Thursday, November 10, 2016

This is Why Lots of people ask us why we moved to Italy and what we are trying to accomplish by working with a group of Nigerian and other African immigrants in Tuscany. Fraser and I worked with The Coalition for the Homeless in New York during a time when then mayor Rudy Giuliani saw people without homes as human garbage that needed to be cleaned from the streets. We saw first hand that bandaid solutions never work, and how none of us can really have the world we want by fighting for just some of us to succeed. I reached a point where I couldn't step over human bodies anymore to get to the subway or the corner deli. And, as a native New Yorker, try as I might, I couldn't imagine myself in a different large American city or in the suburbs somewhere. I can't even drive. My only true talents include being able to find Macy's blindfolded through sense of smell, getting knots out, and finding the spiciest take-out food. Given that, integrating in Italy was harder than I could have ever imagined, and we are what I would call privileged immigrants. After the adjustment period, we began to benefit greatly from the educational opportunities here for our daughter, the excellent access to health care, and the relationships made through teaching English. Then in 2014, English speaking, African refugees started appearing in front of our doors in Lucca to beg for help. We thought we could help translate for them so they could get essential aid. It turned out they were living a nightmare where, no matter how hard they try, there is no clear way for them to move forward. If they have a permesso, they don't have a health card/tessera sanitaria, if they have a health card, they don't have a apartment lease/contratto d'affitto, you can't have a contratto d'affitto if you don't have a busta paga/pay check and almost all of them are   

We want to do something because we believe that, knowing them, they would definitely do the same for us. Hard as it is, every time their lives get better, ours get better too. Now that Trump has won the election in America, the anti-immigrant movement may well become stronger than ever. In Italy, where the birthrate is the lowest in Europe, and elsewhere throughout the world, immigrants offer a real hope of economic upturn for everyone. It is wrong to view immigrants as merely a drain on resources. The idea that the financial crisis means we should isolate, exclude, and hoard and squabble about who has it worse won't make things better for anyone. As global citizens with global problems like climate change to face, we can't afford to be wall builders. Italian lawmakers must recognize that refugees who arrived in 2011/12 with the North Africa Crisis that were paid to vacate the overcrowded hotels where they were first welcomed and did not have the opportunity to go through SPRAR, have been deprived of the possibility to live within the law. A sensible solution would be to address it by opening a sportello to provide them with legal aid, Italian language courses, and assistance for survival. The official recognition that it is even a problem would be a victory in and of itself.


Anyone who says that we can't help refugees while there are still unemployed Italians, or that we shouldn't get shoes for refugees because there are earthquakes victims who need them, or that we aren't in a position to criticize because look what a mess America has become, has truly missed the damn point. But, if I leave it there, we can't heal. I tried not to see the people begging. I left my own country to get a break from them. Then it hit me that I had to dive back in because that is the only way to get anywhere.

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