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The future of my people

Stories and News No. 472

A dialogue between uncle and nephew on an old sea boat, which can help us to give a different meaning to the words community outsider, immigrant and clandestine.


By Alessandro Ghebreigziabiher

On a ship. On the sea. Somewhere.
"Uncle Amadou?"
"Yes ..."
"Are you listening?"
"Yes I am."
"But you're not looking at me ..."
The man turns round to satisfy his nephew. "Don't worry," he says, raising his left eyebrow, "my ears work well even without the help of my eyes ..." And he turns to study the waves.
The boy, not much more than six years old, looks at him doubtfully; however, he trusts him and starts again: "Uncle ... do you know Italian well?"
"Of course, I've already been there twice."
"Do you really know all the words?"
"Naturally, Ousmane."
The nephew looks round, as if he were afraid to be heard by others and comes to the point: "What does community outsider mean?"
The man, tall and thin, is thirty years old, but his grey beard gives him at least another ten. As soon as he catches the child's last word, he swivels round and looks him straight in the eyes.
A brief instant, like an eternity, passes between them, only possible on a journey in which life is at risk.
"Community outsider, you say?" he repeats, giving the ghost of a sincere smile. "Outsider is a most beautiful word. Community people are those who all live in the same community, like the Italians, and the community outsider is one who arrives from far away and comes in to be a part of it. As soon as the members of the community see him they understand immediately that he has something which they don't have, something they've never seen, an extra, that is, something more. That's it, a community outsider is someone who comes from far off to bring something more.
"And is this something more a beautiful thing?"
"Of course!" exclaims Amadou heatedly, "you and I, once we reach Italy, will become community outsiders. I am so-so, but you are certainly a beautiful, very beautiful thing."
The man goes back to running his gaze over the surface of the water, but Ousmane informs him that the questioning isn't yet finished: "What does immigrant mean?"
This time his uncle seems better prepared and answers immediately: "Immigrant is an even more beautiful word than outsider. You should know that when we outsiders arrive in Italy and start to live there, we will become immigrants."
"I too?"
"Yes, you too. An immigrant child. And as you are also a community outsider, that is, someone who brings some beautiful addition to the community, all the Italians with whom we become friends will say thank you to us, they will be grateful to us. Therefore immigrants. Is that clear?"
"Yes, that's clear, uncle. First community outsiders and then immigrants."
"Fine," says Amadou approvingly and goes back with satisfaction to admiring the sea which is hugging the ship. However, he has no time to let himself be attracted by the waves again before the child demands his attention once more. "Uncle ..."
"Yes?" says the man, turning round for the hundredth time.
"And what does clandestine mean?"
This time Amadou makes an enormous effort to smile but succeeds.
"Clandestine ... you know, this is the most important word. We community outsiders, before becoming immigrants, are clandestine. The members of the community, like almost all the Italians whom you will meet in passing, very probably do not yet know that you have a beautiful extra thing and one of them may on the contrary insinuate that it is something ugly. You must never believe these people. Promise!" The man's tone suddenly becomes aggressive, though Amadou doesn't notice.
"I promise!" the child hastens to say, though he is not at all frightened.
"In spite of the people who may deny it," continues his uncle, "you are a beautiful extra thing and this is true in spite of whether you become an immigrant or not, in spite of what others think. And you know why?"
"Because you are clandestine. You are the destiny of your clan, that is of your family. You are the future of your dear ones ..."
The man turns to watching the sea again.
Ousmane at last stops staring at his uncle and he too turns towards the waves.
More precisely, he looks above and beyond them, at the horizon. "I am the future of my people ..." thinks the child. The words are a mixture of pride and emotion, joy and delight. And who can be so ingenuous as to think he can stop him?

Read other stories about racism.

Taken from the book Il dono della diversità (The Gift of Diversity), published by Tempesta.
(Translation from Italian by Jancis Browning, Good News Agency)

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