Behind the Film: “More Than Sbarchi—The African Diaspora in Italy”

While immigration is at the forefront of Italian discourse, the perspectives of the immigrants themselves, and their Italian–born children, are often missing from the narrative. Iman Childs’s documentary gives voice to their stories. Watch a clip and read the filmmaker’s description below.

A Clip from More Than Sbarchi: The African Diaspora in Italy

From the Filmmaker

Stranieri. Migranti. Clandestini. Profughi. Seconda generazione. Nuovi Italiani.

Foreigners. Migrants. Illegals. Refugees. Second Generation. New Italians.

These are the words used to describe the sizable and diverse group of people living in Italy whose origins lie outside the Mediterranean nation. At the start of 2014, the year the documentary More Than Sbarchi: The African Diaspora in Italy was filmed, there were almost five million documented immigrants and an estimated three hundred thousand undocumented immigrants in Italy, according to the Immigrazione Dossier Statistico (IDOS) Research Center. This number has remained almost static, with a slight increase to 5,026,153 documented immigrants, referred to as regular immigrants in Italian, at the end of 2015. IDOS also reported 170,100 migrants arriving via sbarchi, or sea landings, in 2014, as compared to 153,842 in 2015.

At the end of 2013, IDOS reported that close to one million children in Italy were born to two parents of non-Italian descent.

While the number of deaths of migrants and asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean Sea has grown, so has the number of children in Italy born to immigrant parents. At the end of 2013, IDOS reported that close to one million children in Italy were born to two parents of non-Italian descent. In 2015, children of immigrants born numbered 72,000—that is one-sixth of all births in Italy. 178,000 people became Italian citizens during 2015, bringing the total number of “Italians of foreign descent” to 1,150,000.

This segment of the population is often called second-generation immigrants, or simply seconda generazione. The inclusion of the word immigrant betrays their legal status. Italy’s citizenship laws follow the principle of ius sanguinis, meaning citizenship is passed down via blood. Children whose parents have Italian citizenship automatically receive the same status at birth. For the large majority of the seconda generazione, however, their parents are not Italian citizens and, instead, pass down their native country’s citizenship to their offspring. This leaves thousands of young people with the passport of a country they have never known, biding their time until they turn eighteen, the age at which they can apply for Italian citizenship. Aside from the benefits of reinforcing one’s self-identity, Italian citizenship brings rights, including the ability to apply for civil service jobs and request a permit to hold a demonstration.

Parents . . . pass down their native country’s citizenship to their offspring. This leaves thousands of young people with the passport of a country they have never known.

With the country’s rapidly growing foreign–born population steadily increasing and the continued debate over citizenship laws, immigration to Italy remains at the forefront of Italian news, government, and society. Oftentimes, however, the perspectives of the immigrants are missing from this coverage. More Than Sbarchi: The African Diaspora in Italy seeks to move beyond the images of African migrants landing on Italian shores and explores the lives of African immigrants and the children of immigrants, who have been living in Italy for a number of years.

“Italia non è un colore.” Italy is not one color.

Many of these “new Italians,” like the students in this clip, are standing up and demanding not only changes to Italian citizenship laws, but also calling for societal recognition of the expanding concept of Italian identity. They want to move past catchall phrases like “migrant,” which refers to everyone from a Syrian refugee fleeing a deadly civil war, clinging desperately to a rubber dinghy in hope of finding peace on European shores, to a college student born and raised in Rome, the daughter of immigrants from Ghana. These young people find themselves in between two worlds, having been born or living in Italy from a young age, but still viewed as outsiders. As QuestaèRoma (This Is Rome), a cultural association focused on antidiscrimination, declared in a recent campaign, “Italia non è un colore.” Italy is not one color.