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«Rivista Italiana di Economia Demografia e Statistica Volume LXVI n. 2 Aprile-Giugno 2012 THE CONFINES OF IDENTITY: THE “SECOND GENERATIONS”1 ...»

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Rivista Italiana di Economia Demografia e Statistica Volume LXVI n. 2 Aprile-Giugno 2012


Paolo De Nardis, Luca Alteri

1. Multiculturalism and Beyond...

In the last several years we have noticed a proliferation of research with

particular attention placed on second generation immigrants, or the so called G2's.

These works even allude to patterns of a sociological nature on the immigrants whom we prefer to define as migrants (not in honor of being politically correct, but to honor the exact etymology). The desire to get on and ride this media wave is evident based on what has happened in France, Germany, and England where the second generations have been at the forefront of upheaval. It remains therefore, in reality, an ulterior hypothesis: that the attention focused on the problem have an “exorcizing” effect to the tune of “I'll take care of the second generations to prevent riots from happening in Italy as they happened in France and London”.

Among the many publications – I had been talking about – I would like to highlight a work that was published in 2012 for Bonanno Publishing Press, for a series - entitled “Oltre la linea” (Beyond the Line) - that I co-direct with two colleagues. The book, edited by Simonetta Bisi, deals with the integration of migrants' children within the Roman school system: nevertheless, its validity surpasses any geographical dimension. It is not entitled The City of Others.

Techniques of Scholastic (dis) Integration, for no reason. The study constitutes the need to reflect on models of migrant integration, on the work of institutions such as the school system and the way that “foreigners” are received into civil society.

The results of this kind of work are presented in the following words:

“Multiculturalism has failed”. Coming to a similar conclusion following the ethnic based riots that occurred several times in London during the last ten years would only constitute a limited and superficial study. The thesis that “Multiculturalism has failed”, more for its theory than for its practicality, has instead conferred preeminent importance on religious identity rather than to an everyday identity, and Although this essay was conceived jointly, Paolo De Nardis wrote paragraph 1, while Luca Alteri wrote paragraphs 2. The essay was translated by Glenda Marcozzi.

10 Volume LXVI n. 2 Aprile-Giugno 2012 has furthermore transformed the single national community into the epicenter of the migrants social life. Other identities, other affiliations, other “spiritual memberships” compared to a specific religious identity have been drastically downsized. At the same time, the aggregation centers apart from those of the community (such as lay, institutional or even self organized, not based on confession however) have been debased. In English multiculturalism, the immigrants were Arab, Hindu, Sikh, or else Christian, the same being true for their respective offspring. Such a reductio ad religionem – in as much as being inspired by the noble principle of permitting the migrants to remain true to their own beliefs

- has resulted in limiting aspirations in the lives of the new English citizens. Why limit oneself to one's own religious community or the rituals of one's own religion?

Why feel only Arab? Isn't an Arab (or a Hindu, a Christian, an animist...) also a worker, an employee, a passionate fan of cricket, of Manchester United? One who appreciates jazz music? Perhaps even a vegetarian, a socialist, a feminist? “The world” – concluded Amartya Sen (2005) in a pointed analysis of the limits of multiculturalism – “isn't a federation of memberships to an ethnic religion, neither is, one hopes, Great Britain.” Such a judgment, which was written while London was beginning to reflect on abandoning its multicultural model, gains even more value if it is compared to the second generations in Italy.

The problem is absolutely complex: a simple linear analysis is not even feasible here; rather, a multi- dimensional approach is necessary which allows the diverse problems to converge on a common topic. The question of second generations presents itself like concentric circles wherein the child of immigrant parents is at the center. These same parents have bartered for integration in Italy's system by accepting arduous, repetitive, humble jobs that are socially looked down upon.

However, doing this they gained a salary, created a space and a role within the society. Their children have broken away from their parents and refuse this so called “bartering” considering it a symbol of sub alternative integration, and consequently, a humiliating condition. These children, having grown up alongside their peers who have different life styles and models of consumption, being parked in front of a television, subjected to advertising and the messages of western society, have completely broken away from what their parents' experience was. At the same time, however, they also live in a context that is continual and that must not be under evaluated: they ask for independence and emancipation from their parents, even though having need of support and closeness. They are fluctuating between opportunities to climb the social ladder and the risk of losing themselves in anonymity. They are searching for a place to find themselves yet shy away from the responsibilities that this brings. They are in effect, just like their Italian counterparts, seeking reference points, beliefs, and self determined spirituality.

Rivista Italiana di Economia Demografia e Statistica 11 Charles Glenn (2004 p.179) wrote well when he said: “Teachers must be ready to recognize that their immigrant students (despite their external differences) may have much more in common with their Italian classmates than both groups have with the adults they are surrounded by”.

If it is true that the second generations of “non Italians” are different from the first generations (given that it would be too felonious to list the problems and the possible solutions), it is also true that the “seconds” are inevitably tied to the degree of integration and to the standard of life that the first generations have (with great difficulty) succeeded in reaching. If it is true that a fourteen year old with Moroccan, Bengali, or Colombian parents have different problems (in addition to, more serious, at times unresolvable) in contrast to a fourteen year old born to Italian parents, it is also true that the first fourteen year old inevitably lives in close contact to the second, interacts with him or her (even a conflict is a form of interaction), produces and receives stimuli, suggestions, and conditioning.

It is for this motive that the G2 is a strategic individual who totally represents the contradictions of the global society: this young person is the traffic light at the intersection, the road sign at the fork in the road... living that moment of uncertainty just before choosing among multiple answers... as dots suspended between two propositions.

The integration experience of the first generations passes through that of the second generations (when the satisfactory insertion of ones' own children turns out to be a gratifying, determining factor for a parent of a foreign origin.), but passes through even the youth themselves in general – irrespective of the citizenship requested and granted or not granted– in a society that often stereotypes them as novelties, frills, or non sustainable luxuries.

Faced with a situation of such importance – maybe because of its obviousness – many sociological analyses tend to consider the second generations as monads or elements left to themselves, disengaged and isolated from the social context they belong to; at the most, they enclosed in a family environment (the family of origin and the national community with its strict rules) that is described as behind the times, old fashioned, anti-modern, and extremists from a confessional point of view. Perceiving it in this way - which is too limited - causes the suspicion to surface that a political motive is underway (with the objective of justifying pressing political matters in dealing with migration) – and leaves out the interplay of three variables.

The first - of a judicial nature – regards the dimension of the citizen at large and highlights the unique Italian situation: the G2's that are born or brought to Europe at a young age either acquire or are able to request citizenship from the country that has allowed them in; whereas, Italian norms require that this concession be subordinated to reaching the age of adulthood and to a decision made at the 12 Volume LXVI n. 2 Aprile-Giugno 2012 discretion of the Italian administration. Marco Demarie and Stefano Molina (2004, p. XXII) justly write that: “Naturalization is an undoubtedly delicate subject that requires reflection and caution, it is of the utmost necessity that the imagined pathways leading to citizenship are in the prospective where logic of jus soli wins out over jus sanguinis. This is a thought that must be an intrinsic part of the construction of European citizenship”.

This comment has not only a judicial value but a symbolic one as well: if the State becomes, in the eyes of the migrant of the second generation, only an institution that punishes, it will never be recognized as authoritative reference point and deserving of that certain combination of faith and respect inherent in the concept of Institution.

The second variable concerns the labor environment: the first generation of migrants had found interstices of incomes by doing the jobs that the Italians found less than enticing (even though right wing Italians continue to negate that “there are no jobs that the Italians don't want to do”), but the G2s have witnessed the range of possibilities narrow down (due, even in part, to the chronic economic crisis). Given that the G2s tend to refuse to perpetuate the quantity and the quality of work done by their parents, such a situation produces a statistic framework that is not advertised much but that is already most alarming: in the European countries with the oldest migration, high levels of unemployment are recorded for the youth of foreign descent.

The third - and last - variable to analyze is specifically an economic aspect framed in an holistic approach in the relation between second generations and society. Integrating the youth of foreign origins into the society cannot take attention away from the transformations of the societies and from the economic cycle into which these G2s participate. Being marginalized, or rather, falling through the cracks of society, is not only motivated by identity and ethnicity but economics as well. Various empirical analyses have demonstrated how the material conditions of daily life influence whether the G2s are central or marginalized social settings. A comparison of Third Millennium immigration to the Italian immigration in the 1950's is valid here: degrading conditions inevitably favor deviant behavior, uncomfortableness, exclusion and – in a scholastic environment - dropout.

In the very light of these aforementioned variables, it is technically wrong to forget how multiculturalism produced optimum results for a considerable number of years. To quote Amartya Sen once again (2005, p. 8): “The most significant contribution perhaps, whose importance is not sufficiently recognized, comes from the full and immediate right to vote for all British citizens of the Commonwealth which constitutes the biggest part of non European immigration. This conquest has been reinforced by dealing in a non discriminatory way in Health, in Education, and in Civil protection: all this has contributed to integrating rather than dividing”.

Rivista Italiana di Economia Demografia e Statistica 13

2. The Multi Ethnic School: A Misunderstood Condition

One other, perhaps less tangible, result deserves to be recognized objectively:

multiculturalism has the merit of drafting a theory, of proceeding without making mechanical attempts, or worse yet, inopportune improvisations. On closer inspection, this is what characterizes the Italian school today: improvisation.

Among the countless problems it is improvisation that comes to the forefront, both on the legislative front and in the daily management of the institutes. More precisely, the teaching staff has been forced to succumb to improvisation, having been abandoned and left to their own resources, always having less resources available to them while being obliged to raise funds like risky Non Governmental Organizations instead of being professionals who should busy themselves above all with creating an environment of balance and harmony between the students, the teachers, and the administrative, technical, and auxiliary personnel.

In the chaos of official announcements and meaningless norms, the teachers live their lives in perennial trenches, resigned to the need of adding to their obligatory work load: fantasy, the ability to improvise and to bear it all. Those who deal with intra-culture within the teaching staff work with an extremely high degree of difficulty, from the moment they have to implement the so called legislative vacuum in a sector that, being innovative, requires, on the contrary, the imposing presence of a legislator.

In the last few years (and in various countries) criticism about multiculturalism has appeared to be an exercise closer to political propaganda instead of an analysis of public politics. “The English model has failed” - was being said with a tone of triumph. But what about the French model? The United States model? The German model? The Italian model (if there has, in effect, been one)? The neighborhoods on the outskirts of the English towns in flames did not re-echo the tumult of neither the French revolts nor the ethnic conflicts in German cities or the struggles in the Italian Chinatown? Confronted with mass migration, every theoretical model (and each practical application consequently) has proven to be short lived. Nevertheless, to single out the only answer in the anachronistic closure of “the Fortress Europe” is an even more improbable than simplistic activity. If one looks closer, the history of the politics in each European country concerning migration has demonstrated pros and cons often modified based on the characteristics of the single models


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