"I am fine with Italians", a migrant said in Verona

When it comes to immigration, the Media practitioners in Italy always have a lot to keep them busy. From micro criminalities, which some members of the Italian parliament have blamed on the high number of immigrants to the occasional revolts, like the recent one in Rosarno, the pace on immigration debate is constantly maintained.

From a mixed couple in Verona, however, their own story is that of love and understanding rather than the hostility and tension, fuelling the news.

Benjamin Imaralu is from Nigeria and has been living in Verona for the past eleven years. He is happily married to Orrieta, who though was born in Como but originally from Verona. Their two kids, a boy and a girl are equally lovely, a sign that the future is already here.

Owing a piadina restaurant near the University of Verona, Benjamin was happy to recount his rapport with their clients, 95 percent, he told me are Italians.

“The good thing here is that I own an Italian fast food restaurant and they come with joy to patronise me. They give me compliments, which serve as encouragement for me. I have no problem with any of them. In fact, in the eleven years that I have been living in Verona, I have always had a good relationship with the local people”.

To say that every African migrant in Verona is like Benjamin will be both untrue and unfair to the reality of immigration situation in Verona.

Bitter encounter between migrants and the local people are no longer news. In Verona, words like racism, discrimination and other provocative terms are not lacking at all, especially when it has to do with anything between some migrants and the local people.

Speaking about some fellow African migrants who are less inclined to the system than himself, Benjamin pleaded for more tolerance from the local people whom he described as “very kind”. He equally advised against what he called, ‘the tendency of self-segregation’ by some African migrants.

It’s no doubt that for a combination of several reasons, some Africans migrants have become famous in setting up their ghetto affairs. Until the resultant tension between them and their hosts has grown and burst into an emergency, some will never confront the local people to look for a common solution to a common problem.

“There can never be a true partnership if there is no understanding and understand will only come when people are able to engage themselves meaningfully,” Benjamin added.

“We are not racists; it’s only that people are ignorance and afraid…,” Orrieta, Benjamin’s wife continued, her face as cheerful as though she was neither for none against the opinion she was sharing.

“People are afraid because they do not know much about the foreigners who come around. I tell you this for example. That two Africans are talking very loudly in the city bush is enough to scare some Italians and they would shift backwards… Ask my husband here if I have not come to meet him sometimes, when talking on the telephone and ask if he is quarrelling with someone. ‘I’m only talking,’ he would say. To him it is natural but for me, I only came to understand it with time. Someday, we will all outgrow a lot of things”.

Do you think your children will better understand these cultural differences than you adults?

“Absolutely yes, in their schools they have children from different ethnic backgrounds and they are all growing up together, taking everything normally. One day I asked my six years old son if he would like to marry an African girl when he grows up. Guess what, I was amazed. He looked up to me and said, ‘why not mama, you are from Italy and my father is from Nigeria…’”.

‘Why not…?’ a rather provocative response.

If a six years old child can already get it, maybe we do not have any excuse to avoid true co-existence and intercultural exchange among different people.

Ewanfoh Obehi Peter

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