The election of Congo-born Cécile Kyenge as integration minister back in April 2013 has put a global spotlight on Italy’s race problem and revealed some deeply conflicting feelings among Italians about immigration. Though international observers were already familiar with the racist taunts faced by black footballers and the former prime minister’s reference to Obama’s ‘tan,’ they have been shocked to hear not only about the kind of abuse Kyenge has been facing but also the fact that it comes from fellow politicians.
Those who have made the most grievous slurs are being brought to task, for the most part.
Read the rest of my latest article in The Florentine, "Growing Pains: Italy's Race Problem," here.
Just a few days later, Patricia Thomas published this lovely and complementary post, "The Changing Colors of Italy" on Mozzarella Mamma--one of those blogs whose posts I never miss. Here she's referring to Gianluca Luciano who started www.stranieriinitalia.it ("Foreigners in Italy") in 2000 and now has 1.5 million readers:
Luciano explained that the majority of immigrants work in manufacturing, elderly care, domestic work as baby-sitters and house-cleaners, or in agriculture, cultivating tomatoes, apples and oranges. According to Luciano, “Italians do not want to do these jobs because they are tiring and are not paid well,” adding that he discussed this matter with an official for an agricultural workers’ Union representing workers gathering apples and tomatoes. The Union official told Luciano that for Italians that kind of job is not “socially prestigious enough.” ...
I asked Luciano to explain to me how it is possible with 40 percent youth unemployment that people can afford to worry about what is “socially prestigious.” I explained to him that as an American I was raised being told that even if I had to clean toilets, collect garbage and sweep floors, if that was my job, I should do it with my head held high. Work is work. He laughed and told me that he is married to an American so he knows well the mentality, but it is not the same in Italy, “Italy is a provincial country. People would prefer to remain at home than do certain types of work. The family will not let go of you. In this country fathers take care of their children. Sons grow up to be little princes and daughters grow up to be little princesses. The academic studies are paid for, and parents pay for the first home for a newlywed couple. This is our welfare system.”
So, given that Italian population growth is nearly at zero, given that the population is rapidly aging, you would think Italians would be thrilled with the influx of foreigners from other countries, having babies, doing the dirty work and paying for their pensions. Given the reaction to Italy’s first black Minister, Cecile Kyenge, this does not seem to be the case.
I just adore how she writes about this topic. She links to past examples in her post.