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She was 11 when I first saw her. She was in the 5th grade of the elementary school. On the first day, we were trying to describe a picture in their book. I would ask them questions and they would take turns responding. Those who couldn’t respond were often helped by the others; in that specific case it was her, and another girl called Sofia, helping those students in difficulty. I had asked their names at the beginning of the session but since there were around 20 of them, not all those names got stuck in my mind. Once, when she responded right to a particularly difficult question, I looked at her and said “wow! Great!” Sophia turned back at the rest of the class and said “Her name is Great too.” I had forgotten her name, but this memory made it stick into my mind.
She could speak a very good English comparing to the other kids in her class. I later came to the understanding that her mom was from Nigeria, which suggested she would speak English to her kids, making them bilingual.
As she grew up and entered the junior-high, she started to get specifcally attracted to track and field. On several occasions, she triumphed in school and inter school competitions. She graduated from junior-high last year and her grades were one of the best. Last time I saw her was before Christmas, when she came to school with her mom for her younger brother’s Christmas recital. I asked her in English about what she was doing and how high school was going. She told me she is doing athletic high school. I told her “See you at the Olympics, then!” We all laughed.
Today I was told she has broken the national pole vault record but she has been denied recognition because she is not an Italian citizen. I keep thinking about this matter since I got to know about it and it is just too hard for me to take.
Yesterday, I was in a fifth grade in the elementary school where apparently one of the girls has a crush on one of the middle school boys. As I was leaving the class, she and her friends ran towards me and asked me to tell the boy about the situation! One of the kids, Gabriele, said “When you see the boy, tell him that (…), the tall blond Romanian girl from the fifth grade loves him.” As I was walking back towards the middle school, I contemplated on what Gabriele had told me and how bizzare it sounded. Gabriele said it without any malice but it put me to thought: These kids have been going to school together for at least five years (excluding nursery school and kindergarten) and they have been friends, sharing moments and memories, playing, celebrating, quarelling, loving and sometimes hating each other just as school kids in many parts of the world might do. Where they originally come from does not lead to any immediate hostility in their early years but, in a very trivial manner, turns to be a form of identitfication, a form of being addressed. Kids at school, thanks to the serenity of their childhood, can grow up while internalizing the ways of coexistence. Instead, they grow up with “nationality” as a label. This is definitely not going to help with the integration. This is why the government needs to take fair action.
I keep thinking about this matter since I got to know about it and it is just too hard for me to take. I checked Great out on Google and Twitter and I found out that the matter has been spread to a good extent. Reading the comments and posts about it made me think it over a bit.
A while ago the issue of Jus Soli stirred a heated debate in the Italian political scene, specifically after several cases of -I hate to say it- non-Italians achieving success in Italy. People such as Ghali (who is born in Italy from Tunisian parents) and Mahmood (who won the San Remo festival and is going to represent Italy in Eurovision) shed light over the fact that children of immigrants should be considered Italian citizens being born on the Italian land. Of course the debate over Mahmood had a different layout: he was born to an Italian mom and an Egyptian dad. Therefore, he is indeed considered an Italian citizen. Mahmood’s competitor won the popular vote but judges voted for Mahmood. In addition, the situation had what it exactly needed to escalate… A politician like Matteo Salvini. It was the deputy Prime Minister who highlighted the “reverse discrimination” against Italians!
Those who oppose Jus Soli believe it will make everyone flock into this country and have kids who, once born here, can become Italian citizens. The children who are born in this country are supposed to go school here and learn the language of this country. The common complaints made by the conservatives about the immigrants not integrating in the society and not learning the language of the country, regardless of how imprecise and badly-argued for it is, do not comply with this situation. Moreover, the ongoing situation for kids born on the national territory will even lead to more conflict and contrast between them and the kids whose parents are not immigrants (at least over the past 100 years; since in the long run everyone is immigrant.) The way these identities are highlighted at schools can eventually develop into social labels that can generate more hostility in the future and in their worst cases transform into racism and xenophobia.
The issue at stake here is that Jus Soli opposers have a concern that is being projected in a wrong direction. They know that the governments are incompetent and lack the expertise to handle these situations; This is actually what we have in common! Our solutions are totally different though: we believe in different types of governments, made up of more skilled people who have the honesty and scrupulousness needed to handle this issue. On the other hand, those against Jus Soli prefer governments who, instead of solving the problem, simply tend to erase it. Marginalization, brutalization, deportation, closing the borders, dehumanizing people and turning them into Other are not the solutions. Most of all because these strategies will not make our streets crime-free or our jobs come back. There will be less crime when there is a more fair distribution of wealth in the society or our jobs not shipped overseas in order to avoid paying decent salaries or taxes. These are the reasons why we need competent governments. Governments who tend to erase the problem, are highly unlikely to be able to help with these issues.
Finally, there is a point here that is worth highlighting: Great is now a hero. She is a record holder athlete, who is also a hardworking student. The future is hers. Let’s not be carried away with elitism; we need to take into account that the basic human rights are not gifts to someone. They are rights, regardless of the person being a talented athlete or a person with below-average skills. Any solutions to these types of problems that is limited to people who have achieved extraordinary goals simply leads to more division. Immigrants move to another country for a more decent life. They don’t owe their new countries extra loyalty or success. They have rights, and of course they have duties just as anybody else does.
if you ever happened to read this here, remember I’m so proud… not only of you… of myself, to have known you! The future is yours girl! And you are great!