What effect are all the African migrants having on Sicily these days? Three documentary makers and a great many blog readers have asked me about African immigrants in Sicily, and about “cultural fusion”. Until now I had seen literally no sign of any impact at all; it was as if they were all invisible.
One documentary maker, who claimed to be from America but was almost certainly from Cloud Cuckoo Land, wanted to make a multicultural film about the “dynamic new African-Sicilian fusion cookery in Sicily.” It’s obvious I know nothing about how television works. I thought you were supposed to find out if things actually exist before planning to make documentaries about them.
I offered as many helpful suggestions as I could, but never heard back. I presume she is cowering behind a desk in California, cringing with embarrassment as she tucks into peperoni sushi for lunch, or perhaps a tofu pizza.
Yesterday evening we walked along the sea front in our village. Unexpectedly, I saw African and Middle-Eastern migrants with market stalls, selling crafts that they made. Having grown up in London, the sight of black people here in Sicily always gives me a little frisson of homesick excitement. Or brown people. Or yellow people. In fact anyone who could remotely justify calling this place “multicultural.” When you come here on holiday, Sicilians being Sicilian are all you need, but after eleven years it all starts to feel a bit Stepford Wives.
Well, when the “multicultural” people have a bunch of interesting loot for sale, the excitement reaches a whole new level. Markets in Sicily are usually full of low-quality imported products from China, and limited to socks, table cloths and dangerous plastic toys which soon break. Last night there was a Moroccan tooling leather, and another selling exotic jewellery boxes; A sub-Saharan African (wearing a jumper over his T-shirt in Sicily in August!!!!!) making custom pendants, with people’s names on, from mother-of-pearl; and a charmingly smiley Syrian selling toys. There were more Africans selling wood carvings, and organic perfumes from large crystal decanters that they poured into little bottles. A Moroccan woman in flowing robes and a headscarf had a fabulous collection of hand painted bowls and other ceramics.
To keep Little Miss Sauerkraut Burrito in California happy, I should mention that we’ve had a small population of North Africans here for donkeys’ years. Many of them sell electronic items on street stalls. Sicilians always say “Vado dai Marocchini” (I’m going to the Moroccans) when they need a new light bulb, have lost their phone charger, or want an MP3 player that works, for about 10 Euros. They’ve been part of Sicilian society for several decades. I am not sure what they eat, but it definitely isn’t spleen falafels.
It felt good to see these newcomers finding their feet and taking steps to become part of the mainstream community. Their children were running around playing with the local children. Knowing how difficult it can be to get accepted as a foreigner in Sicily, I probably feel for them more than most.
It was striking that the Sicilians selling mass-produced clothes and household goods all imported from China were getting far fewer customers. People want to buy original items made in Sicily, no matter who makes them. The one Sicilian doing good business with his jewellery stall was sitting in the street making it in front of people’s eyes, the same way the Africans did.
I once tried selling some of my jewellery in the Christmas market. I got frozen and didn’t sell anything. If I try again this year I shall be taking my pliers with me!
Anyway, to return to the original question: What are these Africans doing in Sicily? I think, just maybe, the answer is that they are beginning to show the Sicilians a new, and better, way to do business.
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