Cultural integration models

ENG_Immigrant_flees_267234aI’m just back from a short holiday in Provence, in the South of France, and today I’d like to speak about a subject I am very interested in: integration.
I was in a little town called La Ciotat: it is a nice mainly tourist area with an important shipyard but the element that interested me the most was the composition of its population, formed by some 30.000 people or something around that number. What was amazing to me, considering the small dimensions of the place, was the number of Italian surnames (heritage of a mass migration from Southern Italy some fifty years ago) and of Northern and Western Africans I could see: I would say more or less half of the population had no French origin in that town. And what was great was the perfect integration I noticed! People of different origin lived together, worked together, played together, stayed together in pubs and… got married: probably I have never seen so many mixed couples and so many children with clear ethincally mixed characteristics in a single place in my life, perhaps not even in London.
I couldn’t help comparing this situation with the one I saw many times in some other places all around the world, especially here in Italy and, in particular, in some villages of the South of this country.
Migration in Italy, from Africa, South America and Far East is a growing and growing phenomenon and, but for all the problems and political discussions related to the so-called “illegal migration”, here too you can easily find large slices of people of different ethnicity sharing the same areas. The point stands in the meaning we give to the term “sharing”: in La Ciotat sharing meant full co-living, while here, with just few exceptions, it means, in the best case, to divide the places into separate areas were each group lives its own separate life. In the best case, obviously, because in the worst cases it means exploitation, segregation, ghettos, even conflict.
A few years ago I went on holiday in a little village in the South of Italy and I was horrified by what I saw. Exactly like La Ciotat, it was a mainly tourist village with wonderful beaches, a clean sea, nice hotels and pubs. The ones not engaged in tourism worked in agricultural productions, mainly of tomatoes, olives and oranges. The presence of Africans was quite massive but, simply, they were “the others”: they lived in slums built with sheets and row brick at the outskirts of the village, they didn’t mix with the local population (or, actually more correctly, the local population didn’t mix with them), they didn’t go to pubs, they were like ghosts. But this was not the worst part of the story. Every morning these people woke up at 4 o’clock in the morning, went to the main square of the village and waited: in time some local people with old lorries, the so-called “corporals” (some say linked to criminal organizations), arrived, chose the strongest among them and took them to work in the fields of the landlords, where the immigrants had to work for 10-12 hours under the sun being paid something like 3-4 euros per hour. This meant to spend a whole working day to get, in the best option, 40 euros but each of them had to give 5 euros to the corporal who had choosen him (5 euros just for being carried to the fields with the lorries!) and other 5 euros per day to rent the hut in which, in many cases, 10 or more of them lived in a room which would have been small for 3 people. The final result was to live and work in terrible conditions, with impossible time-tables, for something around 700 euros per month (and, I repeat, we are speaking about the best cases). This situation, to me has got only one name: slavery! When asked about this incredible situation (honestly reminding me of some old pictures of the slave market of Zanzibar in the XIX century), the locals answered the it was the only way to manage things as the earnings of agriculture were too low to give better salaries and better accomodations to the foreign workers. As far as I know, anyway, the situation is the same in many areas and in meny working sectors, in example in house construction, with Northern African, Romanian and Albanian unskilled workers hired with the same method.
So I really can’t help comparing this reality with the one I saw in La Ciotat and asking to myself the reasons of the enormously different approach to the phenomenon of migration.
I don’t think I have got a real answer. I couldn’t say Italians are more or less racist than French people: I suppose racists and non-racists are present everywhere and both the heavy engagement of Italy in the rescue of boat-people in The Mediterranean Sea on one side and the situation of some banlieu I visited near Paris on the other side tell me that any distinction of this kind would be really unfair.
In the same way, the distinction between an old tradition of migration to France and a relatively new tradition of migration to Italy, though probably having a certain weight, looks to me like being largely pretentious: given that the phenomenon of mass immigration towards Italy started at the beginning of the 90s, one could guess that in a quarter of a century, with a whole generation of sons of immigrants born in Italy and raised in an Italian cultural environment, the situation could, at least, start to settle down.
Finally, even the political attitude towards the phenomen doesn’t seem to be so radically different in the two countries: in both of them there are very inclusive parties as well as xenophobic movements and groups and a comparison between the migration laws of France and Italy doesn’t seem to show a stronger level of closure of the Italian regulation in respect to the French ones (on the contrary, French laws look like being more restrictive than the Italian ones).
So, where does this difference come from?
I would guess the root of the problem lays in a sort of cultural model with historic reasons: though both areas (the Provence and the South of Italy) had a rather similar history of contacts with foreign cultures and, partly, of invasions, it looks like the Provencals reacted to the situation developing a quite integrational attitude, while the people of the South of Italy, in the majority of cases, developed a wary attitude towards any external contact.
What is, anyway, clear observing the two realities is that the “Provencal model” (not so dissimilar to other models, like, in example, the Portuguese one and some others), based, at least apparently, on the idea of a common ground of all human beings allowing a peaceful integration in the respect of the cultural differences, works much better, at least in terms of social environment, than the Southern Italian model based on the stressing of the importance of differences and on cultural separation if it’s true that in Provence one never gets the impression of social ethnical conflictuality which is often present in many Southern Italian villages (and which, in some occasions, has given rise to violent reactions).
Well, isn’t it the same in any field of life?


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