Note: I’m honored to be added to the roster at Novel Adventurers. From its inception, I’ve followed this blog and envied the zest for life, writing, and travel the contributors exhibit.
Since I came to live in Rome in 2002, the percentage of legal immigrants has risen almost 50 percent, from about 1.5 million to nearly 4.5. The number of illegals adds about another million.
Until this influx began, Italian culture, with its focus on food and family, had remained essentially unchanged for centuries. Now, people are feeling threatened by the way Chinese restaurants and Halal butchers have popped up everywhere. The Immigration Question gets almost as much newspaper ink and air time as ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Some people take their frustration out on individuals. I once saw a Chinese man unload merchandise from his car onto a handcart and begin pushing it towards his shop. An Italian man hit the boxes, strewing them along the sidewalk. It was deliberate and ugly.
Laws designed to make things difficult are being codified as well. Until last year, for example, it was possible to take the drivers license test in several languages. Now, it’s only offered in Italian.
When I first applied for a residency permit in 2002, all immigrants in Rome went to the same office where a couple of clerks processed paperwork. We immigrants stood waiting our turns in an open courtyard, often in the rain.
As the numbers grew, Rome’s city government decentralized everything. For two application periods, I completed the process within walking distance of my home. It was painless, if not swift.
But the numbers continued to rise, and public perceptions continued to plummet. The process has become more convoluted. My permit expired in October. I filed application to renew in September. My first appointment to be interviewed came last week. I went to the new Immigration Office via an hour-and-a-half trip by public transport. I stood in line forty minutes just to take a number to wait my turn. I have to go back in January. And so it goes.
|Inflatable Raft Near Lampedusa|
Fortunately, the news is not all bad. In a country where birth rates are low and longevity high, many people see immigrants as a way to keep the pension funds filled. And in some towns where the population has dwindled due to unemployment and death, immigrants are welcomed as hope for the future.
Not everyone is threatened by the changes. I spent time earlier this week with a woman who moves in Rome's highest social circles. She told me that when party conversation among her snobbish (her word) friends turns to immigration, she always tells them, “We used to be the immigrants. We Italians arrived at Ellis Island, dirty, covered in lice, poor, and ragged.” She thinks the diversity is a good thing for Italy.
Italy has long been a nation of emigrants. It’s still feeling its way as a nation of immigrants.