Francesco Folloni

Some Europeans were not born in Europe, some Modena citizens are not native of Modena, yet they are Europeans and citizens of Modena at the same time. Is every citizens of Modena a citizen of Europe also? What does it mean being European? For many people being European is just a consequence of being citizen of Modena, for the new Europeans this is a conquest of a new identity. For those who were born in Europe, this identity seems to be obvious and trivial, to the point that they are not even able to describe it. Instead, for new citizens, similarities and differences between original identity and new identity are the best way to tell what it means being European and citizens of Modena. Modena has always been central for multiculturalism and integration, and to prove it I wrote about three stories of three people who came in Modena for three different reasons, during three different historical periods, from three different continents.

Dang Quang Nguyen, escaped from Vietnam in 1979 during the war and arrived in Modena as a refugee, he is now one of the most important architect in the world for the ceramic sector. There is Aurihelen Paiva who came in Italy for love, becoming one of the most known fashion bloggers in the country. There is Chaimaa Fatihi, student of law arrived with her family from Morocco for business reasons and as Muslim, after Paris attacks she wrote a letter against ISIS  that is going to become a book. This Europe, that we take for granted because we were born here, is the same Europe that Quang has imagined for a week of sailing on a boat of 4×16 meters during his travel in the Pacific Ocean with other 310 people. “Fear, hunger, thirst, pirates. They threw us into the sea – he tells me – then we met three Italian warships near Malaysia. Italy saved us”. The peace was not the only reason that pushed Quang in that journey; he also wanted a chance to start over.

These are the same reasons of the young Chaimaa that imagined Europe from the other side of the Mediterranean Sea: “I was expecting a beautiful country, almost magical. My idea about any European country was inspired by something special”.

For Chaimaa, Europe became the ‘other country’, but for some Europeans the ‘others’, the foreigners are unacceptable. “Once at the bus stop – tells me Chaimaa – coming back from the college class, together with a non-Muslim friend of mine, a young boy passed in front of us. He looked at me and exclaimed: That sucks”.

A similar story happened to Aurihelen also: “Police asked me for my resident permit. I told them I hadn’t a resident permit because I was Italian. Thankfully it was only one single episode; in Italy I found many opportunities and met many good people. When I came here in 2001, I attended the first training course funded by the European Community and thanks to that course I became a business manager for a large international clothing chain.

Welcoming is not a concept known to everyone, but many people know what it means, especially in Modena. “The process of adaptation to a culture starts with the little things of everyday life. The first months in Italy – Aurihelen tells me – I cooked according to Brazilian recipes putting appetizer, first and second in the same dish. My husband taught me the distinction. This was a revolution for me”.

Sometimes our traditions help this integration, in fact Chiamaa explains: “If I thought to a trip abroad, I always wonder how I could live without Italian coffee, pasta and pizza. I can’t live without Italian food”.

“Europe must make his sons and daughters feel like Europeans, even though they were not born here, starting from education in schools – explains Chaimaa – because otherwise it would be a big disappointment”.

And Aurihelen with her Latin smile advises: “Integration is not a one-sided dialogue, but takes advantage of the encounter between who already have an identity and who wants to take part of this identity”. Integration is above all an encounter and Quang explained it the best possible way, according to the Eastern calendar he tells me “As European, Italian and citizen of Modena I wish you for this 2016 Happy Monkey Year!”.

Francesco Folloni

You can read this article in Italian in “BUK magazine: leggere, pensare, conoscere” (Feb 2016) – page 31.

The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the author, and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of ALDA and the European Union.