Italy’s African minister confronts racism

CECILE Kyenge, Italy’s first black government minister, proposes a law that would give citizenship to the children of immigrants if they are born on Italian soil.

Time

Under the current legislation, Italian nationality is passed on most commonly by blood, meaning the grandchildren of an Italian who has never set foot in the country has more rights to citizenship than someone who was born in Rome to foreign parents.

But even if Kyenge (48) is unable to push a single piece of legislation through the Italian parliament, she will already have secured an important legacy.

Her April 27 appointment as Minister for Integration in Italy’s newly formed government has kicked off a much-needed discussion on race and immigration in a country that still struggles to come to terms with its rapid transformation.

That discussion has taken some brutal turns. “Kyenge wants to impose her tribal traditions from the Congo,” said Mario Borghezio, a member of the European Parliament for Italy’s anti-immigration Northern League.

“She seems like a great housekeeper,” he added. “But not a government minister.”

Even in Italy, a country all too often permeated by casual bigotry, Borghezio’s words were a step too far.

An online petition calling for him to be sanctioned or evicted from his post has gathered more than 75 000 signatures, and the Northern League’s leader, Roberto Maroni, a former Interior Minister, has come under pressure to denounce him.

Maroni himself reacted with hostility to Kyenge, voicing opposition to her proposal on citizenship.

Meanwhile, the Italian government has launched an investigation into neo-fascist websites, on which Kyenge has been denigrated as a “Congolese monkey” and “the black anti-Italian.”

In a press conference last Friday, Kyenge, an eye surgeon living in Modena, denounced the attacks as representative of a minority opinion and called for the public at large to respond. “I’m black and I’m proud of it,” she said. “It’s important to underline that.”

Born in the Congo, Kyenge moved to Italy in the 1980s to study medicine in Rome, before obtaining a position in a hospital in Modena. She met her husband, a native Italian with whom she has two children, after he underwent surgery in her department.

As recently as 1991, just one in 100 residents held a foreign passport. Today, it’s one out of every 12. For every five children delivered in the country, one is born to a foreign parent. –– Time.

CECILE Kyenge, Italy’s first black government minister, proposes a law that would give citizenship to the children of immigrants if they are born on Italian soil. Under the current legislation, Italian nationality is passed on most commonly by blood, meaning the grandchildren of an Italian who has never set foot in the country has more rights to citizenship than someone who was born in Rome to foreign parents.

But even if Kyenge (48) is unable to push a single piece of legislation through the Italian parliament, she will already have secured an important legacy.

Her April 27 appointment as Minister for Integration in Italy’s newly formed government has kicked off a much-needed discussion on race and immigration in a country that still struggles to come to terms with its rapid transformation.

That discussion has taken some brutal turns. “Kyenge wants to impose her tribal traditions from the Congo,” said Mario Borghezio, a member of the European Parliament for Italy’s anti-immigration Northern League.

“She seems like a great housekeeper,” he added. “But not a government minister.”

Even in Italy, a country all too often permeated by casual bigotry, Borghezio’s words were a step too far.

An online petition calling for him to be sanctioned or evicted from his post has gathered more than 75 000 signatures, and the Northern League’s leader, Roberto Maroni, a former Interior Minister, has come under pressure to denounce him.

Maroni himself reacted with hostility to Kyenge, voicing opposition to her proposal on citizenship.

Meanwhile, the Italian government has launched an investigation into neo-fascist websites, on which Kyenge has been denigrated as a “Congolese monkey” and “the black anti-Italian.”

In a press conference last Friday, Kyenge, an eye surgeon living in Modena, denounced the attacks as representative of a minority opinion and called for the public at large to respond. “I’m black and I’m proud of it,” she said. “It’s important to underline that.”

Born in the Congo, Kyenge moved to Italy in the 1980s to study medicine in Rome, before obtaining a position in a hospital in Modena. She met her husband, a native Italian with whom she has two children, after he underwent surgery in her department.

As recently as 1991, just one in 100 residents held a foreign passport. Today, it’s one out of every 12. For every five children delivered in the country, one is born to a foreign parent.

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