Immigrants in Italy don’t speak the language very well; they tend not to try very hard to fit in with cultural norms and expectations; they tend to keep to their own kind and don’t mix very often with Italians or have many Italian friends; they eat their own food or wish they could; why don’t the shops stock foreign food they ask? Why are they here, or why do they stay, if they keep complaining about the state of the country and how it isn’t like it is in their homeland? They continue to support their home football team.
I am an immigrant living in Italy. But I’m called an expat. All the above applies, or has applied, to me and other “expats” that I know (although obviously not all) rather than the more conventionally thought of immigrants. I write the above to highlight and question the gulf between these two loaded words. Immigrants in Italy (and the UK) face these criticisms and prejudice. But expats?
A Briton resident in France might refer to himself as an expat, but call a Polish resident of France an immigrant, as if somehow there is a distinction to be made; implying that there is a sort of hierarchy of foreignness.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to be born in a country and still be treated as foreign. I will never, ever be seen as Italian. Definitely una straniera, a foreigner, literally a stranger. Too blond, too white, too reserved. But that classifies me as an expat not an immigrant. You see the Brits, white Brits, are allowed to live wherever we want. We should be able to live wherever we want, unquestioningly so. Can you imagine anyone in the UK being accepted if they didn’t speak English after living in the UK for a year, never mind four years as in my case here in Rome?
For Italy, immigration is a relatively new phenomenon. Historically, Italians have been more a country of people who emigrate. Immigration has only really happened here since the 1980s. The recent appointment of the first black government minister, Cecile Kyenge, led to revolting comments from some political groups. So much so that the new Prime Minister, Enrico Letta read the following statement about immigrants:
“Generally they are short and dark-skinned. Many stink because they wear the same clothes for weeks. They construct shacks to live in, on the outskirts. When they do live in the city centre they rent run-down apartments; they appear at first, two of them looking for a room and a kitchen, and soon after a few days there are four of them, then six, eight, 10. They speak an incomprehensible language. They use their children to beg with, while in front of the churches women and the old ask for pity in complaining and irritating tones. They produce lots of children and struggle to keep them.”
The statement was taken from an American report about Italian immigrants in 1912. I love him a little bit after that.
See the whole press conference here:
Sometimes we all need a different perspective.
The irony of complaining about immigrants in their own country while living the life of an expat escapes the British. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/09/british-abroad-expats-immigrants-indians.
It doesn’t escape me. Food for thought?