lunedì 21 marzo 2011

FLORENCE: Nicholas Signoriello Specials: What Does It Mean To Be Italian?

What Does It Mean To Be Italian?
by Nicholas Signoriello

Much of the political discourse in recent weeks has been focused on immigration, primarily the thousands of refugees fleeing in from North Africa. Italy is a country that only began experiencing mass immigration in recent decades; and in my opinion the future of Italian identity is uncertain. Italians are still divided on their views of immigrants becoming citizens and views on this “new generation of Italians” differ from region to region. Many believe that in the ever-globalizing world we live in, there is no reason to stop the inevitable: immigrants are the future of Italy's economy. Even if Italy wanted to prevent that outcome, it wouldn’t have the means to do so. Many will never be able to accept immigrants and their children as truly Italian.

On a sentimental level, it can never be right to send a refugee back to the brutal regime from which he fled. On the other hand, I am skeptical about the idea of accepting immigrants with open arms. Here why: Italy's neighbor, France, started experiencing mass waves of immigrants much earlier than Italy did given its mass colonization of Africa. For example, around 1 million immigrants went to France in the early 1960s when Algeria gained independence (this is while Italy was still a country of mass emigration). The early years of immigration into France were welcomed as the migrants were economically essential to the country; but fast forward to today and the modern identity crisis about what it means to be French. France is now home to the largest Muslim population in all of Europe and there are constant cultural clashes between people who identify themselves as “historically French” and the second generation children who also identify themselves as French. Both communities experience racial abuse from each other on a daily basis and their communities are largely segregated. For this reason, I am curious about what the future holds for Italy, a country that has a more conservative population and has generally been stereotyped as a not tremendously welcoming to “outsiders.”

In my opinion, it is only natural that an immigrant may never feel 100% Italian, much like many of the immigrants into France never felt 100% French. I think the problem may begin with the children of immigrants who DO feel 100% Italian. Truthfully, I don’t know if Italy is going to fall into an Italian identity crisis like the one in France, but I do think it is something to consider when discussing the future of Italian immigrants.

If France's generally liberal government needs to make a controversial decision to ban veils in public places, what is going to happen when these questions begin to arise in Italy? Florence, which is one of the more progressive and liberal cities in Italy, already experienced a hint of these new generation questions when the cities government was approached with the idea of building a large mosque for the growing Muslim population here. The idea was turned down even after a proposal was launched to build it in the classical architecture of the Renaissance. Again, Italy's immigrant population from Muslim countries is still relatively low but it is growing quickly, and one day the question is sure to be asked: “What does it mean to be Italian?”

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