chapter  13
Who am I? Italian and foreign youth in search of their national identity
Pages 21

Italy’s new face Italy has long been known as a country of emigration. However, during the last three decades, it has progressively shifted from being an emigration country to an immigration destination. The 1981 population and housing census is a milestone in Italian migratory history, as for the first time net migration1 expressed a positive trend (Istat, 1987): Italy suddenly found itself to be a country of immigration. This reversal trend was a novel experience, since the number of people entering Italy was due not only to post-colonial migrations and the return of emigrants (or their descendants), but also to the unexpected arrival of non-Italian citizens. Nowadays,2 Italy “hosts” almost 5 million foreigners with a legal permit of stay, which means that 8.1 per cent of the entire population is non-Italian. Since the 1981 census the number of foreign citizens has grown steadily, especially after the turn of the century. Immigration to Italy has often been noted for the speed with which it has developed and its heterogeneous composition (Istat, 2008): foreign residents have more than tripled over the last ten years and belong to 192 different nationalities. There are no more doubts: today, in 2014, Italy is a country of immigration. Tangible and immediately recognizable symbols of Italy’s new face are wellrepresented by at least two public figures: Cécile Kyenge and Mario Balotelli. The former is a Congolese woman who arrived in Italy at the age of 19 and earned an advance degree in ophthalmology; in 1994 she married an Italian and legally became an Italian citizen.3 She was granted an almost celebrity-like status in 2013 when she was appointed minister for integration, becoming Italy’s first black cabinet minister. Balotelli is an Italian football player who was born in Italy to Ghanaian immigrants. His parents gave him up to an Italian foster family, the Balotellis, who took him under their care. As a consequence, in accordance with Italian law, he achieved Italian citizenship when he turned 18. Despite being less famous, another public figure deserves to be mentioned: Stephan Kareem El Shaarawy. Like Balotelli, he is a football player in a prestigious Italian football club. El Shaarawy is a good example of a mixed couple’s

son.4 Brought up by an Egyptian father and an Italian mother, he was born Italian.5 These three cases are representative of a migratory process at its final stage. Indeed, settlement by foreign families, inter-ethnic marriages, children born in Italy to foreign couples and children of mixed couples embody a stable form of immigration (Böhning, 1967; Castles and Miller, 1993). This statement is also corroborated by official statistics. At present, nearly one in six (15.0 per cent) children born in Italy is “second generation”: native-born children of foreignborn parents.6 Just ten years ago they numbered only 6.2 per cent. More than one million, or over one-fifth (22.7 per cent) of the total foreign population, is under 18 years of age; and in 2011, 8.8 per cent of all marriages were inter-ethnic, up from 3.7 per cent in 1995 (Istat, 2011; 2012). As a result, the long-term consequences of foreigners settling in Italy have recently become a crucial issue for politicians and scholars alike. However, even if it feels like a new topic for Italians, such a debate has already developed in countries that experienced immigration much earlier. Since the late nineteenth century, theoretical speculation has flourished around the idea of assimilation, especially prevalent in the United States, where society had to face new challenges linked to immigration and the academic community addressed the question “Who and what is an American?”. Now, a century later, Italian scholars are asking the same thing: “Who and what is an Italian?”