-Essay-

ROME — They carry disease. They live in overcrowded neighborhoods. Their evenings are spent listening to the sweet sounds of their music, but in filthy courtyards with rotting air. Their houses are small and rundown, where dozens of people share no more than two or three rooms. They come in waves, bothering people and attracting far too much attention.

Sure we know they may have escaped bad governments, bloody wars, poverty. But they've arrived with strange superstitions and we've seen how they exploit their children, sending them on the streets to beg and forcing them to hand over whatever they make at the end of the day.

Their presence compromises our living standards and undermines the very quality of the nation.

And yet it's true that when they do their agricultural work, they're quite good. They are lean and muscular, capable of withstanding prolonged physical effort. They have a certain dexterity and a developed artistic sense. Their women are valued for their domestic virtues. Thanks to their sense of family, they are very generous with relatives who have stayed back in the home country.

Still, their presence ultimately compromises our living standards and undermines the very quality of the nation. They share so little with a country that must seem to them the paradise of well-being.

Yes, Italians think they know the lives of immigrants coming to our country. But these very words you've just read were used in the international press between the 19th century and today to describe millions of those who had emigrated abroad from Italy. We have collected articles about these Italian immigrants in a book, In Cerca di Fortuna.


*Giovanni De Mauro is editor-in-chief of Internazionale


See more from World Affairs here