On Saturday, October 12th, I took part in the Migration Walking Tour,” guided by Lorenzo Rinelli, the professor of Immigration, Race, and Identity in Contemporary Italy, here at Temple Rome. The tour consisted of a guided experience in the neighborhood of Termini and Vittorio Emanuele, by which we were lead around to different locations of that significance and importance to the migrants’ communities here in Rome. This tour influenced a lot the ways in which I have begun to understand the political point of view of migrant people in Rome. The places that we passed and discussed along the tour all consisted of about a 10 block neighborhood located right next to Termini Station (the biggest/most utilized place of transport for civilians in Rome). I found it fascinating to be able to fully observe the communities that surround this area, for example, how they engage with one another, and occupy this space within the city. To the migrant communities here, it was apparent from a few moments of observation that Termini Station and its surrounding neighborhood is sacred to them and provides them with a sanctuary rich in culture and importance. It is one of the few places in Rome where they can taste their food and see their people.
Along our walk I observed many different things. On one of the first streets we passed through, there were a variety of stores catering towards black hair care and beauty. As a black woman studying abroad in Rome, I have spent the last month searching for these kinds of places, which are lacking in almost every other area of the city. This particular street across from Termini Station, however, was abundant with beauty supply stores. Outside these stores, people were lined against the railing talking, yelling, laughing, and greeting one another in wholesome embraces. This was the first time for me being in Rome that I saw groups of black and brown people together in one place, interacting with one another in ways that felt very familiar and communal, which made me feel at peace, and in some fleeting moments like I was at home.
The place that stood out to me the most during this tour was the last spot we visited: the International Food Market (or Nuovo Mercato del Esquilino). Rome is well known for its markets, which I have begun to appreciate as some of my most favorite and treasured places, but this market, in particular, was above and beyond. It is located about a block and a half away from Termini and the beauty supply stores. In many different ways, it reminds me of a lot of the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. Since I was a child I remember how filled with excitement I was every time my mama brought me into that Reading Terminal. Each time, I spent hours combing up and down the aisles meticulously to decide which place I would try next. The Reading Terminal Market has a way of allowing you to travel across oceans, religions, languages, and cultures in one single space.
This here in Rome made me feel like a child again, filled with the same kind of excitement and curious to observe and understand new ways of life. The market was packed with all kinds of people speaking various languages and dialects, and each shop offered a different kind of cuisine from plenty of areas around the world. I attributed that to the universal idea of what food can and does represent regardless of culture or identity. As human beings, we all nourish ourselves and one another with food. Food is ingrained into tradition, cultural, and is many times passed down through generations. There is a cross-cultural unification in the act of preparing, buying, selling, and cooking food. Food is used as a vessel to communicate lof and generate connections between human beings. The energy that I received from this space was unmatched to any energies I have received simply walking down the street in Rome. My existence and presence in the market were not questioned or judged. I could walk freely down each aisle and feel like I belonged there.
Thus far, in my study abroad experience, I have seen no place like this market. I felt very honored and moved to be able to exist inside the sacredness of that space and what it represents to the migrant community here in Rome. I am uplifted and enamored to discover what it will continue to symbolize to me in the remainder of my time here as well.