All posts by hamiltpa

Sutera: Pilgrimage to Progess

Confession Alert: I found my dream home, or town rather. Sutera, Sicily. A tiny town literally on the side of a mountain smack dab in the middle of Sicily. The views of the island are better than you could ever imagine. Driving up to the town and wandering around (and maybe getting a little lost) makes you feel like you’re in a fairytale. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The quaint houses, windy streets and tiny random piazzas are picturesque beyond belief. I may have been slightly conditioned to love sutera 1Sutera because I listened to schmaltzy Italian pop music that romanticizes Italy to the max for me, but still this town is special. The people were eager to talk to us and share their story.

After the beautiful two hour train ride from Palermo, a 15 minute taxi ride straight up the side of the mountain and a few moments to pause, gawk and drop our jaws at the incredible scenery, we met up with the president of the local council, who happens to be the daughter of the last mayor of Sutera, and a few other people (many named Pino). Everyone knows and/or is related to everyone there so as we walked around we kept learning that this vegetable and fruit cart owner was so-and-so’s aunt or that the driver of that car was the Mayor’s wife. Eventually, after figuring out a tentative schedule for the day, we headed into town to meet the Vice Mayor.


Sitting circled around an impressive wood-carved desk, the mosaic team and I interviewed the Pino Landro, the Deputy President of Sutera and the leader of the immigrant integration program organized by the commune, Santina Lombardo. The Deputy, a middle-agesutera 2d man and retired teacher, proud to talk about and tour his village, began by explaining Sutera’s program for immigrants to us. He said that currently, there were currently 30 immigrants living in the commune, all of which had been processed and distributed by Roman decree, based on which cities had available space. This process is part of an initiative called SPRAR, “Il Sistema di protezione per richiedenti asilo e rifugiati” or the system for the protection of asylum seekers and refugees. Of the 500 programs like Sutera’s that exist, Landro proudly said that 90 are in Sicily. Perhaps this is because southern Italians and Sicilians can commiserate, having a reputation as being migrants themselves, frequently traveling to northern Italy where it is more industrialized. Sutera, Landro explained, used to be a place that just send people away however now it has transitioned in one that receives people.

This is fitting because the name ‘Sutera’ comes from an ancient word meaning ‘salvation’ or ‘welcoming.’ Many years ago, the city emulated its image today, as a city accepting of desperate migrants. In addition, during the era of feudalism in Italy, Sutera remained autonomous and for this they are proud; thus, the village highly regards and continously tries to instill the power of autonomy in its inhabitants. When asked about their thoughts on economic vs. political or cultural migrants, both narrators said they saw no difference. Landro explained that the same issues that cause war cause poverty, thus both categories are deserving of help. While such is a progressive view among Italians, this has clearly been their attitude for a long time. In fact, it seems to have influenced officials on the Italian mainland. In the official document that described SPRAR’s purpose it reads, “ a network of local authorities that sesutera 3t up and run reception projects for people forced to migrate,” thus removing the need to distinguish between the push factors by not specifying why those people were forced to migrate.

Sutera provides a good example of the situation in which many Sicilian municipalities are finding themselves. While the European Union provides the programs with funding for the migrants’ housing, finding those houses in the first place is not a challenge. Most of the immigrants in Sutera live in homes abandoned by families and youths searching for education and job opportunities elsewhere. Many Suterans used to emigrate to the United States and later to Germany. This trend was so common that the commune now has three “twinning” villages in Germany with whom them share cultural traditions and facilitate communication between their respective schools. Mass emigration from Sutera seemed like a sensitive topic for the Deputy, who described a situation in which the the diaspora of youths had left an old and dying population. He continued, saying that there are only around 12 births a year, a figure lower than the death rate. One of the teachers later commented on how they all celebrated each birth in the town and she could name all the children: Destiny, Divine…. Who had been born in the last year. This suggests Sutera had alternative reasons for accepting immigrants, besides a desire to help the displaced. With an elderly population who likely struggle to navigate the village’s slanted – indeed vertical – landscape, there was probably an increasing need for mobile people to perform jobs around the commune and farms. Therefore bringing in a youthful and job hungry population was crucial for the livelihood of their economy. A number of Romanian women have come to Sutera to help care for the elderly as badante. Other more transnational migrants are welcome to stay as long as they want in Sutera but they must stay at least as long as it takes for their application for asylum to be processed. As we learned earlier in our trip, this can take as long as two years.

In such a small population, around 1500, it has been easier for immigrants to integrate. They themselves make up just 9 families, 30 people total, 12 of which are children. Lombardo talked about this, describing some of the ways the native and foreign population have come together. Most notably was the sharing of traditions and celebrations. In fact, there is a holiday each year during which the migrants make their traditional foods and clothing and the whole commune comes together to celebrate. Interestingly, the woman used the verb ‘infect’ to describe how the foreign cultures meet the native one. This verb tends to have a negative connotation in English, whether or not she meant it that way was unclear. She did, however, tell us that many of the elderly population were not open to taking in migrants at first. The small population luckily has remedied this situation, for now since there are so few births, any newborn is treated like the village’s collective grandchild.

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The arrival of migrant youths to Sultera was particularly important since, with the declining population, there were not enough children and resources to support the school. In fact, it had to close for a couple of years. With the external support for immigrant programming and the increase in immigrant children, it meant the school could reopen – another major benefit for the community. The commune places a great importance on their schooling. One aspect in particular that Landro and Lombardo discussed was their focus on encouraging migrants students to tell their stories. Teachers they said, were taught to support their foreign students in talking about their voyages and adversity. Never in an intrusive way for course, but with the student’s best interest at heart. In addition, there were councilors available for the migrant children as well as for the Suteran adults who may be unprepared to hear such traumatic stories from the students. These services are paid for by the program’s Roman headquarters.

Our interview with these two individuals gave us great insight into how integration can be done successfully. After visiting a number of places where this had not yet happened, it was inspiring to speak with some individuals who were on the right path. While there are still some troubles facing the program, since jobs are still scarce, Sutera still provides a welcoming and safe temporary home.

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At the school, “Scuola Primaria Senatore G. Mormino”, we were curious to see how the children of immigrants were being integrated into the school. There are about 12 refugee students at the school, out of a hundred students total. When you first walk into the school, there is a large photo of a rickety boat taking refugees and migrants from Africa to Lampedusa. An unusual visual greeting as you walk through a school’s front door, but it’s symbolic for the community. It’s a sign of hope as the refugee children attending classes there have brought the school back to life after multiple waves of emigration from the area. The image is also a powerful reminder of Sutera’s history as a place of refuge, as evidenced by its name.

We started in the kindergarten classroom. Wow, were they all adorable! Plus they spoke Italian, which is obvious, but always such a shock to my ears because I am so used to hearing little kids speak in English! When we were there, they were on a break of sorts for having worked hard and attentively all morning, so they were rewarded with TV time, something that shocked me actually. I never watched cartoon TV shows in all of my years of public education.

One girl from Pakistan, who had been there for almost a year, clung onto her teacher for the whole 20 minutes we were there. She was the only child of immigrant parents in her class of about 15. Her older brother has adapted more quickly .  We were pained to leave them, but needed to keep on track and go visit the other grades. The first classroom we stopped in was a class of sixth graders. We did a quick introduction of names and why we were visiting and then learned all of the students’ names. Patricia, one of the students, was called up to talk to us because she has good English skills. She is the daughter of two Nepalese refugees. We later found out that the reason she is so good at English is because her father was an English teacher at an all-English high school back in Nepal.

As we passed through the rest of the classrooms, Patricia helped introduce all of the students and then tell them why we were there. Her Italian was very good – and she had only been in Italy for  four months! Her parents had to quickly escape from Nepal and were able to bring her to Italy after they had been here for 2 years. Meanwhile Patricia lived with her grandmother and experienced the devastating earthquake. I was so impressed with her! 11 years-old, great English, warm personality, and practically knows Italian already. It’s amazing how agile brains are when you’re young. I’ve been so fascinated with the language aspect of this trip. Language really affects what happens in someone’s life. Patricia is lucky because she is able to learn Italian while young and in school. Migrants who come to Italy looking for work rarely find the occasion to learn Italian and therefore cannot become part of society as easily. Language can both create and breaks so many barriers!

Visiting the school in Sutera was a cool way to gain more perspective on young immigrants and refugees in the educational system. It was also interesting to compare it to the Besta School in Bologna. Each school is doing the best with what they have. The Besta school may have better access to resources and a higher student population, but Sutera’s school is still thriving thanks to the influx of immigrant children and the community’s dedication to education, integration and the future.

After lunch we ended our day in Sutera with Patricia’s (one of the students we met at the school) family. She lives with her dad and mom, Siam and Pragia, who graciously invited us into their home to talk with them about their personal migration story from Nepal and their experiences living in Sutera. The former mayor, Gero Difrancesco, of Sutera took us to their house and stayed during our talked with them because he was a good friend of the family. When we walked into their house it immediately felt like a home, you really got the sense that a family lived here. The house was warm and smelled amazing with a mix of different smells from spices. They had family pictures and decorations up on the wall. They got chairs for us to all sit with them in their living room and Patricia and her mom brought us traditional Nepalese crackers and tea to eat and drink (they were both delicious!).


We sat down and started talking with them, mostly the dad and Gero, as Patricia and her mother kept coming in and out bringing us more food. We learned that they are the only Nepalese family in Sutera The dad and mom had been in Sutera for the past two years, but Patricia only had come to Sutera about four months ago. That was astonishing to hear as Patricia seems to know Italian so well already and seems to be very well adjusted in school with many friends. Her mom and dad are also learning Italian through classes offered to them. We learned that the her mom and dad left Nepal due to ethnic violence between the people in the mountains and the people in the plains. The father was an English teacher in Nepal and also faced threats since many did not approve of his teaching.. They had to leave Nepal very quickly to escape to safety. Patricia stayed behind to live with mom’s family when her parents left before her. When the parents left Nepal they were telling us that they did not know where they would end up. As the dad put it “people of poor countries have no destination,” they must go where they can.

Patricia's Family 2(1)

When Patricia finally came to Sutera to be reunited with her family she had to fly all by herself 22 hours to make it to Italy.. The whole community of Sutera was anxiously awaiting Patricia’s arrival. This shows the nice sense of community we had felt and seen in Sutera the whole day we were there. Patricia’s family has really valued this sense of community that Sutera has given them these past two years but the father said, it can also feel like prison. Given our own observations, we guessed this was due to the isolation of the mountain town. With only one bus going up and down the mountain a day and being a two hours train ride from the capitol, Sutera feels very removed. Furthermore, being on a hill, the buildings have cleverly been built adjusting to the slant. The unfortunate result of this is that the close rows of houses feel as though they are leaning inwards. As previously mentioned, there is little social mobility due the limited job opportunities thus, this potentially monotonous life style in place whose physically layout making the inhabitants feel walled in can understandably make them feel imprisoned. Since Sutera was so open to taking in migrants they were also very open to experiencing their different cultures. One way Gero and Patricia’s family became such good friends was through inviting each other into their homes and sharing their different cuisines and cultures with each other. Sutera has many festivals where people make various foods and share their different cultures.

We also talked with the family about if they think they will stay in Sutera. They told us that it is too difficult at this time to ever return to Nepal. They have loved their time in Sutera, but there are also some negative aspects they have to deal with. Since Sutera is on top of a mountain you need a stable form of transportation to get anywhere, but there is only one bus a day in the morning. This makes it really hard to get anywhere and it can feel really isolating to not be able to have access to leave Sutera when you may want to, or need to. Also the job opportunities are extremely limited in Sutera, and if you do not have a car to travel for work it can be really hard to survive. The decision to stay in Sutera, or move on somewhere else will be something they will need to figure out as time goes on.

As we leave Sutera we are left with the amazing people we have met and interacted with in this extraordinary little town. We are also left with the most amazing views of the whole trip! Sutera is a beautiful town full of rich community that is pushing it to continue to thrive. It was such a memorable experience that we will all cherish!

-Hyla, Ingrid, Paige


Padua: A Northern City in Conflict

Padua: A Northern City in Conflict

Bienvenuti! Today’s blog will be starring Northern Italy’s oldest city: Padua, or as it is known in Italian: Padova. Coincidentally enough, as we are in Italy studying migration, likewise it is said that Padua was founded by the prince of Troy fleeing the loss of his home (some might call him a refugee), ultimately growing into one of the richest cities in the Roman Empire known as Patavium. Then again during the scourge of the Huns, refugees fleeing Padua found safety in the wetlands to the east that would ultimately become the famous city of Venice. Therefore it is interesting to note that while today some 30% of the citizens of Padua support Lega Nord, the very conservative anti-immigration political party in Italy, the city itself has a very rich history of migration and refugees. To further elaborate on the political climate, Veneto the province that Padua is a part of, Lega Nord received around 35% in 2014 while in Emilia-Romagna the province of Bologna and neighbor to Veneto, only had 19.4%. This was further shown by the experience that some of our group had while listening to a very intense taxi driver express very anti-immigration sentiments on the way to our destination. To paraphrase: ’The invasion of the immigrants is due to a conspiracy supported by the U.S. and Italian left-wing parties.’ However all in all, while this rich history and brief background into the political climate of Padua may be interesting, it is time to discuss what we did today.

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Our goals for the day were to first meet with an advanced english language course for masters level students studying political science and international relations and just have conversations with university students about their own perceptions of migration, whether or not they had academic knowledge.


Personally, I had the pleasure of speaking with two students with different migration stories which they willingly discussed. The former, was a Syrian Human Rights lawyer with a focus on violence against women, who was in Padua on fellowship for six months. The most striking points that this student made were her takes on Europe’s methods of approaching the migration “problem” and her own personal feelings towards the position of her countrymen as refugees.“I don’t want to be here, instead of worrying about refugees in Europe, fix the problem in Syria so that I can go home.” It was at this point that I reflected greatly on the real reaction by the western world in regards to Syria and the refugee crisis. In addition to these remarks the passion and the desperation that was expressed by this intelligent young woman showed the struggle that many in her shoes face. In the media the western world sees words such as “invasion” and “flooding” of migrants into Europe, worried that they’re going to suck away at their social security systems and cause a burden on their economies. However, not only is that wrong, most recently Sweden’s GDP increase for 2015was higher than expected, due in part to migrants. For the most part, these people who escaping war, violence, and persecution want to return to rebuild and live in their homeland.


The other student in our group was a man whom had migrated from Calabria, a city in the south of to Padua for an education, and like most other Italians following this trend called himself a migrant to the north, an interesting concept for a country that has been unified for over a hundred years yet still holds very regionalized opinions about their fellow citizens. This was followed by an intense discussion of the “Caporalati” who are migrants (usually illegal) that have been manipulated or coerced into forced labor in the fields working for usually only 15 euros a day. Much of this illegal work is controlled by the Camorra and is used for their own profit. The most interesting aspect of this trend is the government’s inability to fix this trend even though they have put in legislation that has no effect because of the control over the local governments that the Camorra has. While this breaking into groups was an amazing experience and the first time that we had the ability to understand what our peers in Italy were thinking of these same topics that we’re covering, it was only the first activity that we did in a long day’s worth of immersion and interviews in Padua. That afternoon we engaged in a languaging workshop.

The concept alone of a “languaging workshop” is progressive. In it, the participants are encouraged to use language at their whim, to seamlessly meld multiple tongues into a textured conversation, accessible to many because of its multilinguality. The participants were from diverse backgrounds and each held personal motivations for practicing english. The group included Egi Cenolli, the female president of the Council of Foreigners, two elderly men, one of whom was a retired middle school head and the other an activist in Razzimo Stop. There was also Debre, a migrant from Ghana and Erica who works for Save the Children and an organization that promotes anti-racism through sports. Leading the group was Francesca Helm who is also a migrant, however, her journey was from London to Italy. Having spent a major portion of her life in Italy she is bilingual and directs the workshop with ease. After introducing the class, she explains that the freedom of language in the class creates a sense of solidarity between people. A consistent theme we’ve found during the mosaic is the unifying, and also dividing, power of language. Nonetheless in this setting the participants used languages to relate and share with one another.

After explaining the purpose of our program, Maurizio who is a part of Razzismo Stop launched into a thorough yet concise summary of migration policy and competing ideologies in Italy. He began by addressing how the geographical placement of Italy has always made it a transit nation. Migrant numbers did not rise though until the influx of Albanians in the early 1990s which in part he attributes to the romanticized images of Italy on television. The second wave of migrants were those searching for work. Most recently, the third wave of people are evacuating nations racked by war and prosecution. While these migrants are fleeing from violence often perpetrated by other citizens of their country, “we are to blame,” he said, because “we the Europeans, U.S., and Russia start and incite the wars.” The activist continued. He explained how politicians use information to polarize people, get votes, and create doubts. He identified the mayor of Padua’s position: ‘the solution was to help migrants in their home nation first before they come to Europe.’ This led him to bring up what had been happening contemporaneously the day before, Greece and Macedonia closed the border and the refugees in Calais, France were evicted.


The microphone then passed to Debrey (on the left with Dickinson student Isaiah Gibson) , who came in a little late but made sure to go around and shake each of our hands. Previously a teacher in Ghana, he made his way across Africa, stopping in Niger to earn money teaching. By 2006 he was in Libya, dangerously close to the rebel base. To escape, he travelled to Lampedusa, eventually reaching Padua. Two years ago he was accepted into the Casa de Don Gallo home for migrants. The building, occupied by squatters 2 years ago, houses 60-85 migrants, mostly men. They live in what was once bank offices without running water or electricity; the commune had recently cut off the electricity.. Many of the inhabitants hold seasonal jobs, some have none. Debrey told us of how it became crucial for the men to work together, pooling skills and creativity in generating income. In the outdoor space, they fix bicycles and do small carpenter jobs. The city council was of little help, for while they listened to the migrants complaints, they never took any action to help. When asked how come people still come to Italy despite knowing, how difficult life here is for migrants, Debrey had a simple response: no one wants to live like their parents so the only option they see is to search elsewhere for new and better life chances.

Erica spoke next. She began by saying, “my life is a story of immigration” since she was born in Palermo, Sicily. Her talk was focused on the anti-racism sports organization. In addition to providing athletic outlets for the players, the group also concerned themselves with the players’ quality of life. The organization worked towards changing the rules regarding players registered abroad. Formerly barred from them registering again in Italy, these individuals can now play in Italy too. Erica works for Save the Children that also provides beneficial services for the migrants. One service they provide is a the safe space for children both with and without their parents. Another topic Erica also discussed was her dislike for the term “integrate;” she believed it insinuated that someone is integrating into another culture, as though leaving their previous one behind. She would prefer a meeting in the middle or a more hybrid meld of the two cultures involved. Interestingly, she said she would prefer to use the phrase “melting pot,” a term once popular in the US that has now fallen out of favor. The quality of melting pots, boiling down all the components into one homogenous substance leaves no room for individuality. Social scientists today prefer the analogy of a tossed salad in which all the unique parts work together to make the whole.

To close the panel, Egi Cenolli spoke about the Council of Foreigners. The main issue was the failure of the city council to facilitate elections since their last ones in 2011 and thus, foreigners can not vote or have a voice. During their prime, the council had been working towards achieving voting rights for all immigrants. Denied the opportunity to speak with the mayor about holding elections, the council of foreigners is at a standstill. They can sit in on city meetings but can do nothing. This corroborates Debrey’s statement about the ineffectual and inactive behavior of the local government.

The panel came to an end around 6:30pm because a number of its participants wanted to attend a protest taking place in the main square. In light of Padova’s political reputation, this protest for migrants rights was bound to be controversial. It was already dark but the square was lit by street and traffic lights. There were people milling about in groups throughout the square with most congregated around a large stone tomb. Holding it up are four large pillars. The two in front of which the crowd gathered had been wrapped in orange life vests. With the artificial light in the square, these vests glowed eerily as though on fire. On the vests there were stickers reading, “#overthefortress”.


The rejection of “Fortress Europe” was a persistent theme throughout the protest. The speakers discussed it, picketers called for its end. University students, older couples and everyone in between could be seen at the protest. A number of young people carried signs, most of which were in Italian; one in english read “Open the Borders”. Two large sheets hung on a nearby building. On these, they stated this was a demonstration to gain citizenship rights for all. A young woman explained this over a microphone in the center of the congregated people. She spoke sternly but remained composed. Shortly after, a young black man from Gambia was given the microphone, despite the hesitation expressed by one man orchestrating the demonstration. As soon as he began talking we all were entranced. Passionate, angry, in pain, each accusation and story became increasingly powerful. He spoke about his escape from persecution, and who his brother was unable to do so here and thus was sent back and immediately killed in the airport when he arrived. Pleading, he asked how Italy could let that happen? How could they let so many people die at sea? How could they deny aid to genuinely desperate people? Eventually the skeptical man came over and passed the microphone to someone else. Our mosaic dispersed a bit after that, some going to talk with the Gambian man, others to talk more with Debrey, and Ingrid and me to speak with Matty. Probably in his early 20s, Matty is a friend of Debrey’s who also lives in the Casa Don Gallo.

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He is from Mali so we spoke French. Our conversation was casual but after talking to us about his position on the immigrant football team Erica organizes, he told us about his journey to Padova. First leaving Mali to follow his mentor in mechanics to Libya, Matty eventually had to separate from him and Libya itself due to the war that broke out in 2011. Traveling first to Lampedusa, he then made his way north. Matty’s gentle demeanor and casual tone gave the impression we were having a chat about yesterday’s Arsenal match. The juxtaposition of his composure and the passion of the Gambian speaker was striking. I am continuously impressed by migrants’ resilience even after such tragedy and trauma.

-Ralph Humiston and Paige Hamilton