integration in Italian society, regarding immigrants and refugees. Has it  always been the case or have made things worse?

KKE:The difficulty and lack of integration of migrants and refugees in Italian society has several origins and causes.

First of all Italy for years has been a country of emigration and not having had a marked colonial experience has not been able to deal rationally and metabolize the arrival of migrants as the tradition of colonialist countries such as France and England.


The first migrants were well received by the paternalism of the left and the Christian pietism because they were mostly tourists, pilgrims and students-if we exclude the exiled Eritreans and Ethiopians for which Italy was predominantly a place of passage to England, the United States or Canada.

The massive arrival of immigrants in the 90’s and  the political crisis in the east-south from the worlds economic crisis has been unprepared for this company and has worsened relations between  the migrants and nationals, also because of the right-wing populist who has ridden the ‘wave of xenophobia’ for electoral finding an excuse for their incompetence in dealing with the crisis.

Yet we would have expected a greater solidarity on the part of a country with nearly 30 million expatriates from the unification of Italy and today has more than 4 million citizens officially residing abroad.

MR: Can you  share your reasons for going to Italy? What was you experience of acceptance in Italian society?

KKE: Personally, I landed in Italy in 1974 thanks to a scholarship to enroll in medicine and surgery because then the right  to do so did not exist in Togo. In those years as migrants “intellectual” from black Africa, aroused  interest and curiosity (a legacy  of the missionary in the Italy of the Pope) and were regarded as “good” as opposed to the Greek students who then fled the dictatorship of the colonels and had not yet of the EEC.
We were the people renting out their homes and not because they were “bearded”, spoke a language that no one understood and were considered “dirty”.

In Bologna at that time there  was a town that was open and welcoming to the  tradition.

Today, as a doctor, my social role, I need to bark and make me a little ‘sheltered harbor’ until the white coat-that a little’ me-bleaching, but return to being a “vu cumpra”  (Michelle’s note:  a street vendor of African origin) but once I undress and am out of the hospital I  am a bit paranoid.  I am constantly living in these alternate roles.


MR: Please speak to the difficulties of  so many African refugees  who are l currently living in Italy—a society that, for the most part, clearly does not want them.

KKE: The plight of refugees is of two types.

The first is on a corporate basis in Italy because there is an organic law on refugees and asylum seekers. The second point is the lack of planning over the eternal “emergency.”

The newcomers largely fled and expelled from Libya found themselves sandwiched between the crisis situation, the non-existence and non-recognition of their status and the lack of economic means available for their hospitality and the impossibility ‘of being able to fix .
In this crisis, young men and women have been blocked in hotels and shopping centers without the possibility of work for almost two years and have been sitting all day to wait for the end of the day. Obviously they were perceived by the common people as pests for which it spent taxpayers’ money. When Italians tightened their belts to survive them if they were housed and fed free to do nothing from morning to night. These refugees were in large part run by volunteers who taught them the language, but there were no resources for training. In this way, without the possibility of looking for a job, without any specification of their social status, has favored a liability without participation in the construction of their own lives.

Today the countries of the “Arab Spring” have remained in Italy :13,000 people on 62,000 refugees accepted in the context of the ‘”emergency north africa” of 2011.

From March 31, 2013 were “liberated” with a dowry of 500 euro (because the funds are over-sometimes-mysterious ways) and the obligation to leave the centers or hotels because the money ran out, with the obligation to find a job within a year to break into the world of production.

Yet they  have been spent on them an average of 25,000 euro per person with no planning.

Many still suffer from mental suffering and some girls, in order to have a bit ‘of money , have gone into  prostitution, exploited by their fellow countrymen.

Today  they put themselves  on the street, left to themselves without even a place to go to sleep , which makes them easy prey to exploitation in undeclared work, the underground and the world of crime. Italian companies do not want them!

Immigrants forced return to Libya.

MR: Do you believe that integration in its truest sense is even possible? Do you think that a change in laws can change the minds of the Italians?

KKE: The integration understood as the interaction of our integrity, understood as the inclusion, not segregation or assimilation, is possible but not easy and it will take time. However, I do not think that will be the law to do so, some will be able to facilitate and alleviate discomfort but the real process of integration materializes only from below from the local to the global.

The overall approach as the “local without walls” of everyday life in coexistence and sharing spaces for meeting and direct knowledge and respect, to overcome our mutual prejudices.

MR: You are a doctor, and your commitment to the plight of immigrants is an amazing thing — do you do this because of your own experience?

KKE: Before being a doctor I am a man and a citizen who lives and is part of a society in which ,I believe , like many do, that injustices should be fought because we are all jointly responsible. I am convinced that as long as we remain on the bench not playing and we can only stand on the edge of the field to yell at the players and to protest and give the “horned” the arbitrator. To win you have to enter the field, take shots, learn to dribble and score.

Obviously as an immigrant living clearly, powerfully, this experience of my skin with my eyes straight on the future of coexistence for new generations, our children and future grandchildren.

Nowadays, unfortunately, we are not leaving a better world.

MR:In another interview I read,  you talked about the promotion of African cultures —- whose responsibility is this — speaking in the Italian context, of course.

KKE: In the collective European mind there  is essentially a negative image of the African continent and particularly in Italy linked to this “no knowledge” is voiced by a missionary heritage pietism African children are stunted, starving Africa to help, perennial beggar at the table opulence. An imaginary that “hinc sunt leones” ( Michelle’s note: “Here be dragons”–denotes dangerous and unexplored territory) feeds off the slave trade, colonialism and neo-colonialism, literature, film theory, reportage, short stories missionaries and spots of NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations).

There is an idea of Africa as a single entity almost as a country instead of a continent of 54 countries all different from one another.  The Africa of Tarzan, the virgin spaces untouched, wild animals, Africa of “Out of Africa” Blixen, the “Leopard Woman” of Moravia. To deconstruct this needs to be done to know the ‘”other” Africa, that is not news, the one who walks with the legs of his women with their economic, social and political power.Africa: that different from so-called “tribal wars” of dictators cannibals, clowns and puppets. Do know Africa in turmoil that invents and is invented in daily life. The Africa of a thousand cultural riches. Africa is resisting, that dell’Ubuntu, orality, the community schoolgirl, holistic medicine, cooperatives, young inventors, artists. We must make known what Africa has given and can offer humanity. And who better than the Africans themselves can operate in this sense, who better than the euro-African diaspora across the two cultures, which knows the password, can mediate and open a gate to knowledge.


In the Italian example this promotion can be done concretely with the establishment of cultural centers in Africa into three main Italian regions, which make available materials for schools, books, movies, kit of different themes and to organize meetings, travel eco and fair trade , talks about the past, present and future of our continent and where to take our children to decline the richness of their rut identity porous, multi, mosaic, plural.A place where involve institutions, associations and NGOs (non governmental organizations) in new partnership for the development of circular migration, to guide and stem the brain drain from the old continent cradle of humanity.

MR: What are your thoughts on racism in Italy and what do you think causes it? Is it a matter of recent immigration or do you believe that this is an unfortunate flaw in the  Italian personality?

KKE: I believe that racism exists in all the heavens and stems from prejudice and ignorance, and  our habit of relating to each other starting from the appearance and social status.

There’s so much classism in racism.

The case of Italy is predominantly a racism that was latent, unrecognized Italians themselves are gratified by a  self-esteem that says:  “Italians good people.”

If before was latent racism in Italy, today it has become social and political phenomenon worrying! Some laws have contributed to this Italian increasingly discriminatory towards us, the otherwise visible. The policy has the duty rats.


I once thought that the Italians were good, although bad politicians. However, after a realistic analysis, I had to change my mind. It is an illusion on an intellectual level to make this distinction. The policy implemented by the elite of government is what the Italians want, since politicians are voted by the citizens. It’s really sad to admit, but it is better to start from this consideration. I keep saying it to other immigrants: do not be fooled that the government is doing things contrary to the will of the people! Of course, there is a minority in Italy that does not agree with this policy. I do not know if it is a minority or a silent majority that does not agree. However, not expressing their dissent, this “silent majority” will always be in fact a minority of more accomplice of the other screaming.

MR: What part does the Italian media played in forming negative attitudes towards immigration in general and immigration in particular?

KKE: The media have had and still carry a big fault: the lack of an ethic of responsibility. The media certainly live on the newsworthiness (bad news are good news) but they create and act as a sounding board to an imaginary collective syndrome of invasion using a terminology related to water “invading” and “human tsunami” of “tide human ‘, the’ “wave of migration” forgetting that the water is also to water to germinate and new fruits.

On average there is no serious analysis of the cause of migration. They
do not explain that among the root causes of immigration processes are: the desertification is advancing in Africa, conflicts, lack of employment prospects with the co-responsibility of our leaders. How can a  Togolese farmer, still tied to old systems, compete with a farmer plowing North America that uses the thresher? Or compete with European farmers who receive subsidies? How can they take off our economies if the prices of our products are determined by the stock exchanges in Europe? Why do you pretend not to understand that our so-called “tribal wars” occur where the soil is rich in coltan, gold, diamonds, oil and uranium? It is irrational to analyze the phenomenon of immigration from a single point of view. An African boy, if he had the chance to work in your country and to be with his family, would not have decided to leave everything to undermine its only asset (life) to venture on the open-air graveyard that is become the Mediterranean Sea to come to suffer;suffering discrimination in the land of Dante.

The media slam the immigrant in large letters on the front page, speaking only in crime with an easy equation:  illegal immigrant = criminal—in contrast with the reality that so many Italian migrants who rely on these things most dear to them: the care of their home, their children and their parents. Today it seems that words like “mafia”, “mafia”, “Ndrangheta” are of African origin.

The media do not ever talk about the immigrants themselves and do not report the objective fact that even if 10% of them are made of offenders, 90% work, pay taxes and contribute to the growth of this country by creating 11% of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and paying with their contributions to the retirement of many Italians.

In order not to be feeling sorry for himself, to exit the systematic disadvantage, is important today for the  “new Italians” to organize themselves with Italians progressives and integrate the media system, to promote pluralism and objectivity in the world of communication. It is urgent that the “new Italians” to develop their imagination to create works that arouse empathy with Italians without pietism on the real causes of immigration and the situation of migrants in this country.

MR: How do you feel about the election of Laura Boldrini and her ability to effect change?

KKE: The election of Laura Boldrini as the entrance to the parliament of two African citizens – Italian (I prefer this definition than “new Italians”) made us hope for a change. To be honest, personally I have doubts because, today it seems that if a political party wants to give a turning point, I believe that the closure of the CIE (Centres for Identification and Expulsion)-real-lager, the law on citizenship, the ‘ abolition of the wicked Bossi-Fini law that binds the living room to work will not be easy due to be approved without a parliamentary majority. Unfortunately, the recent developments in policy in Italy and the priority decisions are clipping the wings to our hopes. In this situation, I am afraid that the election of Laura Boldrini for now will only stem the river of institutional racism.

MR: What advice would you give to someone who wants to work for change and integration into Italian society?

KKE: My advice: Change from the bottom, working to share in the neighborhoods, schools, parents meetings between natives and migrants, avoiding the urban ghettos. Bringing migrants to participate in the life of the host country, encouraging them to enter the meeting spaces: in the associations, the voluntary sector. Give migrants rights and not just the obligations of citizenship, citizenship to children born in Italy to offer them equal opportunities with peers, the right to vote in local elections.
Working integration means operate to the sharing of values, to everyday managing conflicts in the negotiation and appreciation of the cultures of origin, creating spaces of encounter, dialogue for a better understanding and coexistence slowly to create what I call a fruit salad of our cultures and not their bland smoothie.

MR: Do you have any last words of hope?

KKE: Hope, they say in Italian , is the last to die.

My hope is that you take the road of a poetic relationship, as would the Caribbean Edouard Glissant, learn to go “beyond” our appearances to discover and rediscover what we have in common: our humanity.     

If we can from this port to approach and recognize each other, the other on its own then it will not matter the pigmentation of skin, gender, social class or sexual orientation.

It seems like a dream.

We continue to dream because reality is not the shadow of a dream. Of course, as they say, we know that “it is difficult to steer the wind but we can direct the sails.”

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Can Compassion Become Toxic? The Merits of Not Rushing In

While I have written about a variety of issues here, I’ve not yet tackled the subject of how to help the immigrant, the refugee, the asylum seeker that we may come in contact with.  The term “bleeding heart liberal’ is often used  by some with derision  , and while we know that good intentions are, well, good, what about action?  We know that  intentions alone are not enough.  So how does one help the immigrant and/or refugee?

Bleeding Heart

According to my friend and mentor Ramzi,  a man who knows more about all aspects of immigration than anyone I know, said that a good place to start might be to ask them what it is they actually need.  And the answer  they are likely to give may surprise you.


In March I took 24 brilliant and compassionate students to Sicily. I admit to feeling a bit of  trepidation.  This was my life, my intellectual and emotional interest, the place where I spend an inordinate amount of time researching , interviewing, studying.   I kept asking myself how best to  get across not just the abundance of information I needed to give them to provide the proper context, but how would they interact with the refugees, some of which had become my friends. What would they think?  How would they process what they found My class was focused on immigration and migration in the Sicilian context.   I spent 6 weeks before we left the country for Sicily, where, amongst other activities  we would be meeting and interacting with refugees.  I made a conscious and intentional decision that while I would give them as much concrete information possible, that what I was really after for them was “experiential” and “reflective”.  And I leaned more toward the activist/human element.

Hand in Hand

One among many refugees  that I have come in contact and interveiwed has become a very very  good friend.  I would say this man is like my family.   There is nothing that the two of us cannot say to one another.   We are both glad the other exists in the world. During each class I would tell my students stories about my friend, his life , his struggles.   If they were eager to meet him, I honestly could not tell, but I assumed they were curious.

In Sicily, my friend came to speak to my class with a friend of his, a fellow refugee.  They told their stories, my friend, first.  He is an elegant man, educated. He knows how to frame his story so that his sufferings and his trials can be related to by others.  He neither wants nor seeks pity.  He understands that his struggle is not just his struggle alone.  That the structure of things, overall, must change in order to combat the racism and  exploitation that many immigrants and refugees encounter with alarming regularity not just in Italy, but in the European Union at large.

Students were overwhelmed. They listened with quiet and respect.  I saw tears.  I saw looks of disbelief.  What they saw, two handsome, strong and articulate men who were suffering in a variety of ways, probably did not compute immediately.  In one class I had talked about our “first world” concerns—there are so many—-and how they do not come close, and in fact seem utterly ridiculous in comparison with the rest of the world’s problems.   I knew they had to process.  I knew they would be writing in their required journals—their laboratories where they would record everything.  And write they did. What happened next was something that I was not prepared for: they were overcome with compassion and concern.  To say I was proud of them was putting it mildly.  But I knew that that was just the first wind of knowledge that hits heart before brain.  By the time they would pick themselves up from the floor, they would need to process further.

After all, what do you do  with a heart full of compassion?

It is a hard lesson to sit with the knowledge that we have of a situation before we act.  We live in a fast-paced world where a contemplative lifestyle is not respected in this bottom line world.  We are taught, in fact, encouraged to be people of action versus inaction.  But , in fact, there are times, there are definitely  situations most of all when they relate to the wellbeing of human beings, when it is prudent to press the  “pause” button.  To be circumspect.  To question yourself and try to discern that  if you want to help, how can you do it in a way that preserves the dignity of the person you want to reach out to?

In the education department of my university, a professor has a poster which says “Presume Competence” hanging on her office door.  I love that.  While this poster refers to those mainly with physical handicaps, warning others not to rush in until the signal is given that help , is indeed, required, I can apply it to this situation , too.  Has someone asked for you help?  If you rush in with all manner of  assistance or what you think will be helpful, lifesaving or  life changing, how will you feel if it is rejected?  Not appreciated as much as you thought?

At a church in Sicily, I and one of my students spoke with a refugee who told us how monotonous nearly every  day is for him: “I walk around outside.  Sometimes I go out for some pizza.  Then I come back.  Nothing.”  I asked him if he needed money.  I am sure he did , but that was the least of his worries.  They were taking care of him at the church. What he needed was hard to find: a job.  Finally he laughed, not without irony and just a touch of bitterness and said , “Really, what would I do with money?

My students have huge hearts.  They want to help my friend.  They would like to bring him here.   But I want to tell them, good intentions are wonderful, but dignity is too.  Today I told one of my students, one of the brightest most enthusiastic among them not to “rush in.” Not to ,in any way, get his hopes up, not to presume we know what he wants.  In fact, he cannot come here for many reasons.

I told her what my mentor/friend Ramzi told me:  That no one should underestimate this man’s capacity for survival. That we should keep things light and normal with him.  That to cast him in the role of “poor thing” threatens to rob him of the dignity he has. He is a beautiful person inside and out.  He is a person, not our cause.

We must presume competence.  Even the best of our intentions can become toxic to the person we are trying to help.

What did Ramzi advise we give my friend in abundance?  Friendship.  That is what he really wants.  He wants normalcy in his life.  He wants to talk about everything and nothing at all,  just like the rest of us do nearly every day.  I know my students will hold him up with their friendship. They are like that.

I called my friend  today.  I went outside of my office into the bright and warm day where students were milling around enjoying themselves in the carefree way students often do. I was conscious of how very far away he was.  I held my cellphone close .  I wanted to hear his voice loud and clear.

At the end of our conversation he said:

Thanks too much Micke, your smile is  always  inside me. . . there is  hope in my life and when I  go through your words , really,  I  find my self free to fly around…

bird with heart

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Laura Boldrini: “This Chamber Will Have to Listen to the Social Suffering of an Entire Generation.


Let’s sing the praises of women who act with both mind and heart in concert.

I have previously blogged about Giusi Nicolini, smart and compassionate mayor of Lampedusa and now we have Laura Boldrini , former spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees  has been elected to Italian Parliament  ( the lower chamber) as part of the Left, Ecology and Freedom party.


Laura Boldrini

Boldrini cares about the distortions of immigration and migration in the Italian media, realizing, astutely, how what is reported throws fuel on the fire of hatred, discrimination and influences public opinion, which, in turn, can influence policy—and not for the better.   Boldrini opposes the current trend of thinking of migration as a security issue, further criminalizing the crossing of borders.


She has stated,” . . . but the Italian media has never gone beyond the old cliché, they have not updated their way of speaking about this phenomenon, they have not challenged either in terms of language (which is always poor, simplistic, belittling) or in terms of content.  Immigration is thus seen almost exclusively in relation to the facts of crime, judgment and landings.” Boldrini correctly believes that the current media stance does not allow us to “ contextualize migration flows as the human aspect of globalization, which allows for an exchange of opportunities.”

Boldrini has thanked Giorgio Napolitano, the President of the Republic, calling him a “rigorous protector of national unity and constitutional values,” and plans to follow suit: to act “in such a way that this institution will be a place for those citizens who need it most,” given her attention to “those who have lost hope and security.”  She vows, to “battle against poverty, not against the poor.”

Finally, Boldrini has spoken in the strongest terms for the reform of the Bossi-Fini Immigration and the Security Law.   Boldrini is not an armchair activist.  She does not sentimentalize the condition of those whose lives’ she seeks to improve.  She understands how langue shapes our perception of reality.  She understands that the Bossi-Fini Immigration law does nothing to integrate immigrants into society, but instead, often leaves them feeling as guests, who, sooner or later, will surely overstay their welcome.


Boldrini, in the lower chamber, will assuredly be working diligently to change things or exhaust herself trying.

Finally, some hope.



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Words Matter: The Associated Press Discontinues the Use of the Term “Illegal Immigrant”

Remember that little ditty our mother’s taught us as a mantra to ward off those who bullied and teased us?

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

Um, your mother was wrongSo was mine.

Words matter. Words can hurt like hell. Words can break you.

In an interesting move and one that activists applaud, the Associated Press has banned the term “illegal immigrant”.   But before we all get too excited, the AP have expressed a desire to avoid “labels” rather than show sensitivity toward immigrants, though they would like to be sensitive to others’ feelings.  Standards editor, Tom Kent told TIME magazine,” We’re trying to put the emphasis not on describing people but on describing actions or situations that they are in.”  They have also rejected “undocumented immigrants,” because even that language lacks the precision they strive for.

Illegal Immigrants CrackdownWords are important.  Our language shapes our perception of reality and others’ perceptions of our condition(s) as well.  Ask any “single mother” whose “illegitimate” children come from a “broken” home.  No one who is reading this blog today will be ignorant of the endless list of labels that haunt, crush and defeat those who desperately try to bear up under them. You will have been a victim of at least one, possibly more.

Were you called lazy, clumsy, stupid, ugly, worthless, a bastard, a bitch early on or repeatedly in your life?  A faggot?  A retard?  A spaz?  A dago?  A wop?  A kike? A spic?  A loser?


It is nearly impossible to  escape a label once it takes hold, growing roots deep into your psyche and those around you. You can spend the rest of your life trying to live it down, change it , turn it around.  And it is exhausting.

See where I’m going here?

The reprehensible Glen Beck weighed in ,  veritably foaming at the mouth: “They’re illegal!  They’re illegal!  They’re illegal!  They are here illegally!!!”  Glen Beck enjoys taxonomies, it helps him to keep people in dark, cramped boxes, away from him, labeled appropriately.

I wish someone would make Glen Beck illegal. Real quick, please.  We wouldn’t have to call him illegal.  We could just deny him the use of hate rhetoric and all that . Free speech be damned.  I know.  I know. Forgive me.

Alternate terms?  A few have been proposed.  The AP rejects “out of status” for being even more imprecise.  And so it goes.  And while the AP rejected the term “illegal immigrants” for precision and stylistic purpose rather than out of the goodness of their collective hearts, I am totally okay with that, because they eventually, will set the standard and I feel confident they will come up with something acceptable.

Sharam Khosravi, author of ”Illegal Traveller” states that once the refugee, the migrant, the immigrant is thought of in a certain way or is thus labeled, it is difficult or impossible to escape:

The invisible border keeps immigrants strangers for generations.  The Sisyphian plight of integration extends even to the next generation. The border exposes me to a gaze that does not see me as an individual but meets me as a type.  The visual field is not neutral.  The gaze is hierarchically interwoven complex of gender, racial and class factors.



Sartre was right:

L’enfer c’est les autres.”  (Hell is other people)


Calling immigrants illegal contributes to their invisibility.  Denies them access to humanity, respect, consideration and intervention.  In Italy they are called “clandestino,” forever hiding in the shadows for fear of being exposed for their “illegality.”

Khosravi speaks of not only crossing physical borders, but also, then, forever attempting to negotiate the borders in peoples’ minds—and insidious border, daunting, indeed.  “An invisible border,” Khosravi astutely observes, “is, however, impossible to reach.”


He continues:

“ Being at home means belonging, but it also means constructing borders and excluding the other.  Any kind of group identification constructs the social category of the other.”

Group identification.  And who does the identifying?  Whoever is not in the unfortunate position of being labeled.

Forgive me my philosophical rant today.  I have a lot of these issues on my mind, as usual.   Every girl deserves, in fact needs, a “rant” every once in a while.  But wait.  I don’t want to label this a “rant” which has a negative connotation.  Because the words I’ve put down here were not penned lightly.  I am  nothing if not passionate about this.


To close I should mention that immigration activists have praised the AP’s stylistic decision as well as the National Association of Hispanic Journalists who issued this statement:

“Those demeaning titles are not only inaccurate and disrespectful, but a propaganda tool used to dehumanize a group of people and instill fear in the general population in order to establish policy.”

I will end with another little ditty that both my grandmother and my mother, in their infinite wisdom repeated to me often:

eat your words

“Make your words short and sweet for someday you may have to eat them.” 

Thanks, Mom.  This one is not a lie.

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Clearly, Delusion is a Disease and it is Catching

In 2011 more than 1,500 people drowned or went missing in an attempt to cross the Mediterranean.  The United Nations High Commission for Refugees began keeping statistics on crossings in 2006 , which has made 2011 the deadliest year in the Mediterranean.  Lately, Spain , Italy and Malta have experienced the largest sea arrivals.

in the ocean

Waves  of refugees continue to sail onto  both Italian and Maltese shores.  Of late, authorities have found four boats with a total of 342 migrants.  Of those four boats, three were intercepted by Italian coast guards—a total of 260—and were taken to Lampedusa.  Most of the migrants were said to be from Somalia.  They send out a distress signal as the engine in their dinghy failed, as they often do on these treacherous trips.

I know enough to understand that surviving the journey through the Mediterranean , while horrific to both mind and body , sadly, is not the hardest part for those seeking a better life.  Landing on shore may provide a momentary relief until real life sets in and the lack of what one has or hopes for both increase one hundred fold.

men in boats

There is reality and then there is REALITY.

And the reality for refugees is that there will be minimal help patriating them as they try to mentally, physically and socially try to recalibrate their lives.  They will no longer be seen for who they really are.  They are no longer really individuals and they will be largely avoided in the streets.  They will become the “unseen”.  They will become, by virtue of their non-person status, indistinguishable from one another.  They are now lumped together as “refugees” , those without work, sometimes without a home.  They will be pitied , but avoided, reviled , mocked and used as a scapegoat for terrible economy that has assailed most of the European Union.

In the midst of boats arriving from African nations , immigrants are now rethinking their decision to live and work in Italy and are now turning their backs on Italy and it’s recession.  Italy is now experiencing its longest postwar recession, making the climb back a long and hard one.  Italy’s low birthrate (nearly the lowest in the world) needs immigrants in the workforce, but there seems to be no work. Italy’s demographics has largely depended on immigrants to bolster its numbers.


Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi fears the a government of leftwing Democrats which he believes would lead to instances of gay marriage and borders open to illegal immigrants.  Democrats would answer these fears by leading the polls with a promise to grant citizenship to the children of immigrants born in Italy.

Racism is rampant in Italy.  Those immigrants who cannot abide in a weak and failing economy will ask for assisted repatriation in their countries of origin. The hardworking Chinese are leaving in droves.  The vulnerable who arrive in dinghy’s, on rickety boats, who are sun-sick, thirsty and half-crazed with fear and the missing of loved ones, will be the scapegoats for those who think that they are the real problem.  Worse, they will forever be seen as sad “cases”  instead of  men and women who had real lives, lives of meaning  before arriving in Italy.

My good  friend Mody , who I have written about so many times here before,  a refugee from Sudan recently spoke passionately about his lot in life  to a group of my students in Sicily. He moved a room full of students to tears, because he dared to show who he really is, refused to allow them to see him only as a “victim” or as a non-person whose previous life , before he came to Italy, was wiped away.  Mody is still unemployed, devoid of hope, disgusted with the system, angry with Italy in general,  but a man of great intelligence and  and even more dignity.

Among many other things, he told them:

This is not the whole story of me, what you see here of me in Italy.  I am a man who had a country.  I have a mother.  Sisters. Brothers.  People who love me.  I had a job. Things that were important to me.  This is not the whole story of me. 

Racist attacks in Italy are on the rise.  The reasons? Because immigrants have jobs.  Because immigrants don’t have jobs. Because they are black. Because they talk funny.  Smell funny.  Look menacing.  Are responsible for the rising crime rates.  Because they cause instabilities in  long established neighborhoods. Name your reason.


It is all a mixed and crazy bag of sad circumstances.  Clearly, delusion is a disease and it is catching.

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