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Italia: La chiusura della Casa dell’Emigrante come spunto riflessione sui rientri degli emigrati italiani

Author(s): Aluffi Pentini, Anna | Olivieri, Fabio

Journal: Social Work and Society
ISSN 1613-8953

Volume: 6;
Issue: 2;
Date: 2009;
Original page

In the literature on migration, as well as in social policies regarding this phenomenon, the situation of returning emigrants receives scant attention. This essay establishes an intricate connection between attitudes and policies that prevail in a country regarding emigration and those concerning immigration. The case of Italy provides a prime example for this as it once was a classical country of emigration, only to turn, in recent decades, into a country that appears highly attractive (and relatively accessible) to immigrants. The essay traces the pervasive ambiguity that characterizes this country’s attitudes towards emigration from the beginning of mass emigration shortly after the unification of Italy in 1868 to the emigration policies of the fascist regime of Mussolini and the post-World War II waves of emigration right through to the corresponding ambiguity concerning the status of immigrants in contemporary society, including the indifferent treatment of returning Italian emigrants who constitute a considerable numerical phenomenon. These reflections take their origin from the impending closure of a reception centre in Lazio, the Casa dell’Emigrante near Sant’Elia Fiumerapido, Province of Frosinone, ostensibly for financial reasons. This centre had been the only one of its kind in the whole of Italy dealing officially with the needs of repatriated Italians. It had assisted returning emigrants both with practical matters, such as negotiating the labyrinth of Italian bureaucracy , and with psychological implications of a return, which are often considerable given the time lag of experiences with current social realities and the frequently unrealistic expectations associated with the return. Questions of identity become highly acute in those circumstances. The threatened closure of the centre illustrates the unwillingness of the state to face up to the factual prevalence of migratory experiences in the country as a whole and as a core element of national history, experiences of migration in both directions. The statistics speak for themselves: of the 4.660.427 persons who left Italy between 1880 and 1950, 2.322.451 have returned, almost exactly 50%. To those have to be added 3.628.430 returnees of the 5.109.860 emigrants who left Italy between the end of World War II and 1976 for Europe alone. Attitudes towards people leaving changed ostensibly over time. In the first two decades after Unification parliament on the one hand wanted to show some concern over the fate of its citizens, not wanting to abandon those newly created citizens entirely to their own destiny, while on the other portraying their decisions to emigrate as expressions of individual liberty and responsibility and not necessitated by want and poverty. Emigrants had to prove, paradoxically that they had the requisite means to emigrate when in fact poverty was largely driving them to emigrate. To admit that publicly would have amounted to admission of economic and political failure made evident through emigration. In contrast to that Mussolini’s emigration policies not only enforced large population movements within the territory of Italy to balance unemployment between regions and particularly between North and South, but also declared it citizen’s duty to be ready to move also to the colonies, thereby ‘turning emigration as a sign of social crisis into a sign of national strength and the success of the country’s political agenda’ (Gaspari 2001, p. 34). The duplicity continued even after World War II when secret deals were done with the USA to allow a continuous flow of Italian immigrants and EU membership obviously further facilitated the departure of unemployed, impoverished Italians. With the growing prosperity of Italy the reversal of the direction of migration became more obvious. On the basis of empirical research conducted by one of the author on returning emigrants four types of motives for returning can be distinguished: 1.Return as a result of failure – particularly the emigrants who left during the 1950-1970 period usually had no linguistic preparation, and in any case the gap between the spoken and the written language is enormous with the latter often being insurmountable. This gives rise to nostalgic sentiments which motivates a return into an environment where language is familiar 2.Return as a means of preserving an identity – the life of emigrants often takes place within ghetto-like conditions where familiarity is being reproduced but under restricted conditions and hence not entirely authentic. The necessity for saving money permits only a partial entry into the host society and at the same time any accumulating savings add to the desire to return home where life can be lived fully again – or so it seems. 3.Return of investment – the impossibility to become fully part of another society often motivates migrants to accumulate not so much material wealth but new experiences and competences which they then aim to reinvest in their home country. 4.Return to retire – for many emigrants returning home becomes acute once they leave a productive occupation and feelings of estrangement build up, in conjunction with the efforts of having invested in building a house back home. All those motives are associated with a variety of difficulties on the actual return home because, above all, time in relation to the country of origin has been suspended for the emigrant and the encounter with the reality of that country reveals constant discrepancies and requires constant readjustment. This is where the need for assistance to returning emigrants arises. The fact that such an important centre of assistance has been closed is further confirmation of the still prevailing politics of ambiguity which nominally demand integration from nationals and non-nationals alike but deny the means of achieving this. Citizenship is not a natural result of nationality but requires the means for active participation in society. Furthermore, the experiences of returning immigrants provide important cues for the double ambivalence in which immigrants to Italy live between the demands made on them to integrate, the simultaneous threats of repatriation and the alienation from the immigrants’ home country which grows inexorably during the absence. The state can only regain its credibility by putting an end to this ambiguity and provide to returning emigrants, and immigrants alike, the means of reconstructing strong communal identities.
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