The Multicultural Youth of Turin: fragmentation
Karim Metref - 28/01/2009
In Turin, the world of youths is increasingly fragmented. Romanians, Moroccans, Albanians, Peruvians, Chinese and, obviously, Italians spend their time according to their nationality. They cross each other at school or work but outside they play football, roam the streets or hang around in discos that exclusively belong to their own group of reference. A trip in the fears, the solitude and the cultural void of the youths living in the city’s underprivileged districts.
His name is Kodruz but he calls himself Giorgio. “It’s my name for Italians. They never manage to remember my name.” Kodruz came to Italy four years ago. His Italian is clean despite a slight inflection. He left high school with a professional diploma in his pocket, has worked for a year and a half and has already bought a nice car. It’s the dream of any young candidate to immigration in the world.
In the summer, he goes back to his small village in the Moldavian province of Suceava. He obviously makes an excellent impression there, but when we ask him if he’s happy in Turin, Kodruz hesitates. He scratches his head and answers, “I don’t know what to say. I work, I have a heated home with warm water, I have a nice car, I go out every Friday and Saturday to the disco. On Sunday, I play football with my friends then we go around. I have a girlfriend. I have a lot of things…But if I could I’d go straight back home.”
“Because I don’t feel welcome here!” he adds shortly after.
In fact, since Kodruz and his friends can’t go back home, they created their own small Suceava. It’s not difficult. Around 50 thousand Romanian citizens live in the capital of Piedmont, the great majority of which come from the provinces of Bacau and Suceava. They are part of only one of the many groups of Romanian friends that go around the meeting places scattered around town.
One of the most visible places is the Parco del Valentino, along the Po river. During sunny days off, they meet there for a chat with their friends around some beers and lots of pumpkin or sunflower seeds. Two vending stands are dedicated to them. They have all they need: seeds, large Moretti beers or Romanian beers: Ursus or Bergen…Then there’s the music: Manele (a very popular commercial music) played full blast.
Then there’s the discos. Turin has at least 3: Notorius and Dacia in Via Stradella, Batmania, in Via Reiss Romoli, and some other clubs scattered around Turin’s hinterland. The Romanian music they play is also interspersed with international commercial hits. And the public is almost exclusively Romanian.
Catalin, the manager of one of these clubs says that clients are not chosen according to their nationality. The music they play actually makes the difference. Bouncers don’t ask the nationality of the clients but observe the way they look. “Obviously,” he adds shrugging his shoulders, “if a Moroccan or an Albanian come up by themselves, we don’t let them in!”
And what about Italians? “Young Italians almost never come on their own,” he says. “If they come here it’s because they have a Romanian girlfriend.”
We ask him if he has friends of other nationalities and Kodruz answers, “I had classmates. Now I have colleagues. But I can’t say I have Italian friends or of any other nationality. I don’t know why. When I arrived to Turin, nobody invited me to play football after school or to go out at night. We always studied together and joked…there was mutual respect, but we never became friends. So I organised myself with other Romanians…that’s all.”
There are thousands of others like Kodruz and his friends: Moroccans, Albanians, Peruvians, Senegalese, Chinese… that only mix among themselves and ignore other nationalities if it isn’t that they meet them at school or work.
Turin doesn’t have any big ghettos, or at least not for the so-called “non-EU citizens”. The real ghettos belong to some areas like Falchera, of Barriera Milano and Mirafiori where the Italian families coming from the South live, those that arrived late, when the Fiat miracle was over.
There are very high percentages of unemployment there, as well as a concentration of social and family problems, domestic violence and traffic and consumption of various drugs.
Foreigners are dispersed around town. The highest percentages are in Porta Palazzo and San Salvario, two central districts. However, there are no single nationality ghettos. Everyone lives there in an overall mix: poor Piedmontese, Southern Italians, Romanians, Moroccans, Nigerians, Albanians, etc…
The ghettos therefore are only in people’s heads.
Nelson is Nigerian. He never studied in Italy but only works here. He still prefers to speak in English and struggles with Italian. He laughs when I press him and say, “How can you be so hard headed that you still haven’t learned Italian after living so many years in Turin?”
“It’s not a question of head.” He answers laughing. Turin is a city where if you’re Nigerian you don’t need to speak Italian to live here. We have everything: stores, bars, phone centres, hairdressers, clothes shops, video libraries that only rent Nigerian films and soaps…There’s absolutely no need to mingle with the others, once you learn the minimum requisites to buy food at the market, take the bus or go to the doctor if necessary. You’re not motivated to learn more.”
And why is that? The answer is almost the same as that of Kodruz and all the others: “Italians don’t want us, so we managed by ourselves.”
This is what all the single national groups that only live among themselves think. However, they fail to ask themselves why they don’t mingle with other minorities.
Fabio on the other hand, is part of the city’s major “ethnic group”: the people from Turin of “Southern origins”. He attends the third year of school at Plana, a high school located in Piazza Robilant, in the northern part of town and studies as dental technician without knowing why or how he got there. There are no foreigners in his class. They’re all Italian, all sons of Southern immigrants. “Non-EU citizens” to them are only an abstract category. They only read them through the most diffused prejudices. “Disgusting! Dirty, thieving and violent…” They say they never go to the so called multiethnic districts. To them, Porta Palazzo is absolutely the worst place.
Fabio is the group’s theorist. The others know they’re fans of the Juventus football team. They say they’re not racist. They have their prejudices and fears, but don’t give them a name.
He wears a black bomber jacket with the Italian flag on his heart. After school, he goes to the meetings of the Forza Nuova youths (an extreme right wing group) and openly declares that he’s a fascist and a racist. He hates everyone, especially Romanians. “It’s because of the Foibe, “he says. When I make him notice what happened in Yugoslavia, he sweeps away the thought with the back of his hand: “They’re the same race. All of them!”
Fabio speaks of the territory as invaded by foreigners, of the right to self defence, of the threat to the Italian race…the rest of the class listens without knowing what to think.
When we watch some films together on the years of the great exodus from the South and of how their parents were treated in Turin, they’re taken aback. No one ever told them these stories. Is it the modesty of those who suffered or voluntary amnesia?
The ASAI ( Salesian Association for Intercultural Activities) has small projects in the city’s main “sensible” areas: San Salvario, Porta Palazzo and Barriera Milano. Their small badly equipped centres are always full of youths, of all nationalities. The rarest “ethnic group” is the Italian one. In ASAI centres you can do a bit of everything: some study Italian, others do their school homework. Some take theatre or music lessons. Hip Hop bands are improvised or Rapped rhyme competitions are organised. People take field trips together or organise parties… all the common activities of a meeting centre.
In the ASAI centres you realise what all these city youths are missing, and why they shut themselves in separate groups. Because when interesting proposals are made in a relaxed atmosphere, youths are happy to be together.
When I come out of one of the centres I ask myself: how can a city ignore its youths? Why does it fail to have a cultural policy for them? How can entire districts be left without any cultural centres or meeting activities…besides the occasional, unequipped and unorganised secular and religious associationism?
The funny thing about all the groups I spoke with is that they greatly resemble each other. They speak with the same words. They’re obsessed with consumerism and by their appearance (clothes, mobiles, cars…). Football, commercial music and discos fill the cultural void that reigns in their lives and makes them forget the lack of perspectives…The world around them is decoded by computer games and action films: they see it as hostile and dangerous, and only the group can allow them to feel less desolate and safer…
Whoever said that birds of a feather flock together?