When Italy comes to mind, a melting pot or a nation of immigrants is certainly not the first thing most people think of. The same was true for me before I decided to apply to study abroad in Florence. As a part of your application, my school requires you to write about a current events issue in the country and why it interests you. I was shocked when I stumbled upon a few articles about immigrants in Italy, namely those from Africa. Most of the articles were about the issues they face, from low-paying jobs that exploit them to harsh immigration laws and physical violence.
After seeing a large number of African immigrants selling everything from socks to toys on the sidewalk, my interest was piqued. They seemed almost invisible; most of my fellow students weren’t interested in their lives and they were hardly mentioned in any of the classes I took. In a final presentation for my Italian class, I spoke about immigrants in Italy and learned of Italy’s surprising citizenship laws.
Italy employs ius sanguinis, or citizenship through blood, rather than ius soli, or citizenship through birth, which is employed in most countries, including the United States. Based on this law, the children of immigrants, who account for over 12% of births in Italy, are not citizens, even though they are born in Italy. It is this injustice that is at the heart of 18 Ius Soli, a documentary by Fred Kuwornu. Like his subjects, Kuwornu is born in Italy but his parents are from Ghana. In preparation for my Fulbright application, I’ve been researching the status of immigrants in Italy. After discovering a few videos on YouTube about second generation immigrants, as the children of immigrants are known, I found out about this documentary.
The film features interviews with 18 second generation immigrants, a large majority of whom are born in Italy, and come from a variety of backgrounds including Nigeria, Morocco, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Romania. Like all native-born Italians, they speak the language, have Italian friends, use their hands when talking, and love pasta. However, they are denied the right of citizenship until 18, when they can apply for citizenship. They are forced to apply for residence permits, many of them lasting only 6 months. If they are not studying or working, or for any other arbitrary reason, the renewal of the permit can be denied.
These touching stories are intermingled with the stories of two Italians of partial African descent. Disproving stereotypes that immigrants are a negative contribution to society, Leone Iacovacci went on to become a famous boxer, while Giorgio Marincola fought with other partisans during the aftermath of World War II.
Like most young people, the interviewees have dreams and aspirations. Unfortunately, their options are limited due to their lack of citizenship. They can’t serve in the army, represent Italy in national sports tournaments, or simply become a police officer. In one of the most striking parts of the film, one young man angrily describes how he applied for citizenship in 2008 and had not heard back by December 2010. While their stories are all different, their pain and frustration of feeling Italian but not legally being Italian is universal.
Interestingly enough, many of the interviewees don’t support ius soli, but rather a modified version. They feel that citizenship should be awarded to the children of families who are settled in Italy in order to prevent abuse of the system. I hope to be able to return to Italy and investigate this movement firsthand.
If you want to watch the award-winning film, here’s a link on Vimeo.