Category Archives: Profile

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

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.

laura-boldrini-presidente-della-camera

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.

Migranti

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

Finally, some hope.

 

 

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Sri Lankan Immigrant Anura Ranith Wijemanna: An Artist Living in Rome


The first thing you notice upon meeting Anura Ranjith Wijemanna is  that he is a humble man, refreshing in an age where self-aggrandizement is the order of the day.  Originally from Sri Lanka, he now lives with his family in Rome, but Anura is a success story for how an immigrant with little less than pure desire to make a better life for himself, can not only succeed , but thrive.  I met Anura through a friend who introduced us.  We spoke in a busy Sicilian caffe, with several friends at the table with us as we navigated our cafe macchiato’s , capuccino’s ,cornettos and newspapers being opened and read. Lots of  coss conversations going on. A typical Italian morning.

I was a bit irritated that day.  I was not able to properly focus, and apologized to Anura, who showed no irritation whatsoever.  I realized that he was wondering what I was making such a fuss about !  This was the first clue I had to this absolutely remarkable man.  A man  who, against the odds has done quite well for himself, but has no want or need for praise or publicity. He simply lives and works the life he believes in. I felt humbled.

Anura 1

Anura tells me his story in a very straight forward way.  Laying out details one at a time.  He had been a journalist working in Columbo.  He fell upon hard economic times and decided to follow some friends that were settled in Rome.   He pretended to be a tourist, but in reality liked what he saw and was willing to “bend to any humiliating job” in order to stay.   He kept his eye on the society around him and was determined to do what he had to do to eat, but knew that , eventually, he could make something of himself.  After working has a house cleaner in for two years, he was desperate to find work that nurtured the creative part of himself he found hard to suppress.   Back at home in Sri Lanka, his hobbies were artistic ones: music and art.  His ambition became to do something that Italians not only valued, but were known for:  restoration.  He used his own initiative and brought his collected sketches and painting to a business man who was a decorative designer.  Anura told me that this man fell in love with his work and hired him.  His knowledge of Italian was understandably limited at the time,  the words he learned were limited  to the terminology that existed around cleaning tools and courteous expressions.    “I did my very best to earn money in my job, but of course I was not paid as much as Italians were.”   He ended up working for the man for 3 years before the business went bankrupt.  But that was actually an opportunity for him as it was the impetus he needed to go into business for himself.   He was commissioned by house owners to do restoration work on their homes.  Sadly, though not surprisingly , he had to compensate for not being Italian by lowering his prices, receiving far less than what his work was worth.   When Anura tells me this, I am surprised at the total lack of bitterness in his voice.

Anura 2

Due to the Martelli law, named after primary author and sponsor of the law, then Prime Minister Claudia Martelli, which, in its simplest terms gave immigrants permission to stay in Italy (soggiorno).  Basically, a period of a 2 year stay, renewable for 4 years if the immigrant can prove that he had work and was making an income.  Some say this law was passed at the time that the World Cup was going to be held in Italy—an easy way to record the number of immigrants in the country.  The Martelli law, however,  allowed him the freedom and security to return home.

Tools of the trade

When his father died, being the only son with three sisters, it was his responsibility to the family to return to Sri Lanka.  At that point he’d been in Italy for 6 years.  Once there, he stayed for 3 months with his family where he visited the tomb of his father , asking him for spiritual help to succeed.    While there, he enjoyed everything the place of his birth had to offer:  friendship, roots , food, cricket.  Anura  is rather quiet and serious, but when he tells me this, his handsome features break into an almost beatific smile.  Where we are born  is home , it seems ,  no matter where in the world we may find ourselves.  I was struck by Anura’s composure and dignity as he recounted the details of his life without embellishment, in a soft-spoken voice.

Anura 3

At 51 years old, Anura looks at least 15 years younger.  Perhaps it is his serenity.  Perhaps it is his devotion to his own happiness.  He has a wife who he loves more than “the pizza in Naples”  and a son he adores.   His life consists of devotion to his family , his art and his music.  Anura is a talented drummer who plays on his own and with other bands in Italy.   I met him in Sicily where he had been staying for one month working on the restoration of a hotel.

Art

When I ask him what the secret to his success was, he says m matter of factly, ” As an artist I had skills that were easily transferrable.”   With that  he said that he needed to be on his way.  He was returning to Rome.  His manners are impeccable and he needlessly  thanked me for speaking with him. He  buttoned up his navy blue peacoat, placing the portfolio he’d brought to show me under his arm.  We said goodbye.  I watched him walk away , his back strong and straight.  I remembered something that he said, something I quickly wrote in my notes: ” I just always wanted to be able to embrace something bigger than society itself.”

As simple as that.  And if I truly didn’t know better, I’d think it was easy.

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Morrocan Immigrant in Salina: Mohamed, 11 years old


Walking through the winding, steep streets of Salina one day with my friends, we come upon a boy with his father—acquaintances of my companions. The boy,  Mohamed, as I would later find out his name, was one of the most handsome kids I’d ever seen. He greeted us in the familiar Muslim fashion along with a gesture I have come to love as the epitome of sincerity, goodwill and gentleness:  the touching of the heart with the right hand.  A few pleasantries were exchanged and then father and son went their way and we went ours.   The sun was so hot that day and the heat nearly unbearable as we made our way up the steep hills .  I could not get Mohamed out of my mind.  I wondered what his life is like in Sicily.

Mohamed

Sicily has a decent Moroccan population  on the island of Salina.  It is a very tight-knit and organized community.  In general, my inquiries coupled with my own observations are testament to the fact that the immigrant and native populations get along very well.  In fact, most immigrants, despite the dearth of work on the island, are quite happy to be there and do not complain of the alienation or maltreatment that immigrants in other places in Sicily are plagued by.  This could be , of course, due to the simple fact that it is prudent to live in harmony on an island—-everyone knows everyone else and live in close proximity to one another, pass each other on the same roads every day and market in the same limited choice of markets.

Sitting in the front yard one day, I see a small handsome face looking at me through the wrought-iron gate.  Mohamed was asking me if my friend, Ramzi, was in.  I told him he was and he came in and sat down  with his hands in his lap and waited.  I grabbed my notebook (never far from me) and began asking Mohamed some questions in Italian.  Polite to a fault, he answered quietly and with a dignity that many three times his age do not possess.  I find out that Mohamed is eleven years old.  He has two sisters.  He was born in Morocco, and came to Salina at the age of eight.    He loves Salina, truly. He tells me.  “Questa e Il mio posto.” (This is my home/place)

Mohamed speaks Italian  and is learning English as well as Arabic in order to keep his roots to his homeland. Many of these immigrants will return, unfortunately, without skills, to their mother countries, only to become immigrants, once again, in the country in which they were born.  Mohamed, hopefully, will be one of the lucky ones. It is particularly a difficult situation for girls, though.

My friend tells me that he and Mohamed are friends on Facebook and when I feign disappointment and ask him if I can be his friend on Facebook, too, he breaks into a radiant smile and says “Prego!”

He stays for a bit and eats some pomegranate seeds  picked right from the tree in the front yard, out of  glass with a spoon, slowly and carefully.  I look at Mohamed and feel my heart contract:  he has most definitely been raised well.   I ask him if I can take some photos of him. His smile is a shy one, but he quickly agrees:”Si!”  But he won’t really look at the camera which I can’t understand.   He sets his glass down and says he must go home.  He assures me he will come back. Soon.

He is as good as his word and when he returns something is different.   I see he has changed into a fresh shirt and , lo and behold, he has jelled his hair, that now stands up in glistening spikes.  We talk some more and then he gets up to leave. I tell him we will talk again.

It isn’t until after he leaves, that I realize that I failed to take a picture of him in his fresh shirt and his jelled hair.  My friend scolds me with a  disappointed look.  I feel bad. I hope the pictures that I have taken do him justice.  My friend tells me, and I agree, that he predicts great things for Mohamed; he has intelligence and compassion.

A few days later, sitting at an outdoor cafe in the relentless sun, my lemon granita melting quicker than I can eat it, I seem Mohamed, his two sisters and his mother , a serene looking  woman in a soft pink headscarf.  She has just picked her children up from school.  They walk by the cafe and Mohamed’s eyes light up when he sees me.  He waves and calls softly “Ciao!”  Again, my heart contracts.  For all of the stories one can observe and tell about the suffering of immigrants, migrants, and refugees, there are others that are content , dare I say happy.  Mohamed is one among many in a community of immigrants and native Sicilians that definitely  seems to work.

Mohamed’s town

My eyes follow him as his mother, weaving in between cars, guides her children to the side of the road.  Momamed touches his right hand, quickly to his heart.  I touch mine, too, in response.  But he has already turned away.  He puts a protective hand on his younger sister’s back, just as I would expect him to.   They all walk up the hill together.  I notice , with a full heart and  that without fail, they greet everyone that they see.

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Immigrant Profile, Musa Soumah: “I am keeping my smile to use as a passport”.


I first glimpsed Musa while he was sitting with a friend in a cafe in Salina, Sicily.  He looked forlorn and barely raised his  head when my friend Ramzi greeted him: “Salam Wa Alaikum!”  With some effort, Musa smiled, weakly, responding in the familiar Muslim way: “Wa Alaikum Salam.”  Later, we found out that Musa had just gotten word that his mother had passed away.  Musa Soumah is a native of Guinea and was mourning his mother deeply. It was the latest sorrow piled upon so many  others that he has had to deal with lately.

Musa Soumah

Musa is homeless, but he wasn’t always in this situation.  He had come to Sicily with the promise of a job.  Rather than through a treacherous route across the Mediterranean with the aid of a human trafficker, Musa actually flew into Salina, on his own,  and worked for a time in a hotel on the island.  He was making enough money to support his wife and his seven year old son back home.  He worked hard and had a sense of accomplishment, feeling luckier than most.  But then he lost his job.  And for the past five months, he has been without a job and without a  home—or even a regular place to sleep.

Musa is young, but has the air of someone much older, careworn.  He is very thin, which make his expressive eyes look very, very large.  He speaks softly and slowly, almost as if the effort  to do so is  just too much.  I want to ask him how he eats , where he sleeps, washes himself. Almost as if sensing my curiosity he offers: “I live in places around Salina, like old houses that have walls , but no roof.  Every night I sleep in a different place; wherever I can.”

Out of a small , black shoulder bag, Musa produces his passport, proud of the document that allowed him to travel legally, with dignity.  He allows me to take a picture of it.  The man in the passport, young and hopeful,  is a different one that is watching me look at his picture. I look into Musa’s eyes and smile, but he is weary.   I am not sure if telling his story feels cathartic or if it just brings to the surface the hurt and disappointment he tries to sublimate.

Musa’s Passport

I ask him why he doesn’t leave Salina and go somewhere else in search of work.   He smiles and tell me that he loves the place and he knows everyone.  I can well understand  and cannot imagine the effort it would take him to pick up and leave for another place—and with what resources?  “I only know the road from the airport to Salina—I know no other road.”

As well, Musa tells me that his employment ended at a “vulnerable” time:  his passport, was due to expire, but he did not have the 300 Euro to pay for the renewal.   And money is a difficult subject.  His brother kept his earnings.  He never saw a dime of that money, realizing that his elder brother used the money for what his own wife and children needed. He said “I am so afraid to ask my brother for the money.  This is a cultural aspect of my culture: the elder brother dominates the others. It is a dictatorship in the home.”  Of his mother, he speaks with unbridled love and admiration, and tells of the sacrifices she made for him and his siblings.   And he credits her, a good Muslim woman, with the reason he no longer drinks:  he promised his mother he would never drink and has, and intends to keep, his promise.   Musa considers himself a good Muslim, and notes that while the Moroccan community on Salina has a mosque he could attend, he prefers to pray at home.  He tells me that the prophet Muhammad was against racism , but sometimes those at the mosque are racist. And then sometimes they treat him okay.

Musa Soumah

Musa seems tired.  Finally, he tells me , ” I am sad.  I am deeply offended by so many things, but I manage to hide it.  I am a foreigner, I can’t go around with an angry and sad face.  If you are a foreigner, you better be joyful, otherwise if you show any negativity or sadness, people won’t talk to you or sit next to you.   It is a very small community and it is better  that I keep them all friends.    But speaking to you I can tell you that I am full of anger, delusion and sadness.   But, I am keeping my smile to use as a passport.”

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Diana Mirea, Immigrata Romena in Sicilia: La Lotta Contro Tanti Pregiudizi


Diana Mirea, gives a first-person account of her life as a Romanian immigrant living in Sicily, and fighting to survive against many different kinds of prejudice and discrimination.

I came to Italy in 1997 as a handball coach for La Polisport Siracusa Seria A1 (  a top league for women’s handball ), I ended up playing also, even though I was a bit old , but to make sure they payed me , I had to play all the games because we needed players.

Diana Mirea

When I left this field , I was so shocked  when I decided to stay and live in Siracusa, Sicily.  I could not find   find a job to satisfy  my university title.   I have a degree in economy and society managing.  People kept  offering me jobs as a house maid job  and  a cleaner ,  but  nothing else was offered .  They would   only look at my citizenship  not at my CV.  Once they would they meet me in person, then they would just want to go to bed with me.  I am tall and blond and even though I am 51 years old, men here are only interested in getting in my bed or taking me in theirs.

Sometimes I want to scream.   I want to say to every body :  please read my CV! I want a job ! I don’t want to be the “baby” of  the man in charge. . .

I have suffered enough here, for sure.    I love siracusa , I love sicily , and  I have many good friends , but as an immigrant I suffer, as a single women I suffer. As a Romanian I am not appreciated . My son Robert came here with me to Sicily and went to Italian school.  He  went back to Bucarest to work after earning  his diploma here.  Now, back at home in Romania where life is easier for him.  He goes to university and has a job, he is enjoying his life , he is doing well, and that  make me feel better.

I can go back home to and have a great life. . . but that would mean , that I failed, that  I failed in making my way , in affirming my stay here. . .  so I accept the challenge and I will stay to fight for the next generation of good Romanians . . . I know very well that there are Romanians doing bad things here, but this does not mean that we area all the same! And it doesn’t mean that we don’t deserve to live in peace and with dignity. . .

I have noticed that people don’t want to give a chance to others only for one reason…  they want to dominate us . . . to keep people like us  under their wing … and  all of this reminds me of  the regime that we had in Romania .

When I ran away from the life I had and from my husband, I knew what I wanted, but I feel left all on my own by those who call themselves “ethical,” who think they do things to help other people.  But , you know what?  I am a winner, because I will never accept a compromise.

I want to try to restart my life, investing all my knowledge and experience do great things.  I want to really be able to feel at home. . . not a house, but to feel wanted.  I also want to help people who are in need.   I know very well that I can help people where I am here in Sicily .  But I need a chance.  Only a chance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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