My American Immigrant Experience in Italy
This is a travel diary entry from April 2011.
I’m excited to be relocating to London, a city I’ve wanted to live in again since studying abroad. I found an apartment through spareroom.com on Sunday. The ad only had a photo of the outside of the place, so I contacted the person and asked for a photo of the inside. He sent me the above picture. I’m in.
I’ve experienced so much in the last few months, and actually feel like an Italian resident rather than just a visitor. I’ve made some great friendships and enjoyed living in Reggio Emilia, a progressive city that has everything from theatre to bookshops to cafes. There is a ton of green space and the recycling system is more advanced than in any other city I’ve lived in. Strangely, very often I found myself defending Reggio to the natives. “You came from New York? Why are you here? It’s so boring!” I think the city is great, and secretly many of them must, too, because for all their lamenting, they don’t leave. (While the store in the above photo is called Notting Hill, it is, in fact, in Reggio Emilia).
While I’ve always admired the gumption of my great-grandparents, who immigrated to the United States, I now feel even more sympathetic to the plight of the immigrant. I often identified more with the Africans, Brazilians and Ukrainians here than with the Italians. We outsiders struggle to learn the language and how to navigate through the sometimes baffling bureaucracy. We’re the only ones who take the bus, who panic at the thought of the cashier asking us a question we won’t understand, who worry about immigration problems, who are often confused about what’s going on around them, who have to figure out where to find basic necessities because nothing is where you think it should be.
Of course, I’m not completely like my fellow foreigners. As an American, I definitely have an advantage over people from the developing world. People who might be suspicious of a Tunisian are happy to talk to the white American girl. The racial makeup of Italy has changed dramatically over the last decade, and immigration is as hot a topic here as in the U.S.
One experience really stuck with me. I briefly frequented a free Italian for Foreigners class at a nearby church. I was the only Westerner among a small class that represented Brazil, China, Morocco, Ukraine, Ghana and Estonia. I loved everyone in this class. They worked their asses off in kitchens and cleaning houses and tried really hard to learn Italian. This can be hard when all your coworkers and friends speak Chinese or Polish, and breaking into local society is challenging for any foreigner, as Italians, like people everywhere, often stick to their own.
Anyway, one day in class the teacher asked all the students whether they planned on returning to their countries one day. He was a volunteer, I know he meant well, but he asked this question in a very loaded, arrogant way, as if he expected everyone to bow down and say, “No, never, your country is far superior to ours. Thank you for saving us from our backward home and for allowing us to work for you. There’s nothing for us in our countries.” But of course there is: friends, family, a life they are familiar with. Just because they seek economic opportunity doesn’t mean there’s nothing to love about their homelands, or that everything is better here. My classmates appeased the teacher and gave him the answer he wanted, but I had nothing to lose, so I said, “Yes. I’m going home.”
And now, some highlights : ) Here’s Annalisa and Cristina, two of my friends here. They are cousins, but I met them on separate occasions. Annalisa has been a huge help with my Italian and Cristina helped me find my apartment, which seemed impossible at first! I spent hours searching websites and walking around town looking for rental signs. Then we went for coffee and she asked the barman if he knew of any vacancies. He said, “No, but check with that guy outside.” That guy became my landlord. A Greek girl was leaving my my now bedroom that afternoon. Swoop! I dropped off my bag and the next day my mom and I flew to Sicily.
The first Italian coffee I ever made! Elena talked me through it in our kitchen.
My grocery store.
For Women’s Day (why don’t we celebrate this in America?), my roommates and I went to a Mexican place called Hot Chili. I was skeptical about this as Italy is not known for its ethnic (anything non-Italian) food, but it was delicious! On Women’s Day, females get together with their friends. I love this tradition.
As I was walking through the park, I wondered why there was a full moon while the sun was still out, then I heard about the Super Moon.
I usually don’t like to stay out late, but occasionally I put on my dancing shoes and go clubbing with barely legal college boys.
Remember that church I mentioned that offers language classes? They also teach sewing–on these machines!! I wish I had taken this course.
Saturday morning market.
Snow fell a few times. I took this photo from our living room window.
From mid-August to mid-September, the democratic party held a…party. Concerts played every night and all sorts of booths and restaurants were set up. Here, I joined people for a dinner at a Brazilian place. As a vegetarian, I’m not a big fan of the meat sword, but the reaction of the girl in the white shirt is priceless.
Mushroom pizza at Pegaso, my favorite place in town.
Italians are always protesting around; too bad it doesn’t get them anywhere. I walked out of Libreria All'Arco, my local bookshop, and fell into this manifestazione.
And here is Libreria All'Arco. I was going to go here on my last day to pick up Roberto Saviano’s latest book (he wrote Gomorrah), but my roommate’s gave it to me as a surprise going-away present. I was so thrilled by this thoughtful gift.