The last four weeks have helped me learn a big lesson; a lesson I didn’t realize I was getting. I couldn’t pin point it until after a few of our group discussions and then it became more clear and it is cultural competency. In our small groups, we were able to share our frustrations with the language barrier we were having as most of us did not speak the local language (Italian). One student compared our lack of cultural competency with the Italian culture with how immigrants and refugees must feel when they go deal with the culture of their host country without knowing the Italian language. It made me realize how frustrating it must be for them to deal with officials about their papers and/or if they needed help on health services, etc., without knowing any Italian.
On another note, all of us on this program were expected to do some ethnography work for our video project and yes, we had translators with us and everything, but it still wasn’t easy. The language barrier is not just about loosing a few words here and there. No, it has been about loosing crucial information needed for our supposedly “authentic” research. That lost information is sometimes done unintentionally while other times it gets me thinking if it was done on purpose. Why do our translators give us the sweeter and milder version of the truth? It’s a bit upsetting. We are not getting accurate information. This has happened very obviously during our meeting with the Mayor of Castelsardo town when we asked him if he knows anything about the Roma population living in his town. He said “there are no Romas living here. I know everyone in this town” thankfully Vicente (a famous Roma activist, who was visiting us that day) asked the mayor “how do you know there are no Romas here?” he was implying that the mayor was using skin color and certain ideas of how Romas look like for making that judgement call. Vicente can pass as a white man, his skin is as white as a white person’s but he is a Roma man. And Roma people usually have a darker complexion but some are light skinned. Vicente later told us that the mayor was being racist in labeling Romas as dark people. Even though the progressive Italians, like this mayor have good intentions and want to help immigrants integrate into the society, unbeknownst to him and the others, they perpetuate the same racism and power structures that they are trying to demolish.
As I’m slowly packing my things and preparing to go home, I’m going to miss the island. One moment I was swept off my feet with its beauty and charm. The next moment I would look at it and feel sad, sad about the many lives that tried to reach its shores, but they couldn’t make it. Overall, I really enjoyed my stay here and I’m leaving with a lot of lessons and memories made. Thank you Italy for your warm welcome and hospitality. Grazie mille! (Thanks a lot).