A friend of mine told me a story the other day that made my stomach churn. A black student studying in Florence this semester had been harassed by individuals on the street while walking to class during the first week. It had happened repeatedly and when she had reported it to NYU, both her and the school decided that it would be in her best interest to return to the Washington Square campus. This was due in part to increased racial tension in Northern Italy linked to the upcoming election. There has been a lot of support in this upcoming election for right-wing delegates in particular, and so a lot of rallies and public demonstrations have taken place throughout Italy. I passed one last week and remembering NYU’s caveat to students in an e-mail, steered clear from the flags and protestors taking part.
The story was just a rumor, so I cannot ensure that it is fully true. I hope that it is not. But given the events recently with the shooting in Milan where six African immigrants were shot by a 28-year old neo-nazi (Read Here), I cannot help but believe in the story. This also does not mean that every black student studying in Florence is unsafe. A friend of mine who is black said that she did not have a similar experience to the student who left. As a student studying abroad, you think that in many ways you are in a bubble and would not be affected by politics going on in your host country. This story goes to show that this is not always the case. I was worried before flying into Florence that I would experience some anti-semitism while abroad. Since coming to Florence, I’ve learned that anti-semitism is not nearly as prominent as I believed it to be, much to my relief. Regardless, I’ve made it a habit of mine to stay aware of what is going on in Italy and surrounding countries because it is important to stay knowledgeable and up-to-date on news.
The issue fueling the racial tension in Italy seems to also be about migration. Italy has seen an increase in migrants in the last few years and many far right are extremely unhappy about this. As an outsider, I can’t help but feel extremely sympathetic towards migrants settling here. After all, even on a student Visa, I’m in their shoes. I am making a foreign country my home for some time and must adjust to the customs and ways of life. It can be difficult, but every migrant migrates for a reason. Whether it be to seek a better job, improved living conditions, study (like me!) or even in hopes of raising a family in such a beautiful country, every person who has moved to Italy has done so with a purpose. Deep down I wonder if those who dislike migrants also dislike American students coming to their country and studying abroad.
While American students are wonderful for the Italian economy, I’ve experienced several incidents where an Italian became frustrated with students and treated us differently. For example, I was in a bakery and sat down with friends to eat a croissant before class. The employee came over and yelled at us because we were not ordering a full meal and rudely told us we must leave. As my friend said after the incident “You would think if someone knew English, they would also know how to be polite in English!” I am sure it must be annoying to have students infiltrate your city and make it more touristy.