In Florence, Where Counterfeit Gucci And Immigrant Dreams Meet Racist Violence

After two Senegalese men were slain in a central Florence market by a local man inspired by racist hatred, immigrants turned out in the Tuscan city to demand justice and insist that the murder was the fruit of years of official tolerance of xenophobic att

A street vendor in northern Italy (krossbow)
A street vendor in northern Italy (krossbow)
Guido Ruotolo

FLORENCE - "Who will tell our mother?" The brother of Modou Samba, a Senegalese vendor gunned down on Tuesday in Florence by an Italian far-right militant, speaks with a hoarse whisper of a voice. He refers to his brother by his nickname: "Samb had a wife and a child. He'd been living here for 11 years, without ever going back home." Yes, someone must tell their mother.

Samba and Diop Mor, another Senegalese immigrant selling merchandise in central Florence, were killed by Gianluca Casseri. The 50-year-old, who held extreme anti-immigrant views, also seriously wounded three other immigrants, before committing suicide.

Florence imam, Ezidim, called Samaba and Mor "martyrs' of racist-fueled violence. Following Tuesday's shooting, more than 300 Senegalese residents of Florence took part in angry demonstrations throughout the city's streets and piazzas. As they marched toward to the central government prefecture building, some protesters knocked over motorbikes, as well as cafe tables and chairs. Nervous shopkeepers locked up their stores and restaurants.

Many of these mostly young people have been living in Florence for 10 to 15 years. The city has become their home, but now they were feeling lost – and scared.

On Tuesday evening, in Florence's historic Duomo square, one of the world's most visited tourist destinations, an anxious crowd gathered. There were moments of anger, of sorrow and reflection. One of the young people spoke in careful but clear Italian. "No, don't call him the killer a lunatic. If he had been crazy he would have shot white and black alike. And yet, he didn't. He was a selective lunatic who hit only black."

Others shared their daily grievances. "I went to community support organization Caritas looking for a job," said one African immigrant, who did not want to give his name. "But they are afraid of my skin color." Another protester added: "I didn't know the victims, but I'm here because it is like I had been killed too."

As the crowd grew, two women, Farhia and Gani, spoke up. "I'll buy white paint, so they won't kill me," Farhia, a Somali woman, quipped. But turning more serious she added: "Culturally, we are all turning into barbarians. All this is terrible and inexplicable."

"Paying for years of racism..."

Alessandro Martini, director of the local branch of Caritas, said the shootings have shaken the city. "Florence is a very civilized city, where people work every day, and everyone tries to live with dignity," he said. "The city has been wounded. This is a deep wound."

And yet, was it really the unexplainable act of a lunatic? Many people on the square disagreed. "We are paying for 15 years of racism which has been legitimized at a governmental level," said Farhia.

In Florence there are some 7,000 Senegalese people, with another 13,000 in Pisa and Pontedera. Once, the stereotypical Senegalese immigrant was a street vendor. They were called – and often still are - "vu cumprà" which is a quite racist expression imitating the pronunciation of African Immigrants saying , "Vuoi comprare?" that is, "Do you want to buy?" Today, Senegalese people in Florence work more frequently in manufacturing, in import-export trade, and in door-to-door sales. Many of them work in local markets, as Modou Samaba and Diop Mor did.

Pape Diaw, a leader of Florence's Senegalese community, and a former city counselor, said that reading comments on Facebook in recent months had given him the feeling that something bad was going to happen. "I felt something in the air. If you ignore it, an open wound can fester," Diaw said. He blamed politics. "They have trivilized the phenomenon of racism and called hate crimes just childish actions. But politicians were absent, and did not create a culture of cohabitation and prevention. The problem of the immigration was raised only during the electoral campaigns, in order to obtain votes," Diaw said.

A sort of impromptu live conference began. Senator Mass Thiam, the representative of Senegalese people living abroad, talked into a microphone. "In Tuscany, Senegalese hawkers have been persecuted by police and by competitors. Ask yourself who provide our brothers with fake Gucci bags to sell on the streets? The Italians do it. But the police only go after us."

Read the original article in Italian

Photo - krossbow

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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