2019 Fall Culture and Identity Envoy Lisa Giang Temple Rome Temple Semester

South for the Winter

If I were given “migration” in a game of word association as a child, I would’ve immediately responded with “geese.” Geese fly south for the winter – a fun fact I probably picked up from one of the various rotating educational shows on PBS. I also had the dubious pleasure of growing up around them and was able to witness the iconic V-shaped formation that flocks fly in when travelling long distances. This meant I also knew, courtesy of their inescapable droppings, that the geese would be back once the snow thawed. It never occurred to me until now how differently we perceive animal migration from human migration. Animals have a simple, straightforward purpose for moving, whether they were geese seeking warmth or caribou searching for greener pastures. But they would come back. People migrating make no such guarantees, and in the case of many, they leave with the intention of never returning.

            Our tour through Vittorio Emanuele neighborhood took us from Termini station, teeming with travelers, to shopping centers and neighborhoods that felt different from any other place I had been in Rome. The pizzerias transformed into restaurants that served halal meats, falafel, lentils – but Vittorio is more complex than a mix of happy migrant enclaves. We walked by the building that CasaPound, a far-right neofascist organization, has occupied for the last several years. It’s remarkably inconspicuous, a bland brown color blending in with the neighboring buildings. The only two marks that denote its identity are the bright red flag limply sticking out above a second-story window and the ghost of their name above the main entrance. Clearly the letters had been forcibly removed, but the job hadn’t been thorough enough to completely rid of the name. It was still easy to read, clear enough that I could note they stylized the “U” in their name with a “V” – a callback, I assume, to Italy’s Latin roots. Their reclamation of an identity centuries gone in the name of white supremacy is almost laughable if it weren’t equally as scary. CasaPound’s base sits uncomfortably close to establishments owned and frequented by non-white people – they apparently even share the building with Chinese immigrants. They operate in such close proximity to people they see as interlopers, which seems intentional when considering CasaPound’s leader dubbed it “the Italian embassy” when they first squatted in the building in 2003 (Jones 2018). Although it seems that half-heartedly scrubbing away the organization’s name is all the action Rome is willing to take against them.

            I wanted to be surprised that such a thing existed, but I’m not. It’s not shocking that the Roman and Italian governments have not prioritized evicting CasaPound – though apparently the former Deputy Prime Minister Salvini was still capable of carrying out a campaign of evictions against migrants (Zampano 2019). As a general rule, the Government can be counted on to move slowly, but it certainly moves slower for some people. The threat of CasaPound isn’t just in its card-carrying members who wear their bigotry as tattoos. It’s the implicit support they receive from a city who looks the other way, or the votes that might win them seats in Parliament, who is no stranger to far-right parties. As much as I wanted to enjoy the smells of familiar food and absorb the atmosphere of a unique area, it was impossible to shake the feeling of hostility. That even if these immigrants kept to their corner of the city, there would still be those around them who wish they would sprout wings and fly back to their “real” home.

Jones, Tobias. “The Fascist Movement That Has Brought Mussolini Back to the Mainstream.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 22 Feb. 2018, http://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/feb/22/casapound-italy-mussolini-fascism-mainstream.

Zampano, Giada. “Matteo Salvini Demands Report on Roma Settlements so ‘Eviction Plan’ Can Be Drawn Up.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 16 July 2019, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/07/16/matteo-salvini-demands-report-roma-settlements-eviction-plan/.

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