Racism in Italy: Encountering Ethnic Discrimination as a Foreigner

Racism in Italy: Encountering Ethnic Discrimination as a Foreigner

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I always find it an amusing and somewhat interesting phenomenon when I get a song stuck in my head. The other afternoon, for example, I had “Get Back” by The Beatles playing on a loop. Most days I have no idea why my brain seems to choose a particular song to play on repeat but on this particular day it seemed quite fitting that my subconscious had selected this song, given the event that had unfolded on the tram that morning.

As so often seems to happen in my Italy life, something wasn’t working. I had gotten lazy and forgotten to refill my cellphone, and I was now out of credit and text messages–a dire situation indeed. On top of that, the TIM website really did not like my American debit card. I had an hour free in between my classes to hop on the tram and make a beeline for the TIM store so that I could revive my depleted iPhone.

Then she ordered them to “speak Italian!” which then led to her loudly lamenting that she felt like a straniero, or stranger, in her own country.

Racism in Italy: Encountering Ethnic Discrimination as a Foreigner
Gabrielle in Italy

Needless to say, I was a little stressed, so when the two guys in the seats next to me started playing some great Middle Eastern music (I think it was Amr Diab) on their phone, I was more than happy to listen and be whisked away to another, less stressful place.

Unfortunately the Italian woman next to me was not as enthused. It started with the woman, a nonna if you will, remarking to her husband that the men were “such barbarians” for playing their music on the metro–and non-Italian music at that. Things escalated when another woman, in her 50s but young enough to know better, issued a torrent of insulting and nasty remarks. I am translating all of this from Italian, but it was perfectly clear what she was saying. She began by yelling that the guys were ill-mannered and inconsiderate for playing their music so loudly on the tram. Then she ordered them to “speak Italian!” which then led to her loudly lamenting that she felt like a straniero, or stranger, in her own country.

I am also a foreigner in Italy. I took a job away from an Italian, and I am receiving money from the Italian government since I work at a state school.

Of course the two boys apologized and turned down the music but this just seemed to confirm the woman’s opinion that she was the victim of this situation and she continued her rant. I got off at the next stop so I don’t know if the situation progressed further, but I couldn’t help thinking about how I was more or less just like the two men on the tram. I don’t blast Amr Diab on public transportation, but I do prefer to listen to my American music.

I am also a foreigner in Italy. I took a job away from an Italian, and I am receiving money from the Italian government since I work at a state school. I wonder if she would have acted the same towards me if she’d known I was American. Or would she have been more tolerant because I am here teaching English to Italian children like hers? Would she have told me to ‘get back to where I once belonged’?

I have been extremely blessed with a European complexion and an Italian last name; therefore no one questions my being here.

Living abroad is truly the most bizarre and yet the most exhilarating experience one can embark upon. Just when you think you’ve started to ‘get’ the culture and become better acquainted with the society, you meet the crazies. At least I hope she was an exception to the general Italian population. I realize that I have not experienced even half of the ethnic discrimination most immigrants will face when coming to work in a new country. I have been extremely blessed with a European complexion and an Italian last name; therefore no one questions my being here.

Others, though, are not so lucky. Not everyone can ‘get back’ to where they originally came from–and that’s okay. The important thing is that we all just get along and enjoy the ride, even if the ride is on a tram in Milan!

 

 

 

Racism in Italy: Encountering Ethnic Discrimination as a Foreigner

About L. Gabrielle Castagno

AvatarGabrielle Castagno began traveling at the age of 16, and has been hooked ever since. Gabrielle has ventured to over 9 different countries, most recently residing in Milan, Italy where she was an ESL teacher. She now works with a refugee resettlement agency in Dallas, Texas and is involved with numerous human rights initiatives throughout the US. A dual Italian-American citizen, Gabrielle hopes to return to Italy soon, to work with refugees there.

2 thoughts on “Racism in Italy: Encountering Ethnic Discrimination as a Foreigner

  1. Avatar
    August 7, 2018
    Reply

    #DolceVitaBloggers
    Your post really hits me hard because like you, I am an expat living in Italy. The only difference is I do not have a European complexion, and I obviously look like a “straniero”. I have received my own fair share of “dirty looks”. I always get asked, “Di dove sei?” (Where are you from?) and intrusive questions like “Are you working here?” By the way, I have an Italian first name (Carmela), which to them is very strange because I am Southeast Asian. Dude I didn’t even know that Carmela was an Italian name until I got here. Anyway, someone told me that some Italians classify immigrants into two groups: immigrants from rich countries and immigrants from ‘poor countries’. So there you go…#racism.

  2. Avatar
    T Castagno
    November 22, 2013
    Reply

    I enjoyed your article. I think it is interesting that people anywhere
    seem to feel uncomfortable when there is something different from what
    is perceived as their norm. The fact that the world is smaller inevitably
    leads to these type of interactions more frequently, unless we isolate
    ourselves. If we isolate ourselves we miss the interaction and personal
    growth in life and the opportunities from us all.
    Your article made me realize that change is difficult no matter where
    people live.

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