Friday, September 16, 2016

Rise Up
Today was weird. In a bad way. My two adorable students who work at the URP, a kind of information station, in Lucca suggested that I come in to meet with their immigration specialist. I didn't even know they had an immigration specialist! Despite the rainy forecast, I decided to go. Also, they are half a block from my house. So I was thrilled to see two approachable looking gentlemen who were there, ostensibly, to improve the lives of the most disenfranchised immigrants.
The conversation started out so well. They were fully aware of what they call the North African crisis and the fact that many Africans who came to Italy in 2011 to 2012 were given stay permits en masse for what they called "humanitarian reasons." They also knew that these folks were welcomed (I am tempted to put that word in quotations too, but who has the time to put quotation marks around everything that I am about to say sarcastically?) into hotels that were run by the Italian government, and that when they became overcrowded they were paid off to leave. They also knew that Italian immigrant workers then tried to indicate that the refugees move on to Germany because they were not going to get any further formal assistance from Italy going forward; and that the five hundred euros they were given as compensation from getting kicked out of the hotels would not last them very long in Tuscany. Then things went awry.
I tried to talk about the fact that hundreds find themselves with no way to integrate themselves into Italian society five years later and that my goal is to open an aid station for them so that they can have their own doctors, health cards, and identity cards instead of going through the emergency rooms. I talked about how they cannot have legal rental contracts and that it is practically impossible for them to overcome racist hiring practices.  I was not prepared for the worker at the sportello for immigrati in Lucca to then start chuckling, almost uncontrollably. He and his coworker went on to say that they know dozens of Nigerians, who, in their opinion, are the least adept Africans at understanding Italian society, finding jobs, and keeping jobs. Just last week, they told me, a Nigerian for whom they had found employment, made off with a bottle of prized wine that was meant to be aged in the restaurant storage area. They asked me who in their right mind would choose the outlying area of Montecatini, which has a strong and tightknit Nigerian community to which all of our group members belong, as a place to settle when even the Italians there are unemployed. They asked me why they weren't smart enough to try their luck in Germany.
Eventually, I had to call them on the one gentleman's theatrical and inappropriate laughing. I will say that I was more surprised because this man was black. I did not feel it was appropriate to ask him personal questions. I don't know if he was born in Italy, Africa, or somewhere else. I assume he was at least ten years my junior. His Italian was certainly fluent, and, certainly, better than mine, although his accent was one I couldn't place. I thought his coworker's facial expressions belied a more sympathetic attitude towards my cause, but I soon found out I was wrong. They both denied the existence of racism altogether, and the white coworker told me that he had also been turned down by real estate agents when he was searching for a rental apartment, ostensibly because he hails from the south of Tuscany. Oh don't worry, I challenged him on that, too. 
Sometimes when people are hateful and I am hormonal, I cry. This kills me because obviously the coolest person is the one who is the most control of their emotions in the heat of argument; and when Paul was demoralized by police on his first day of work in Italy I cried while describing it to the ARCI contact for immigrant rights and never heard from him again. I did not cry or become irrational and my Italian was pretty great for me so the only thing that was strange was that with every offensive remark that the URP staff made about Nigerians the louder the Hamilton soundtrack played in my head. Thanks, Lin Manuel Miranda.
They told me that the only way to help Nigerians who arrived in that period was on a case by case basis, even if there are hundreds of them. I suggested that by working together we could do something on a larger scale and they laughed some more. Before I left, I had to acknowledge to my students what had happened and hope that they weren't offended that my conversation with their colleagues involved their cursing (twice, but not at me), laughing in my face, and raised voices on one of their parts and on mine. They were somewhat embarrassed and I told them that it had been an educational experience in any case, and I was grateful for the information. I was relieved when they said they would see me next Tuesday.
The only thing that saved the day was that T discovered that the absolutely humorless professor that I had been so intimidated by during parent teacher conferences two years ago had made some interesting youtube videos that I might enjoy. T says I can't say what subject she taught, but it rhymes with bathematics. Anyway, she does makeup tutorials that involve constant lipstick color changes and a great deal of lip pursing and pout twitching and the English pronunciation of colors inspired by both trolls, I kid you not, and Arianna Grande. Her signature move is a pageant queen hand wave. You know, the kind that Queen Elizabeth gives us from her window. So Buon Natale a me! I laughed so hard that I actually hurt more than one of my internal organs. Maybe permanently. But so worth it! I would link it here, but T won't let me. (The word women is in the title and so is the word chic.)

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