Women’s migration: a resource
Federica Araco - 24/03/2014
In the province of Rome, 13 out of 100 entrepreneurs are foreigners and in Italy the figure would reach more than a hundred thousand. Start with nothing or almost nothing, overcoming the initial discrimination and hardships, each of them has realized his/her dream: to make it in a country far away, in deep economic crisis and sometimes hostile to diversity.
To tell their stories and try to overcome the stereotypes often linked to migration of women, Croatian writer Sarah Zuhra Lukanic and anthropologist-economist Marie Antoinette Mariani created "Strange foreigners" in 2013. The project, supported by the Province of Rome, is having some success in the area thanks to events and workshops in which the protagonists share their life experiences.
“The field studies are usually ‘closed’ and involve only the insiders who collect video or photographic material to investigate the phenomenon according to specific methods” says Mariani. “In this case we decided to open the site in such a way that people may come into direct relationship with the protagonists of the project to feel their stories and to overcome the gap created by the lack of knowledge that often creates stereotypes on diversity. Putting these women into their network, is also a way to work on the barriers that often arise between the different immigrant communities, which hardly communicate with each other.”
Far from being socially vulnerable and marginalized, as they are often described by the media, these women radiate intelligence and ability needed to reinvent themselves in a social and economic context other than that of their origins and to create dynamic and competitive business.
“We see these little entrepreneurial miracles with amazement and enthusiasm”, says Lukanic. “The Province of Rome is a fertile land and in constant fermentation from this point of view. The numbers confirm it: many are opening businesses run by immigrants who resist better and longer despite the severe economic crisis. The firms created by foreign women are among the most solid , we asked ourselves: how come?”.
A woman among the motors
Aida has an intense look and smiles radiantly behind the counter of his auto parts full of cylinders, pistons and gaskets of all kinds. Born in Bardo, Tunisia in 1970, studied law in Sfax, Ben Jannet Aida at the age of 25 moved to Rome to continue her studies and work as a secretary at the auto parts shop of an Italian acquaintance. This mild-mannered gentleman became a sort of “stepfather” for her, having lost hers while nine years old.
“At first things were going well, then with the crisis, the company has risked bankruptcy” she told Babelmed . “We had a debt of 120 million lire and often we didn’t even have anything to eat. The suppliers had to be paid and customers decreased sharply, so I used my wits and set up a business of Italian suits in Tunisia. I bought suits or clothes in good condition from the stalls and resold them in my country and with the money we could sruvive. I also dusted off the old spare parts for classic cars, stacked in huge boxes in the back of the store, thanks to word of mouth have attracted new customers.”
In 1999, Aida married her current husband, an expert on international trade at the Tunisian Prime Ministry, who after a few years of hesitation decided to join her in Rome. “Our families did not want us to live in Italy because he had a great job there but I did not intend to leave”, she recalls. “They were difficult years and then in 2005, after yet another funding request denied by a bank, I got a loan from Women's Foundation’s microcredit and the situation was finally restored. Now I am the owner of the company and I take care of my “foster father”,who, now old and sick, lives with me, my husband and our 6 year-old son Amin.”
A finalist for the 2011 MoneyGram Award 2011, the prize given to immigrant entrepreneurship in Italy, Aida was also the only foreigner among the women selected by the Chamber of Commerce of Rome for the publication "In the name of Minerva. Vitality and values of the women in the thirty portraits of the protagonists of Roman territory "(2001). Despite the accolades and the current strength of her business, there are still small but unpleasant incidents of discrimination, she says. “Still today every now and then some wholesaler or representative of a sector that does not know me walk by the store and with a dismissive air ask “Ah, isn’t there anybody?” , Or, “Wehere is the owner?”, assuming that a women, a foreign one, can not deal with engines and spare parts for cars. Once it bothered me a lot, now I joke about it and almost always say, in a deliberately crippled Italian, “The boss isn’t here”. It's a great way of not losing time when I’m busy.”
Iranian style concept store
Neda Mokhtari is thirty years old, with black hair and dark, bright eyes. Born in Tehran and living in Rome since 13 years, she studied photography first and then painting and fashion. Her wellness center in the heart of Testaccio has a refined atmosphere, where retro elements are mixed with modern objects, chosen with care and originality. A friendly and relaxing place to spend a few hours of beauty and well-being among boutique, make-up room, spa and hammam. “I wanted to open my own creative tailor’s shop” says Neda , “then my current partner, an Italian professional makeup artist for cinema and entertainment, asked me to create this multi-functional space inspired by the great centers of New York and Milan. There was nothing like it in Rome and I decided to do it. Here I am in charge of boutiques, where I expose dresses that I’ve designed, and administrative aspects. I'm happy and I love my job, even though it is very difficult to deal with the Italian bureaucracy.”
The other protagonists of the project are a Peruvian chef, an Indian Ayurvedic doctor, a Colombian seamstress, a Romanian weaver of yarns, a Nigerian typographer... and the network is continually expanding .
Although different in their backgrounds, ages and skills, all of these women have been able to transform the experience of migration into an opportunity for personal and professional growth, channeling the creative energy of women on concrete, dynamic and functional projects.
Their stories will be told soon in reportages, a narrative, a fiction with the help of photographer Francesco Chiorazzi and a documentary. The promoter of the project is the Atelier art gallery, founded in 2001 in the heart of Rione Monti with the encounter of two other “strange stranger” women: Croatian architect Ana Laznibat and Serbian biologist Ljuba Jovicevic.