The concept of ‘multiculturalism’ is a source of debate throughout the world, whether it is possible for a country to become truly multicultural and if different cultures really can exist peacefully side by side or is it simply a utopia.
Italy in particular resists other cultures mixing with the domineering Italian one.
Minister of Integration, Cécile Kyenge has been criticized by the ultra right ‘Lega Nord’, who was founded with the initial desire to separate Northern Italy from the ‘lazy south’ and now tends to worry about migrant issues, how the economic crisis is closing down industry in the North and how to get out of the Euro currency.
Italians are being forced to deal with the issues of refugees, immigration, a low birth rate and the arrival of Asian and African migrants and cultures into Italy at unprecedented levels.
Sicilians are particularly insular people, they are proud and defensive when confronted with newcomers, it is an unattractive trait left over from a history of being dominated by invaders their history tells of thirteen major foreign dominations which have left scars and impressions on the island’s culture.
Even on the level of language Italy is a very much a monolingual country with a resistance to English which is leaving them behind in Europe.
The irony behind of all this fear, racism and resistance to other cultures is that the rich Sicilian traditions have come about by living with these other dominations and inadvertently taking elements from them.
Some periods in Sicilian history have been long, peaceful and fruitful collaborations, for example the early Greek colonies were productive and cooperative, creating developments in agriculture and industry (such as olive oil production and ceramics).
In the Norman period of the middle ages, the court of Frederick II, we saw Roman Catholics and Muslims living together in harmony, each religion was practiced side by side and the court brought together many of the greatest schools of thought creating many developments in the areas of science, agriculture, industry and culture. The historic Sicilian school of poetry is regarded as one of the finest and anticipated the Florentine school of Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio.
Sicilian food, language and culture is dotted with Spanish, French, German, Greek, African, Asian and Middle Eastern influences. Sicilians have always been multicultural whether they believe it or not.
Perhaps I am an idealist but I can see many connections between different cultures and anthropologists see many more similarities than differences. It’s easy to see links between Sicily and Greece, Sicily and the middle east. I suspect Sicilian families and Indian families have many similarities in their approach to family life and respect for the elderly as in other Asian cultures. The literary journal Feile Festa edited by Frank Polizzi is dedicated to the connections between Ireland and Sicily.
The world is becoming a smaller, thanks to the connections between the cultures, if only everyone has the openness to remember we are all human beings with the desire to be connected to a community.
For more reading about minister Cécile Kyenge and the hard time she’s been having see this article from The Guardian.