Although the Temple Rome program had to end due to unforeseen circumstances, the Cultural and Identity Envoy program has given me the marvelous opportunity to continue working remotely. This past month has given me the time to think critically, and work diligently to not only reflect on my time in Rome, but to also think about what others are going through.
I recently got to talk to Madhobi, a first-generation Bangladeshi Italian. Madhobi used to be a tour guide for Migrantour, an organization that gives tours of migrant communities in Rome and other cities around Europe. The goal of these tours is to integrate migrants into their host country. The best part about these tours is that you get a first-person point of view from a migrant. I find this to be very important because this gives the migrant communities the platform and space for their voices to be heard. During her free time, Madhobi has become involved in the Bangladesh community through dancing. She has been dancing since the age of six and has taught dance classes in Rome!
As I listened to her story, I felt this overall theme of community and collectivism. The migrant community has been able to help one another navigate the obstacles that come with moving from one place to another. I have not seen many stories of what the migrant communities are doing in the U.S. To my knowledge, much of the spotlight has been shed upon our healthcare providers, grocery store workers and others that are classified as essential. Members of migrant communities are surely among these, but their stories become absorbed into the bigger picture. It would be interesting to see more media coverage on how migrant communities are helping each other and the broader community during this pandemic.
I also learned that Madhobi struggles with how to present herself. It can be a burden having to explain where you come from and who you are all the time. Although I do not have the experience of migrating from one place to another, I relate to her experience with my experience as a young African American woman. At times I think about my racial identity, particularly the “African” in “African American.” I’ve lived in the U.S. all of my life and have witnessed the institutions that continue to oppress people like me. Throughout U.S. history, I have seen the erasure of the African identity, for people of African descent to assimilate to U.S. societal standards. I connect this back to Madhobi because she’s been living in Italy for almost all of her life. She too has had to assimilate to the Italian culture. But the country that she considers her home continues to deny her and even questions the validity of her Italian identity.
It’s important to tell your own story as part of underrepresented groups because each and EVERY voice matters. There will always be a perspective or lens that you might not think about or have to think about because of the different privileges human beings have. This pandemic has cast so much light on our current systems and the way we live our daily lives.