Only Italians Welcome?

National Identity. To many, national identity quite simply means identifying with the culture, the practices, and the lifestyle of one’s country. However, recently, the term national identity has undertaken a negative connotation in relation to immigration and the refugee crisis that has affected the global community. In Italy, just as in many other European Union countries, this national identity—being purely Italian or purely French, for instance—has stirred an anti-immigration sentiment that is now at the forefront of European and Italian politics, economics, and society. While this issue is certainly not black or white, Florence is very representative of this sentiment, for, as one walks through its streets, the status of immigrants in this country is made painfully clear.

My introduction to the immigrant population in Florence was anything but kind and empathetic, as locals were sure to warn me of the risks that they posed. Walking around the city, it is obvious that there is no work for the immigrants, and many are simply not wanted in the work force. They can be spotted roaming around the main square, by the Duomo, approaching tourists to sell selfie sticks. Many set up stands by the river in order to sell small trinkets, souvenirs, or snacks. They can be seen crowding around the train station in the hopes of making increased sales because of the influx of people into and out of Florence. However, most Italians and tourists walk past without a second glance. On the bus, it is as if these non-Italians are not even there, for many look past them and often do not acknowledge them. They are seen as more of a burden than individuals who could contribute to Italian society.

The question is why? Why are they not welcomed? Why are they not wanted? The answer is indeed national identity. Italians quite simply love being Italian. They love other Italians. They are not keen on immigrants, who do not look like them or sound like them, coming into their cities. They are very proud of their history, a history that spans hundreds and thousands of years that was positively shaped by Italians, not non-Italians. Their art, food, language, and music are all Italian. Additionally, the Italian economy, in recent years, has been declining, as unemployment rises and more and more young adults struggle to find work. Florence, and Italy at-large as well, feels that it cannot bear the costs of non-Italians while it tries to maintain and sustain its own Italian population. The bureaucracies of the nation are also failing many of its citizens as corruption and inefficiencies have led to citizens’ strikes, publicly displaying their discontent. Italians thus wonder why immigrants are coming to a nation where there are already internal problems in operation.

And finally, the Italians are fearful. They fear those who are different from their. Their country exudes Catholicism, for, after all, the Pope lives a mere hour south of Florence. Thus, they are fearful of those that practice other faiths than their known Christianity. Together, all of these factors hinder social progress and openness in the granting of asylum and a place to reside to those who most need it. And so, often it feels as if the phrase “Benvenuti a Firenze” (Welcome to Florence) only applies to their fellow Italians and tourists that are sure to be returning home after their brief stay in Italy.

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