Why Immigration?

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My Intensive Italian for Beginners class at our field study last week. Villa Borghese, Roma

I’ve just completed my fourth week of classes, and I’m finally starting to scratch the surface of Italian politics. My Advent of Christianity course, taught by a Professor of Archaeology, gives me some understanding of the Roman Empire at its prime, which I find fascinating because of its modernity in philosophy of power. Rome, therefore, having such a rich and long history to it, has a long winded and complicated political scene. There is much more to know than a life time of studying can give me, but I’ve been taking it inch by inch.

Immigration has been a hot topic in the United States this election season, but I was surprised to find that Italians are talking about the same thing! Italian and American immigration history are as different as one can imagine, with Italians having a history of emigration versus Americans having a history of immigration. Immigration was brought up casually in both my Introduction to Documentary Filmmaking class and my Intensive Italian for Beginners class as a topic that is central to Italian politics today. This was not all that surprising considering the on-going Syrian civil war, and the fact that Syrian refugees have, therefore, been trying to seek asylum in Europe, in addition to other continents and regions.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to travel to the Monte Cassino on a faculty-led field trip, one of three offered this semester in my program. Monte Cassino is a mountain in the town of Cassino just two hours south of Rome by car. This town played a significant role in the Second World War, being right on the Gothic Line, which was a German defense line across the narrowest width of Italy from the east to the west coast. The battle of Monte Cassino resulted in total destruction of the town and the monastery, which the Allies thought the Germans were using.

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The monastery at the top of Monte Cassino, as seen from the cemetry of the Allies that died during the war (and one German)

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A sculpture of St Benedict depicting him at his death. His arms were raised to the heavens with the help of two other monks. This is at the monastery.

During our tour, we learnt that many survivors emigrated because their villages had been completely destroyed and there seemed to be nothing left. Italians emigrated to the USA and Canada, Australia, France, Belgium, Argentina and Brazil, among others. My Italian professor had alluded to this when she brought up immigration, saying that Italians were not used to foreigners immigrating to Italy, but rather were used to emigrating from Italy.

On the other hand, immigration has been central to the Americas, and the USA specifically. Not only did Italians immigrate to the US after World War II, in addition to Jews and Slavs, but western Europeans had immigrated to the US in the 19th century, and Africans had been brought, unwillingly, as slaves. Immigration has been central to the American story for centuries.

However, both Italians and Americans find immigration a nuisance, which is actually hilarious all things considered. One might expect Italians to be more supportive of immigrants, considering there are Italian immigrants all over the world, or for Americans to be more supportive of immigrants, considering most Americans are descendants of immigrants. The US and Italy have generally seemed to be very different in my perception, except on this. And everyone’s reasoning is the same, “Immigrants are taking our already limited resources and/or opportunities.” It took me a while to understand this sentiment because most immigrants in both the US and Italy work in low-paying jobs, such as taxi driving or street hawking – which is especially true in Rome. However, this sentiment is shared by most people, not just in Italy and the US, the fear of immigrants is equally apparent in Kenya.

The only country I’ve spent a significant amount of time in that did not fear immigrants is Uganda. It may be because it’s the least developed, and probably has fewer immigrants because of this, but that would strike me as a valid reason to be afraid of the few immigrants that are present, because they often come as expatriates and not refugees. Expatriates are definitely not the taxi drivers or street hawkers.

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Me at Monte Cassino

At the end of the day, my real interest is in figuring out what threat immigrants pose, if any, to the local economy. In Italy, similar to the US and Kenya actually, there is a lot of uncertainty in the job market. Many university students are afraid that they will not be able to find work once they graduate. Do immigrants have any effect on this? Or is it all in our heads? And if this uncertainty is eliminated and we enter an economic boom, will attitudes towards immigrants change as well? It is with this in mind that I pitched the idea of Italian Immigration Policy as the topic for my final group project in my Documentary Filmmaking class to my two teammates. With my ever increasing interest in the opinions of locals (of any place) towards immigrants, I could not be more excited to pursue this all semester and create a short (5-10 minute) documentary film about Italians views towards Italian Immigration Policy for my class.

Hopefully I’ll get some answers.

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Inside the church in the monastery

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Cemetery for the Polish soldiers of World War II

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