Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Italian City Unveils Plan To Bail Out Struggling Carb Industry

According to Yahoo, Lucca, a city in the heart of Tuscany, has passed a city-wide measure that bans "ethnic" eateries within city limits. Apparently feeling threatened by kebab and curries, the center right city council's action was applauded by Italy's agricultural minister, who is, of course, a member of Italy's Lega Nord, which is known for its xenephobic leaning.

This article calls the Lega Nord "anti-immigrant," but this is a bit of a misnomer really, because it gives the impression that it is anti-"things foreign to Italy." The Lega Nord (per l'Indipendenza della Padania, which is the full name) is actually a party consisting of those who think that certain regions of northern/central Italy should either have more autonomy(according to the more mainstream view now dominant) or should secede altogether (no longer the official view, though some extremists would still claim this I imagine).

So they are equally anti-"other parts of Italy too," though to a predictable lesser extent. And this is an interesting phenomenon in Italy.

Years ago, I wrote a paper on racism in Belgium and Italy. Why those countries you ask? Well, at the time (1998-99) there was a lot of discussion of race relations in some of Europe's larger countries, such as Germany (obvi) and France, but there wasn't much on the smaller countries. And I thought Belgium and Italy would be interesting (I did not know at the time that I would eventually be living in Belgium about 2 years alter) because of their respective histories of not being a unified country. I don't actually remember much about what I wrote, but the studies I had to read were actually quite interesting.

With regard to Italy, the studies spoke of "L'exception italienne;" that is, despite the growing number of immigrants, Italy had not responded as many other countries had; either through sanctioned quotas or a growing anti-immigrant sentiment among the natives (though this had changed over the years). One of the reasons cited for this exception was that Italy itself has always been a patchwork of distinct regions, and thus Italians were used to dealing with those they saw as different from themselves. Italy, as we all know from our 6th grade text books began as a series of city-states. But even Italy as we now know it did not exist as a modern nation state until 1870. To this day, regional dialects and identities persist, though to a much lesser extent (Although if you watch AC Milan play AS Roma, the north/south distinction will become VERY clear).

My favorite study consisted of a survey that asked Sicilians what degree of trust they had for certain other groups, including the relatively new immigrants from the Maghreb. The result was priceless. According to the study, Sicilians trusted North Africans a bit more than they trusted other Sicilians and A LOT more than Italians from other regions.

So the Italian Exception isn't so much that Italians are really accepting so much as they are much more local and perhaps open-minded in their point of reference for prejudice.

Now if add to this mixture the pride most Italians have for their food, regionally and nationally, this city measure makes sense. I once mentioned to an Italian friend how the popular conception of Italian food wasn't really "Italian" since tomato sauce couldn't exist until tomatoes were discovered in the New World and that pasta was most certainly not indigenous to Italy and was probably imported from the Levant. From her reaction you would have thought I had spat on the grave of her grandmother. So despite the admonition from Vittorio Castellani that there is"'no dish on the face of the earth' that is not derived from a mélange of different ingredients and a fusion of culinary styles," it looks as if culinary protectionism has emerged under the Tuscan Sun.

But of course, we just passed a massive stimulus plan that has some "Buy American" clauses in it, so I guess we can't really talk.

Wow. Pasta sounds really good right now. Maybe I should go to Lucca.


Anonymous said...

Oh, that's really interesting! I can definitely see that...especially when one's cultural identity isn't necessarily to one's nation state. We think so often about people in terms of what country they're from without realizing that the odds are good they identify much more strongly with their region (in some parts of the world) or smaller cultural group than with this large, relatively "new" political institution that is their country.
And oh, the stories I could tell of what happens when I asked my host mother what she thought of les Magrébins :)

the default attorney said...

France actually used to be somewhat more "regional." If you read old Marcel Pagnol and anything with regional "patois" or the like, you'll see southern France used have much more than a distinct accent. Bretagne also has a distinct celtic past and there used to be a pretty militant separtist group there that bombed a couple things in the 80s I think. I'm not sure what happened to them.

Though I'm sure you already know this TD :)

I lived in the 13th in Paris, which had a lot of Maghreb immigrants, so a lot of my neighbors were Algerian. Not as much as the 18th maybe, but still. Most were super nice (awesome couscous), though I would get harassed every once in while by the caillera du coin.

Big difference between my neighborhood and the 6th where Sciences Po was, I'll tell you that.