How easy is it to integrate into a new society? In Italy, it seems, not very easy at all. Even if you are highly educated. A politician. A doctor. Married to an Italian.
Immigration into a nation that has largely and for so long been a nation of emigrants has been struggling with its identity, with its rapidly changing demographic. If you look at the example of Italy, it would seem that many (not all) work on the assumption that Italians are all alike—one culture, unchanging over years. We know who we are , and we know who you are but you are not like us. The funny and all too obvious point is that Italy has never a country that was monocultural , and if present trends continue, never will be. By setting up distinctions of culture, divisions are created , boundaries are drawn. Hatred breeds.
I have mixed feelings about writing about Italy in this way—I am Italian-American. I travel to Italy often. Most Italians are beautiful people who have extended amazing hospitality to me. But the truth is, the racism is palpable. I cannot and I will not pretend or wish it away. There is no integration. I have argued with people about this—people who try to deny that this is a reality in Italy. They try to deny what I have seen with my own eyes. They are the same people that would and often do, deny the accounts of so, so many whose narratives are tell in vivid detail the suffering(s) they have experienced. You cannot pretend the racism does not exist simply because it is a bad reflection on your country, your heritage.
In my most recent post, Dr. Kossi Komla-Ebri, a medical doctor from Togo, living and working in Italy would counter claims that regular Italians are not racist and policies that do not help or favor immigrants are implemented against their wishes in this way:
“I keep saying it to other immigrants: do not be fooled that the government is doing things contrary to the will of the people! (emphasis mine) 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.” (Interview, Sempre Sicilia, April 28, 2013)
Now the Italian government has ordered an investigation into the case of the Cecile Kyenge, a medical doctor born in the Congo , living and working in Italy, married to an Italian man and raising her daughters. Kyenge is the first African Italian minister in the history of Italy. BOOM. Fodder for all of the neo-fascist and ultra-right wing hawks who have already been exhibiting the hatred, stupidity and xenophobic tendencies by making bizarre claims: Kyenge would like to “impose tribal traditions in Italy,” and calling her ugly and hateful names: “Congolese monkey” “zulu” and others. The politicians of the Northern League could barely contain themselves with their racist allegations and vulgarities. Kyenge is a proponent of legislation that would give children born in Italy to immigrant parents automatic citizenship instead of having to wait until they are 18 years old. This is legislation that is vehemently opposed by the Northern League.
Decent people, Italian politicians and others, including Laura Boldrini, Lower House speaker have raised their voices not only against the outrageous racial comments , but in support of Kyenge. But not for the first time, I must ask:where is the widespread outrage and indignation?
What must one do to prove themselves in a society? How long will it take? My maternal grandfather, a carpenter, used to tell the story over and over again about how , when doing work down south for a period of time, he was physically pushed to the back of the bus. No, he was not mistaken for a black man. People knew that he was Italian. And that he belonged in the back of the bus. This is what Italians, who left Italy for a better life, more often than not had to encounter. How ironic, that Italians are so unwelcoming to the “new Italians” immigrants from everywhere, but most particularly Africa.
Edmund Burke is often quoted as saying : “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” The world has seen evidence of this so many times.
The racism that Cecile Kyenge has faced in recent days is sickening and unconscionable. I hope that normal citizens as well as politicians condemn such racism in the strongest terms—-but that may be hoping for just too much. But we live in hope.