Racism in Italy: Encountering Ethnic Discrimination as a Foreigner
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.
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 top photo by Unsplash.