Culture, Heritage and Diversity

 

From all over the world happy in an Italian town

 

Corriere della Sera, in a weekly supplement, reports on Reggio Emilia, a prosperous town in the Italian Emilia Romagna region, as a place of immigration and integration. The article also draws comparisons with other pilot cities from the Council of Europe’s Intercultural Cities initiative such as Lyon, Oslo, Berlin and Neuköln.

 

What policies has the city of Reggio implemented? They span from providing Italian language to foreigners, to training mothers on riding pedal bikes, educating local citizens on anti-discrimination, as well as funding an intercultural centre which allows local Italians to socialize with minority groups. Other local authority initiatives include more fundamental services, such as providing foreigners with health care, helping women from minority backgrounds to integrate and educate and train children and adults.

 

One indicator of the success of the Intercultural Cities initiative at Reggio Emilia comes from the attitudes of minority groups themselves. The feature article offers the following quote from a 14 year old girl from Punjab: "I was born here and when I hear my friends say "Italy is rubbish" I get very angry as I like it here". Another warming tale of integration is Sun Shuyan’s: originally from China she first came to Reggio 20 years ago and now is happily married to an Italian doctor.

 

The attitudes of the local Italians also provide a welcoming environment. Their acceptance of the minority populations is clear: in the words of a retired Italian school teacher, "I go to a Chinese hairdresser: he is good at his job and a very nice man". The father of a girl from Burkina Faso tells a heart-warming story. His daughter was born in Reggio, plays volleyball on the local team, is attending school and speaks three languages.

 

The article illustrates the level of diversity by comparing the total population with that of minority groups in the city of Reggio Emilia. Out of a total population of 165,000 inhabitants, 16% (or 26,000) are foreigners.

 

The employment figures cited in the article also illustrate a high level of diversity and integration. In total there are 7,724 foreign entrepreneurs working in Reggio. They come from an astonishing 113 countries. The author of this article also found it striking that the city of Reggio had the second highest employment level in Italy after Bologna in 2008.

 

Societal integration and inclusion is also evident in the educational sector. The article states that 4,427 foreign students were registered in local schools in 2009-10.

 

Clearly Reggio Emilia has successfully implemented policies and initiatives which have been initiated by the Council of Europe’s intercultural city programme. Policies introduced at a local governmental level, citizens’ attitudes towards minority groups and the degree of integration and diversity achieved abundantly demonstrate this. In line with the conclusions of the article published in the Corriere della Sera, the author of this article would like to end on a positive note: successful management of minority groups brings greater benefits to society than following a policy of protectionism and alienation of minorities. The recommendations and good practices developed by the Intercultural City initiative need to be spread further to more pilot cities in the future.

 

Thomas Pavan Woolfe