Courageous Cecile

Cecile Kyenge, Italian Minister of Integration

Cecile Kyenge, Italian Minister of Integration

Cecile Kyenge, Italy’s first black minister, is once again facing vicious racist attacks. This week it started with the anti-immigrant Northern League party’s newspaper “Padania” starting a new column “Here’s Cecile Kyenge” which lists her public appearances so that party members can go heckle her.

This feature appeared after she was harassed last weekend at an appearance in Brescia, in Northern Italy and before an appearance this Saturday (tomorrow) in Milan.

The Northern League has attacked the Congolese-born Minister from her first days in office (see my blog posts: Call Me Black and Racial Slurs and Death Threats in Italy). She has been called an orangutan, and has had bananas thrown at her.

As Minister of Integration one of her top priorities is changing the law on citizenship. As it stands now, a child of immigrants born in Italy cannot apply for citizenship until he or she becomes 18. Kyenge would like to make it possible for any baby born in Italy to have Italian citizenship. Many Italians do not like that idea.

Kyenge responded with her usual calm to the column, noting in an interview with the Italian daily “La Repubblica”: “My schedule is public, anyone can have access to my parliamentary duties and my appearances around Italy. I will go forward. One thing is certain, I will not cancel any meeting, or skip any appointment. I will not change my politics which remain anchored in the values of non-violence and dialogue.”

Newspaper articles about attacks on Cecile Kyenge, Italian Minister of Integration. January 17, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Newspaper articles about attacks on Cecile Kyenge, Italian Minister of Integration. January 17, 2014. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Matteo Salvini, the Secretary of the Northern League and Member of the European parliament made matters worse by stating, “Kyenge is paid by Italian citizens to concern herself only with foreigners. A useless ministry, useless expense, dangerous ideas. With this column we offer a service to the readers of “Padania” who are curious and want to go hear the Minister: we did not write “go and beat up Kyenge.”

In my opinion only one Italian politician came forcefully to Kyenge’s defense. Nichi Vendola, President of the Italian region of Puglia declared, “Our racists think they are in Alabama or Mississippi a half century ago, or in South Africa under apartheid. Can someone tell them we are in the Third Millenium in a civilized country, despite them.”

Since Vendola mentioned Alabama a half-century ago, let me add that Kyenge’s calm and understated style reminds me of American Rosa Parks who in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama refused to give up her seat in the colored section of the bus for a white person. The bus driver had her arrested.

Over the course of this week, the situation has gone from bad to worse. On Wednesday morning an envelope with a white powder leaking out of it and addressed to Kyenge was delivered to the Prime Minister’s office. Firefighters were called to close off the area and discovered the powder was baking soda.

Again, Kyenge responded with calm, “I have to go forward, and I feel safe. I have to thank my escort for this: six people who I spend a lot of time with, I feel very close to them and they are very attentive with me. “

Italian Northern League Gianluca Buonanno uses make up to darken face in Italian Parliament.

Italian Northern League Gianluca Buonanno uses make up to darken face in Italian Parliament.

And if that was not enough for one day, Wednesday, a member of parliament from the Northern League stood up in parliament, began using make-up to darken his face and declared, “let’s make ourselves blacker so we can have the same help the foreigners do.”

What a fool.

Italy’s population is rapidly changing from being predominantly white and Catholic to being mixed. Italian population growth is among the lowest in the world but thanks to the immigrant population it continues grow. However, some Italians do not want to accept a mixed-race, multi-religious society.

Again, let me quote courageous Cecile “No one will stop me in my efforts against racism: even if they continue to attack me, they will not succeed in stopping me.”

13 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Arlene
    2014/01/17

    I’m sure those morons in the Lega Nord don’t realize that in America Italians were not considered white until when, the ’40s?

    Question, if a child is born to immigrant parents in Italy and the parents have become Italian citizens before the birth, is the child then an Italian citizen or do they still have to wait until turning 18?

    If not, that makes no sense to me. The parents may not be Italian by blood but they are citizens.

    In France, if your parents are not French citizens you do not become a French citizen at birth. There are different ages for requesting it, depending on the length of residency.

    Maybe this is the model Italy should think about. A compromise of sorts as this is the not the USA. I don’t think Italy (or France) is going to start granting citizenship upon birth to children of parents who are not citizens.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/01/17

      Thanks for your comment Arlene. “Morons” is actually a pretty nice term for those Northern League racists. And I feel frustrated because I don’t think Italians are getting angry enough– there are articles in the papers, and interviews with Kyenge, but not enough outrage as far as I am concerned. Sigh. Good question about the citizenship. I am assuming that if immigrant parents have already obtained Italian citizenship before having a child, there is no way the child can be denied Italian citizenship — but you’ve left me with a little doubt so I will double check and get back to you.

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    Nancy Rockwell
    2014/01/18

    Thanks so much for covering this – NOT A WORD about it in the US press, so far. Not one word. And perhaps that is because this is a global problem – still a problem in the US, still hate groups, still slurs, still periodic flare-ups of the N word, still periodic displays of the Confederate flag – and a great deal of open hostility toward immigrants. Here, the press is to change the law which makes anyone born here a citizen, to require that at least one parent has a green card, and also, that if the parent is deported the child will also be, regardless of where the child was born. Even in Canada, which used to be the most hospitable place, there have been some horrid incidents recently. Here, thankfully, there are people working hard to block all this, change immigration laws, end the terror to which illegals are subjected.
    Cecile Kyenga is courageous and devoted, I hope the Pope speaks up in her defense.
    Thanks again, for writing this courageous piece –

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/01/19

      Thank you Nancy for pointing out what is happening in the US. It is hard not to get discouraged. Yes, I hope the Pope speaks up in her defense too. I will continue to write about her and attempt in my small way to draw attention to the important work she is doing.

      Reply
  3. Avatar
    barbara landi
    2014/01/18

    And here I thought the italians were color blind compared to americans; silly me.

    It’s stupidity, ignorance and holier than thou attitude. Skin color is pigment, nothing more. So sorry to hear this story.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/01/19

      I think a lot of Americans assume that Europeans are color blind because they have not hds all the racial tensions/violence that we have had in the US over the past 50 years. But I guess that is simply because most of the European countries have been fairly uniform in color and faith — that is all changing now and racial/ethnic tensions have been boiling across Europe in recent years. It is very sad.

      Reply
  4. Avatar
    Miranda
    2014/01/19

    It’s about time Italians get used to living in a multicultural country. Everyone has a right to live no matter what colour you are. Go Cecile, more power to you.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/01/19

      I couldn’t agree more.

      Reply
  5. Avatar
    Alan
    2014/01/19

    nationalism/racism/Fascism – its enough to make one believe in eugenics! (I am being ironic, in case anyone wonders).

    Reply
  6. Avatar
    John
    2014/01/19

    As you say,, Cecile is one courageous human being.. You must admire her! Thanks for making this situation better known. Interesting to contemplate how immigrants (the poorest and least powerful) are forcing change through diversity on our world as we know it. If ocean levels keep rising the pressure of migration will rise exponentially. Who can predict how it will end.. Thanks for this thought provoking report.

    Reply
  7. Avatar
    lisa | renovating italy
    2014/01/21

    Someone should stick a banana sideways up those idiots rear ends…..I wish it could be me!!!

    Reply
  8. Avatar
    Lucy
    2014/01/24

    I’ve only just come across your blog and I’m so glad I did. Most blogs (mine included) focus mainly on the positive or frustrating aspects of life in Italy – not the serious political and social issues. I’ll be following you from now on to make sure I’m aware of things happening beyond the pizzeria.
    Lucy x
    La Lingua : Food + Life in Milano

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2014/01/25

      Thank you Lucy, that is so kind of you. I am so pleased you find my blog interesting.

      Reply

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