My Italian colonial past

My Italian colonial past

part one of many
cuore con le ali - heart with wings
cuore con le ali – heart with wings

I was born in 1967. The formative years of compulsory schooling, primary and secondary, through to high school were 1977-1985. Thirteen years! critical for the creation of the model citizen: patriotic, proud and, of course, obedient.

Anna Banti freed me from the patriotism inculcated, year after year, with the repetition of a Roman legacy and a revolutionary and republican Italy with “Noi credavamo” which, together with the lucidity of how a nation is built, opened the doors to a yet standing anti-militarism and the awareness that loving places and people does not require soaking in the patriotic paternalistic and patriarchal broth of a system that demands obedience and makes the feminine superfluous and episodic. A heroine here and there, always Anita Garibaldi, never Leda Rafanelli.

The history of modern and contemporary Italy, in other words the 20th century: with the two great wars and the horrors of modernity, has always been relegated to en exhausted end of school year and an educational curriculum that, who knows why, never had time to talk about Trieste, A and B Zone and, of course and above all, the colonial empire: Albania, Greece, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Libya and the fascist Italy.

In fifth grade, than in the eighth grade and again in high school, textbooks offered a generic overview of the birth of National Socialism, Mussolini’s rise, the loss of the Second World War with an Italy redeemed by male-partisans, female-partisans found only thanks to stubborn and out-of-school feminism.

Being an anti-fascist was not difficult, in love with history, as an idealist and a feminist, even without the internet finding texts was possible. “If This is a Man” read in my first year at University cemented once and for all not only my anti-fascism but an understanding of “race” as an instrument of oppression.

Few pages of formal curriculum, many gaps. Within the civic formal education racism and anti-racism were constructed and explained at the level of individual choices, similar to prejudice. With the universal declaration of human rights (sic!) offered as the only solution for a harmonious and individualistic humanity. In short, growing up as an adolescent first and as a young woman later, Italy was part of a democratic Europe, a cradle of civilisation, desired and loved destination and in for me as a southern a Mediterranean destination.

Only years later, arriving in Croatia in ’94 as coordinator of a humanitarian aid project for displaced populations and refugees of the Balkan wars, I began to discover and see Italy through the eyes and memories of others. From there I discovered and understood the foibe, the role of the Italian army and the blackshirts (squadristi) in Istria. “Trst je naša” (Trieste is ours) seen from Rijeka made eventually sense.

Living in Rijeka was a fundamental experience for me, a small provincial girl from Calabria. Seeing Italianity reflected in the mirror of another Europe brought to the surface doubts but also unintentional and systemic ignorance and offered history with beyond Italian censorship.

In ’94 I left Italy, I returned for short periods but not to live there. Except for short interruptions and breaks I have lived and still live in the Balkans and for the last 20+ years in Bosnia Herzegovina.

The Balkans have changed me, influenced me, offered me space for reflection and relations and helped me to see things that as a Calabrese and an Italian I had not seen or been able to see.

Changing perspective was existential, aesthetic, liberating, political and feminist!

For years, being Italian remained a dormant object, aware but unexplored, an object not investigated in its roots and consequences.

At first it was learning to recognise the privilege of my passport, then learning that the real privilege is this white skin. To be clear, my body was never treated at borders or by the various police forces with the sufficiency and suspicion reserved to migrants, but was classified as an expatriate or tourist and sometime, because of my choice to live in Bosnia, as an eccentric. Essentially free to move, to go and/or return.

The awareness that privilege and power are interconnected is feminism 101.

To grow is to imagine.

Reading bell hooks, discovering oneself on the margin as a female projection in the world was fundamental but in bell hooks race, class and gender are a continuum. You cannot reflect on one without being immersed in all the margins that other people lives are woven with. Social, economic, cultural and indeed racial margins. Margins that named a world in which I was the centre and so, how to regain that practice and consciousness if not by accepting myself as an element and part of that centre that creates discouragement and rejection?

One has to sit at the bottom of oneself, look at oneself and let oneself be looked at, recognise and be recognised. Acceptance does not mean surrending, and certainly not surrending to the centre. Acceptance is a necessary step to deconstruct the centre, to separate from it and regain the edge of the margins as a symbol and practice of a possible individual and especially collective transformation.

The awareness of the margin and the desire to live its freedom goes through a continuous reflection of one’s practices, of one’s relationship and belonging to the “centre” or “centres”, because life is multidimensional. One, none, a hundred thousand. Masks that are skin rather than dresses.

So thanks to the margin, reconstructing the hereditary lines, the lineage of rights is more than a rhetorical exercise. It is to realise that rights, being founded on norms, represent the standard of a given majority, who looks at themselves and recognises themselves as in a mirror. Therefore these rights belong to a closed community and their rhetoric of applying to all humans is essentially false.

In order to be applied, a right assumes a community. What justice/rights, then, can those who are not seen, accepted as part of a community may have or access?

It has taken me years, decades to come to the realisation that racism is not an individual issue but a structural one. That belonging is a projection that some bodies suffer and others enjoy. It is part of a system that calls itself democratic but is in fact territorial, rooted in a conception of the self/us that has been going on since the times of the Inquisition with the invention of race and before that with the enactment of the ley de sangre and the beginning of the persecution of Arabs and Jews in that Europe in its becoming “the cradle of civilisation”!

The construction of the other as essentially extraneous, dangerous and above all inferior has forgotten its historical and economic origins. Rarefied and transformed over time, its construction has mutated in a sense of natural belonging, a social DNA still undisputed today, transmitted and practised as an efficient genealogy from one white generation to the next.

That the creation of the idea of race is an instrument of oppression and moral justification for the acquisition of property, territories and peoples is a fact.

That the white sense of belonging constitutes one of the most efficient chains of connivance and collusion that unites members of the white race regardless of their economic status, class, age, gender and sexual orientation, disability is a fact too.

Acknowledging and naming the chain of connivance and collusion that wants us all white in one-fit-to-all serves to break, in the first instance, one’s individual omertà and then through the personal reflection of the linkage s of my Italian colonial past with this present hopefully the beginning of transformative relationships.

Translated with (free version) and myself

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