Interview with Cécile Kyenge Kashetu, national coordinator of the March 1st Movement on the second edition of the "day without immigrants" and the political participation of migrant citizens.
Right to work, rights in work and pride of a new citizenship founded on the mixitée, the three watchwords of March 1st 2011, the strike of "foreigners". And work was not chosen at random as the unifying theme of this year's "day without immigrants". Accomplices the economic crisis and the immigration legislation, the migrant is in a vicious circle: if he loses his job he risks committing a crime and being expelled from Italy. It is from 2002 that the residence contract conditions the daily lives of migrants. All it does is tie the regular stay in Italy to the employment contract. And losing your job means risking becoming illegal, because when your residence permit expires you have 6 months to find another one, otherwise you are expelled and last year even ended up in prison thanks to the crime of illegal immigration introduced with the security package. Cécile Kyenge Kashetu, national coordinator of the March 1st Movement, invites all trade unions, primarily those that joined the strike, to take action "to have a great mobilization next March 1st". Last year they participated in 300.000 between natives and migrants and the Movement focuses above all on the participation of migrants. "It's a day without us in the places where we count, but we find ourselves in the square. So with us and without us, "reiterates Cécile. And migrants must be protagonists: "if March 1st has been successful and we continue to do so it is because we want to give them a voice. So it is not only for migrants but it is also with migrants in the foreground ". But participation cannot be limited to March 1 and other 364 days, says Cécile, migrants must be present everywhere. Instead, those who have had the opportunity to acquire citizenship, have the opportunity to participate in politics, and those who are already engaged, cannot "live by selfishness", because only "with the struggles can one obtain the right of citizenship and vote "and in this way" you can give others an opportunity too ".
And she does it already. Ophthalmologist of Congolese origin, arrived in Italy in the 1983, she is involved with the PD on various levels: provincial councilor in Modena, provincial head of the International Cooperation and Immigration Forum and responsible for immigration policies in the Emilia Romagna regional directive. She joined the First March Movement to continue the struggles on migrants' rights and continues to defend her position even within the party. A battle that for her, a black, migrant woman, is not at all easy, but is determined in what she believes.
Right to work and rights at work, are two of the three watchwords of the March 1st strike that should firstly provide for abstention from work. Is this a way to attract more unions that last year had an ambiguous position regarding their membership?
No, it's not a way to attract unions. We have chosen it as a means of protest to understand the weight of migrants in Italian society. So let us not try to attract the unions, rather we pose problems before them. This is demonstrated by the fact that we are taking to the streets and that many migrants decide to join even by making individual strikes. It is clear that we cannot declare the general strike as the one called by the unions, but we can use the individual one which is a constitutional right. In addition, our invitation is to ask the unions that adhere to our protest to accompany us to arrive at a great mobilization next March 1st. But our mission, our aim is to make the voice of migrants feel stronger and those who adhere well. Last year, the unions in some areas decided to call a company-wide strike if requested by the workers and in any case in all cases they protected the right to strike even at the individual level. This year the unions are moving towards the March 1st?
There are still a few days left until March 1st, so I think they still have time to join. A positive signal comes from the Fiom that has joined at national level and has asked its base units in the territories to take action to get to the mobilization of more workers. As for the other unions, we still have no clear signs. I believe that I will not be the one to justify them with the difficulties they may have with the economic crisis regarding work. The migrant is registered with the unions as every Italian citizen, so what we ask for is special attention even when struggles are being made for workers' rights. It is clear that a day of general strikes can be declared by the unions, saying that it is a day for work, but we know at the same time that Italian and migrant workers do not have the same type of contract. What's more, the migrant worker is penalized because once he loses his job he has six months to find another to renew his residence permit. This is not understood by an Italian worker. Therefore a migrant citizen becomes guilty of being in an inadequate economic situation. And it is unconstitutional because not even the constitution requires it. So the unions should pay more attention to the situation of migrants and not go out with the issue of ethnic strike because it is not at all. Where the rights of the person are attacked, the citizenship of all is weakened. The third watchword for next March 1st is the dignity and pride of a new citizenship. What does it mean?
We have also called it mixitée, a word that wants to make people understand the fact of a new citizenship in which the basic principles and therefore the fundamental rights of people are applied and respected first. At the moment, the immigration laws in Italy do not respect and focus on the person starting from the Bossi-Fini law and from the security package in which the migrant is continually blamed. It almost seems that he is responsible for the economic crisis, when in fact it is not. The pride of a new citizenship also means a country where we can all feel proud to share the values of our culture with other cultures. Where each of us maintains its identity and diversity becomes a wealth and where we must not necessarily try to flatten everyone, trying to force people to forget their culture. Regarding the mixitée, is it essentially a question of also building a shared space in the public sphere in which everyone in a certain way gives in to something for a common goal?
Exactly, without giving up one's own culture. I want to clarify it. It is also written in various psychology books but also in some working methods of never giving up one's mother tongue. It also impoverishes psychologically from an identity point of view. So sharing spaces, I repeat again, is not a flattening, but it means I share my things with those of others, sharing them but keeping my customs.
Last year, with the exception of some cities with a tradition of migrant participation, there was the impression that more than one strike and demonstration of migrants, it was a strike and a demonstration for migrants. How will this year be?
We focus on the participation of migrants. It is a day without us in the places where we count, but we find ourselves the same in more
ax. So with us and without us. This is important because the participation of migrants does not mean ending up in the background, but being protagonists. I believe that the day of March 1st if it has been successful and we continue to do so is because we want to give a voice to migrants. So it is not only for migrants but it is also with migrants in the foreground. It seems that we need to find ways to make migrants aware not only of participating in this movement but also in public and social life. How to do it?
This is the challenge. It is clear that for each of us March 1 is a day, then we have other 364. Here, in those 364 days, the message is to say: we migrants must be present everywhere. A person must be free to choose and settle where he wants to live. It is one of the laws that is never respected and constantly attacked. It is also one of the articles of the European Charter which refers to free circulation, not observed by many countries. On the other hand, I think that if we decide to settle in a place, we must try to understand how the mechanism of that country works and to lay the foundations for new policies in the future, not so much for us, but for our children. Because if we don't trace the road, they will find themselves in greater difficulty. But if we do, we would have the courage to look our children in the eye. To stand back is to live a little selfishness. I make my example. I am a freelancer, I am a doctor, an ophthalmologist, and I have decided to engage in other sectors even if I am not paid. I could very well stay in my house and say I don't commit myself because my job pays me very well. Instead, I decided that living well, doesn't just mean economy. Living well means also feeling good in a country, sharing its values, but staying at the same time with my values and preparing the way for my children. There is a sort of frustration on the part of young people and adults, citizens of foreign origin or born in Italy. In a sense, their voice is not listened to by society and politics, despite having the skills and abilities, actively participating or willing to participate.
There is a bit of a lack on this side, because goodwill is not enough to participate. In short, it is not enough that one has to want, but the country must also offer it spaces and tools to participate. Many people who were born and raised in Italy, if by chance they are not lucky enough to have citizenship, are somewhat excluded from so many spaces. You cannot participate in the vote, you cannot commit to 100% in politics. There are many aspects that practically make you Italian, but you are cut off. When you arrive at 18 years, you realize that you are different from your companions and you are a foreigner because you have to queue in front of the police station. For example, my grandchildren when it was time to go on a trip to Ireland, they couldn't go because it takes months and months before they give you a visa, and then you have to see if they give you the visa. So it's a bit like letting people experience a kind of frustration. I ask those who are already engaged and have already had something not to live selfishly. It is only through struggles that citizenship rights and the right to vote can be obtained. With these battles it is possible to give others an opportunity.
It is about working a lot with Italian society and politics to create spaces and to make them aware of the importance of involving foreign citizens born in Italy.
In fact, the point is right here. I find those who live in Italy wasted and have the opportunity to have citizenship and other privileges, but cannot make use of it for the benefit of others. Right now there is need. You have the opportunity to do politics and participate. And by doing politics you can change things within the party itself. It's easy to fight from the outside, but it's hard to do when you're inside. I think a step forward is made when one becomes aware that to defend his rights he must enter the system. If I'm out I can say what I want and they may not even listen to me. But if I'm inside I have all the rights and they listen to me. Italian politics does not seem interested in the participation of migrants. This is demonstrated by the fact that in the last administrative meetings they did not involve at all the EU citizens who have the right to vote in the administrative offices. Yet in the local voting market, given the numbers, they would be tempting to anyone.
Yes, but a little is for lack of information. If we are not there, we often take things for granted and maybe we don't know the mechanisms so well. Furthermore, there is always the fear of not knowing where those voters go to vote. There are two sides that, from a migrant within a political system, I must present to respect the rights of those people, whatever the direction they take. Not because I carry on a battle on the right to vote, those people must ultimately vote for me. I tell you that you have to claim your right, and then vote for whoever you want. I believe that immigration is a transversal ground and migrants do not have to make war with each other, otherwise it is a battle lost at the start. The migrant must try to leverage on the mission of defending the rights of people and collaborate in a transversal way. For me it is also the reason that brought me down to the Internet on March 1st because I am part of a party, the PD, in which I also have a position that allows me to say: well I can do this campaign. But doing politics also means confusing yourself with people, understanding what comes out of them and interpreting needs. Going down among people, it also gives me the opportunity to exchange with those who think ideologically in a different way, but we agree. I have an immigration platform, we do it even if we have different ideas, combining our strengths for our battle.
The political platform of the March 1st Movement will be consolidated over the course of a year. In summary, what are its main points?
The main points of the platform always depend on territory to territory. Because the First March Network is not an association but a container. It's almost a participation experience that enriches a lot and puts you to the test every day. Because it doesn't have a party logic, but we are all the same. The most important points that have emerged in many territories are those of a revision of the Bossi-Fini law, which is anti-constitutional, and if it were for me, it should also be repealed. Then, the security package because the crime of illegal immigration does not honor those who must prepare laws, also based on conventions signed by Italy and ignored such as that of Geneva. These two points are fundamental. Then there is also the permanence in the identification and expulsion centers where the rights of people are trampled every day but nobody talks about it: it comes out every once in a while when there is a striking case. No one talks about the psychological violence suffered by women and the abuses suffered by people within these centers. There is also the right to vote and that of citizenship. Then, according to the territories, there are issues that can be emergency, such as the "amnesty fraud". The points residence permit is another topic. These are themes that come out because we find ourselves in a propagandistic climate where every spot is fine, as long as it's done on the skin of migrants.
I have read that regarding the right to vote you have chosen a period of permanence of 5 years that does not differ much from that
the most open political parties. Isn't it a little too five years?
We have not yet chosen the First March Network Platform. We are for the right to administrative vote. The fact of the five years is proposed in the parliament by the parties. There is no bill proposed by the First March Network. We have this item on the agenda but we have no concrete proposals yet. As far as I'm concerned, since March 1st, I think five years is right. For one reason: going to local elections also means taking a path that the person must understand. Then with regard to the community, they can vote.
EU citizens can vote if they request it from the moment of registration, but non-EU citizens must wait for 5 years. Isn't it a contradiction?It is a contradiction regarding the law. In fact, for what I said that we as March 1st have not yet made any proposals. Because if the Strasbourg Convention, which also includes the right to vote, has been passed, it is to that which we must refer to in order to claim it. However, already in that convention they were very far-sighted. Because it is true that the 6 article in Chapter C speaks of a period of permanence of 5 years, but the next one says that each state can choose to adopt a shorter period of residence to grant the right to vote.
Exactly. As a First March Network, I think we need to focus on that and we are free to propose and look at things that go beyond Italian laws. I returned a few days from Dakar where the World Charter for Migrants was approved and the movement was precisely that of free movement. Where everyone can choose where to settle, where the laws no longer have to concern the person's country of origin but the place where he tries to settle. You participated personally and also the National Coordination of March 1st contributed to the drafting of the text of the World Charter of Migrants, signed on the island of Gorée in Senegal. Was it necessary to write another paper when international conventions already exist and would it be enough to ratify them to obtain the same results as this Charter?It is also one of the points on which we have discussed a lot at Gorée. Instead, this Charter makes sense because all the conventions have been written by institutions and states. No one has ever asked what the needs of a migrant person were. So we thought of writing the Charter for an experience that starts with the person. The intent to do it through the tool of collective writing, is precisely that of putting into practice the experience of a migrant person. Sometimes many conventions are written by people who don't even know what immigration means. And we wanted to give this as a sign.
Some questions about his personal experience in politics. Is it difficult for a non-native citizen to do politics?
Yes, it is very difficult because you always find yourself having to give your best and fight that you are not given roles "so much for ...". Like "we need an immigrant to fill that place", "we need immigrants to show that it is an open party". We must have clear ideas and above all be determined. It is not easy because the risk is always that maybe others look at you as if you occupied that place so much to occupy it. So you always have to prove twice what others do. In addition, it is not said that everyone in the party thinks like you, or that they share the fact that you migrant can occupy a position of responsibility. It is not easy, they are bets that one must make every day. The only alternative is to take part in everything, showing our skills and professionalism. Adding to the difference of origin also that of gender, what comes out?It turns out that you are not doubly doubly discriminated against. Maybe you can not even notice, but the best thing is just to make a deaf ear. I go straight to where I want to go and I don't see anyone. You can also say what you want, you can say that I am a woman and I do not have access to anything, but if I have to knock on that door, I go there. I always thought that those who go to war, have already lost at the start. So I go straight and I don't look either at the fact that I am an immigrant or the fact that I am a woman, but that if I can do that thing, put your feet up.
Difference in origin, gender but also in color. Does it make it even more difficult?
It makes it difficult not only in politics but everywhere. Also here in the clinic. Currently, after so many years, I see that many patients come in and visit easily, but if I get a reluctant patient, I tell them that I have the time counted and I have to make other visits. I have to tell him: if she does not want to be visited by me, I earn myself well and she also earns it. I don't really have time to lose. Because what I have to avoid is that the other person can make me believe that I am guilty, and in fact they are not. Instead, tied to all these differences, how are relationships built within the party?
It's not easy. As I've always said, I don't look anyone in the face. Psychologically it is as if you did not see what color you have and as if you did not know that you are male: I see you as a person. This is my psychological approach. So if I have to do something if I have to give something, I do it without worrying about what you can think. I know that if that's the right thing, I have to do it and if you slam the door in my face, we'll argue. So it all depends on the approach we take in the face of difficulties and needs. I do what I do is mental blindness, I don't see you, I can't hear you and I go on with my cause. The three main immigration priorities that policy must address?
First of all of the second generations, the children of non-Italian citizens who were born and grew up in Italy. It is urgent enough to begin to give these people an identity. In order not to continue to find oneself with newspapers that write that the class is made at 100% of immigrants. And when I go to see, they were born and raised in Italy. So I wonder where the immigrants are? Perhaps not even the child or child in the classroom knows where it is. We must begin to give an identity to these people, the one of giving them the opportunity to have the right to citizenship. The second should relate to work and residence permit issues. And the third is to try not to put all the blame on migrants, to change the language, the terminology both on TV and in the press. From all over comes the delinquency when it comes to immigrants. We must try to change the image and on this side Italy must engage more focusing on positive examples and not chasing the League. The League can also come out saying "these are coming to steal the houses". It is clear that I must react, but I must show that I am also capable of doing things. The League does not know what to say about immigration and needs a vote by undecided people. Why don't we start filling that vote, giving positive examples, speaking positively about immigration? It would be the case. The three main problems of Italy we have to deal with?
The work. In the first place the work that is quite urgent in this period. Secondly, civil coexistence and dialogue between different cultures. We need to introduce a little more
the situation of people. So don't talk about security that has now invaded all fields, but also about the need for dialogue between people. Instead the third problem concerns the laws that are not respected. I'm not just talking about immigration laws, but all of them in general. The laws are not really respected. The right of people fails. Not only in the case of migrant citizens, but also in the case of Italian girls and women. We talk a lot about other sectors and we often forget the condition of women who are Italian or foreign. Perhaps you discover that the woman who takes to the streets to protect foreign women, is beaten every day at her house. Let's join and talk about rights without discrimination. So Italy must take charge of the gender problem that exists and is also very strong.
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