Friday, November 04, 2011

“New Italians” – Leadership in the Immigrant Communities

Lele Luzzati’s picture of the she-wolf playing with children of different colours while looking after her foundlings is a perfect image of an Italy we hope is being created. And with a little help from our friends we made a tiny contribution last month with a two day seminar for potential future immigrant community leaders working with the Rome city authorities.

The biggest single change in Italy over the last 20 year is not Berlusconi despite the coverage he gets – it is the dramatically changing face (literally) of the country to immigration, the first peaceful influx of people since the Roman empire.

So far, the experience has been largely positive both for Italians and for the new arrivals and their children but there is no reason to presume that it will always be like that. Already the Northern League has started trying to ride a racist tiger and other politicians are tempted by easy and vicious populism. There have been no riots like the ones in Lancashire in 2001 or in the Paris banlieues in 2005 but the Italian immigrant experience is hardly 20 years old. There are a lot of us who would like Italy to learn from the mistakes of other Europeans and north Americans… put frivolously, to make new mistakes and not the same ones that the British, the French, the Americans have made.

According to the latest Caritas report on immigration in Italy, there are 4,570,000 regular immigrants, or more than 7.5% of the population. Italy has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. When I came to Italy in the 1974, there was one foreign restaurant in the whole of Rome (Eau vive, a French restaurant run by Vietnamese nuns) and a non-white face in the street was a rarity. Today, Rome is still not comparable to London, New York or Paris but it is becoming multicultural. There are ethnic restaurants everywhere, businesses run by immigrants, carers from eastern Europe and Asia and building workers from eastern Europe. Even the village in the country where I do my weekend shopping there is an internet and remittance centre in the square run by Bengladeshis and round the corner, a new shop selling Romanian groceries.

Despite the language used by the Northern League and other anti-immigrant politicians, immigrants contribute massively to Italian society – with their labour which generates growth for the Italian economy and with their presence and their children. Italy is declining both economically and demographically.

The issues are how to integrate this presence.

Since 2003, Rome city council has had four adjunct councillors elected on a continental basis – the Americas, Africa, Asia and (eastern) Europe by resident non-EU citizens (EU citizens have had the vote and the possibility of standing for election since 1997). The have voice but no vote in the council.

Over the last few years, they have presented parts of their constituencies’ cultures – mostly their food and music; it’s more difficult to be anti-immigrant in the middle of a party. This year the fourth edition of “I mondi a Roma” enlisted The American University of Rome to organise a seminar for future leaders.

There are something under a million “new Italians” or “second generation” and 24 of them attended two full day seminars along with a wide variety of others. The aim was to give participants some of the knowledge and skills they might need as well giving them some sort of inspiration and sensation that immigration in Italy is an opportunity not a problem. They were also expected to complete exercises, some on real issues (how would you spend a €500,000 EU grant to support media campaigns for integration), some on more hypothetical but controversial issues (how would you deal with a riot in a poor part of Rome after a policeman shot a young immigrant) or less controversial (how would you mediate the different community needs in the urban renewal of a city square).

On the first day, Rodolfo Giorgetti and Stefania Congia of the Italian Ministry of Labor and Social Policy explained how immigration and diversity enrich the host country and the Ministry’s integration policies. Barbara Fridel and Simona Moscarelli of the International Organization for Migration laid out the legal rights and duties of migrants and governments and finally Maurizio Malogioglio of the Food and Agriculture Organization explained how the importance of remittances.

The four councillors gave their experiences. Madisson Godoy, himself from Ecuador spoke about how the Latin American diaspora contributes to politics at “home” and in the adopted country. Tetyana Kuzyk from the Ukraine talked about role of women – the majority of immigrants for eastern Europe are women and her surprise that Italian women only got the vote in 1946. Victor Okeadu from Nigeria addressed the broader qualities needed for leadership and Romulo Sabio from the Philippines (with a first name like that, his destiny was obviously sealed) explained how a toothpick could become a symbol of office – when the council votes the hundreds of amendments to the annuale budget, the majority has to vote no each time so before the divisions, the group leader distributes toothpicks to jam the “NO” button on the voting panel. As the adjuncts have no vote, that toothpick took on the significance of a royal mace or sceptre. Fabrizio Molina from the NGO “Nessun Luogo è Lontano” showed what political leadership can achieve and Giuseppe Casucci from the UIL’s Migration section explained what the labor movement can do for migrants. And we ended with a workshop prepared by my colleagues Isabella Clough Marinaro and Bjørn Thomassen and myself.

In the distant past, the Empire had non-natives at its head – three of the greatest emperors were foreign born; Trajan in Iberia, Diocletian in Illyria and Septimius Severus in Tripolitania. The Roman Church was rigorously Italian in its leadership from the 16th century until John Paul II but the new Italian nation was formed with the help of Garibaldini from all over the world and one prime minister, Sydney Sonnino had a Welsh mother.

There have already been some naturalised Italian members of parliament but usually by marriage. At the moment, there is one deputy originally from sub-Saharan Africa and one originally from North Africa. With luck there will be more very soon in the Chamber and in the city council.

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