Reporting for The New York Times from Rome last week, Elisbetta Povoledo wrote: "The Italian government said Thursday that the return of 227 migrants to Libya before they could land in Italy should be adopted as the new model for dealing with illegal immigration and be extended to the rest of Europe." Commenting on these and related anti-immigrant moves in I-Italy George De Stefano wrote "Not only has Premier Silvio Berlusconi wholeheartedly endorsed the leghista send ‘em back policy; he aligned himself ideologically with the Lega when he recently declared that Italy will not become a multiethnic country."
He might have also noted that the Italian Right's comically frantic attempts to turn back the clock to a time when non-Italians hadn't polluted (or blessed) Italy's shores is guaranteed to fail (as are face-lifts, liposuction, and hair transplants).
Like it or not, Italy is already the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural nation that Silvio and his occasional sidekick (accolito) Umberto Bossi both abhor. On the other hand, Italy does have every right, and indeed every obligation, to combat illegal immigration and to also demand that the other members of the European Union contribute to the effort. Equally responsible for the human disasters that take place daily, are the North African countries from which so many of the tired and the poor are cast adrift on hardly sea-worthy craft after having paid hefty prices for their perilous voyage. Unfortunately, the Italian Right seems more comfortable with attacking diversity rather than the problems of migrants before and after they get to the promised land of Italy on their way, they dream, to economically sunnier shores.
As in the United States, scapegoating immigrants and foreigners in general for the mess created by indigenous politicians is a common diversion. When was the last time an African street merchant was caught bribing a government official so he could dump megatons of industrial waste in Campania? How many Egyptian pizza makers (pizzaioli
) are selling derivatives on the Milan stock exhange? online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20090507-717953.html
Beginning with the first Africans, who walked to Italy via the Pleistocene land bridge some tens of thousands of years ago, to those who swam ashore just a few minutes ago, Italy (and Italians) have been fashioned and re-fashioned by a motley (variopinto) crew of folks from the south, east, north, and west. I am a proud product of that mongrelization. Last week when I spoke at a memorial service for an old friend and colleague, Rocco Caporale, I noted that he was one of the few people I knew who didn't ask this light-skinned, blue-eyed, six foot, at one time dirty-blond, with "Krase" as a last name why he was interested in things Italian.
And, as to those things Italian, a few weeks ago I made a pilgrimage to visit the land of my mother's people - Sicily - more specifically the hill town of Marineo near Palermo and adjacent to the Plain of the Albanians (Piana degli Albanesi) . There I visited the castle that my grandfather Girolamo Cangelosi told my mother he lived in, and spent a drizzly afternoon walking around, inflicting my terrible Italian language on men in the streets and women in the shops. The castle is now a museum that celebrates the historical contributions of the many groups that settled in the area and left their imprint on the landscape and the people. I also visited the church, St. Ciro's, where my great grandparents (bisnonni) were married, and the nearby town cemetery richly decorated with variants of the names Cangelosi and Trentacosti.
This gentleman was kind enough to tell me about his five brothers who migrated to New York
(At least I think he told me that).
Il Cimitero, presso a Marineo.
Wherever we went in Sicily, we found signs of foreigners (stranieri) past and present; -- in the people, in the food, in the architecture, in the language, and the culture. I saw nothing that reminded me of the reactionary intolerance that appears too often on the stage of Italian national and international politics and which threatens the sophisticated, cultured, and cosmopolitan image that Italy has struggled so hard to create. Mafiosi and Fascisti are equal enemies of the people and "no al pizzo" and "no al razismo" should be said within the same breath.
Greek Ruins in Selinunte
Byzantine Chapel, in Palermo
La Kalsa, Medieval Saracen ( Saraceno mediavale) settlement in Palermo