Living outside … and inside? (english)

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von Thais Palermo Butti

When migraZine's editorial team wrote me asking if I was interested in being interviewed about the situation of immigration in Italy after the adoption of the new law regarding clandestine immigration, I answered giving my complete availability to do the interview, but pointing out the fact that I did not consider myself to be the most appropriate person to talk about the subject.

My immigration process is totally subjective, and inexistent in practice: I am white, I speak perfect Italian, I have an Italian family name and, most importantly (in the sense of my total exclusion of the real world of those immigrated), I have Italian citizenship. Therefore, it seemed to me very limited — and even hypocritical — to be the spokesperson of a problem that I don't actually experience first hand.

Until the morning of September 1st, when I was on my way to the university, and I came across a battalion of policemen that blocked some of the streets giving access to the universities, among which the one I was going to.

I get off the bus and then begin to find out what is happening: they are expelling the residents of the former "Regina Elena", an area of the hospital that belonged to the Universidade La Sapienza, abandoned since 2001, and home to dozens of homeless families — both Italian and immigrants — since 2007.
I follow Castro Laurenziano, one of the blocked streets, and I try to reach Scarpa Street, where I would have a meeting. No success, nobody goes through, but it is nonetheless possible to reach a certain point of the street, slightly before the entrance gate of "Regina Elena". It seems like a war operation: civil and military policemen in line, armed with clubs and shields.

I remembered then that many times, leaving the university at night, I could see children playing ball in the street there. There was nothing spectacular about that particular scene, but it always captured my attention. It was obvious that those children, so lively and so simple — that kind of infantile simplicity that nowadays is difficult to find, even in the youngest children — could not be children of Italian middle-class families. That scene always brought me certain happiness. It was so nice … there were still children around that played in the street!

The next time I leave the university at night, I won't find those children playing ball in the street anymore. This thought devastated me, and I felt as those children's mother, and their parents' sister, and their grandparents' daughter, and a friend of their friends.

I start to get away from Castro Laurenziano Street and a sea of tears begins to drop, tears of rage, of impotence, of injustice felt in the skin, injustice with those children that, unintentionally, had became also mine.

I approach one of the policemen and I ask him with that irritating and gentile look of a sarcastic teenager, that unfortunately I never lost: "Excuse me, but aren't you embarrassed to do this?" No, he is not embarrassed, I am the one that should be ashamed … who knows, maybe he is right.

Astonished, I cross the street and approach a woman of the municipal police: "Excuse me, but what do you feel when you have to do this type of thing?" She doesn't feel anything, nor she knows who are those almost 600 people being banished from their houses, she began to work at four in the morning, and she is only doing her job, trying to organize the traffic.

I try to identify the feelings of people that are over there, what they are thinking, how they are facing the situation. A man explains to me that, since the beginning of the occupation, the University is asking that the building be vacated, because they should use it for an oncology department.

But then, I'm not able to understand the reason why that space was abandoned back in 2001. Why is there expensive medical equipment still sitting in there, abandoned, and most probably already out of order after all this time? Why was the building already falling to pieces more than two years ago, when it was occupied? And now all floors had been converted into living areas, where everybody collaborated to keep them in good condition.

They say that the hundreds of people — caught by surprise with the police operation — will be transferred to reception centres, or to other buildings in the outskirts of the city. They say that the operation was necessary, for the collective greater good, since now a whole new department of the hospital will be available.

I find a man that appears to be very happy with the expulsion. He's happy because inside there, in the "Regina Elena", there were just "extra-communitary". He said "extra-communitary". He meant to say "shit", but that was very politically incorrect.

Now that "Regina Elena" is unoccupied, I wonder where the Italians that used to live there will go. As for the "shit", certainly a part of them can be deported from Italy. Another part can go to jail — after all, it's enough to be an immigrant without a visa to be a criminal in Italy. Shit.

On the morning of September 1st, I was immersed in a world that I believed so far away from mine, and that suddenly felt so close, so mine.

As I left, I turned the corner of "Regina Elena" Avenue, close to the medicine university, and I came across a group of people, some of them crying. They would be family of those who were expelled, I thought; or perhaps voluntary workers; or they could even be also other homeless people. I felt an enormous desire of sharing my indignation with them, my sadness for what was happening. I got closer to one of them that wasn't crying, and I asked, already aware of the answer, but not willing to appear too insolent: "What is happening?" And he answered me: the mortuary is over there, behind the corner. I excused myself, and I left with that thought … the mortuary is always there, behind the corner.

Translation Portuguese-English: R. C. Benedetti

Thais Palermo ButtiThais Palermo Butti is a Brazilian immigrant woman, living in Italy for eight years, finishing her PhD in development studies. Thais Palermo Butti, imigrante brasileira, vive na Itália desde 2001 e é doutoranda em cooperação internacional na Italia, colabora com a Universidade Sapienza de Roma - na implementação de projetos de cooperação técnica , sobretudo na América do Sul.