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  • Vesuvius Wildfires Bring Out the Racism in Italy

    As southern Italy continues to battle blazes, northerners and others are wishing for the whole place to explode
    Our Paesani

    By Francesca Di Meglio

    By now you might have heard about the Vesuvius wildfires that began in mid July 2017. Most have suggested that the fires are the result of human activity (either negligence or criminality). But the situation has sprouted racism, which was a shock to this American in Italy.

    Apparently, any happenings around Vesuvius always have some northerners suggesting that an eruption wouldn't be so bad. Their point is that it would likely wipe out Neapolitans. And many, especially in the north, believe it is the south that is dragging down the country.

    Certainly, the crime-ridden south is a reality. Economic desperation and a lack of education and jobs has led to more organized crime. The people have a hard time trying to escape the Camorra. This organized crime syndicate is not just about selling drugs and stolen goods. It also has taken over the farms and property of common Giuseppes. Its web, in fact, seems to ensnare all the residents regardless of their willingness. You may have learned about it from the bestselling book or TV series Gomorrah.

    Economically speaking southern Italy does not pull its weight when compared to the north. The country has only been unified for a relatively short time. And the cultural divides from region to region and even town to town are often wide. People speak different dialects and have their own regional cuisines and customs. While the Internet and social media are unifying people and places, they don't change some of the prevalent stereotypes.

    The fact is that some northerners feel the plague of economic despair rests on their connection with the south. Countless times you will read about northerners wanting to secede from the south. The southerners rarely suggest the same. But they do often have deep resentment for northerners.

    I often see it as they are serving them gelato or walking them up to a lounge chair during the summer in Ischia. You can see it from the grimace on their face. Then, they'll whisper to me that he or she is one of those from the north. The southerners, especially the ones making an honest living, don't appreciate being looked down upon. Who can blame them?

    Then again, if I'm a northerner and I see all the crime in the south, I might feel as though it's pointless to keep these folks afloat. As the gap among classes grows across the globe, even in the United States, this problem is no longer going to be strictly an Italian one. While the differences between southern and northern Italy are distinct, this idea of the haves and have nots is something with which everyone can relate.

    Wildfires continued to spread last week. Many of them hit Sicily, too. They caused evacuations and put people and property in grave danger. From where I am in Ischia, you could see the billowing smoke from Vesuvius. In fact, when it first began, some thought it was an eruption. After all, experts have been warning Vesuvius is due for another eruption soon. The thought that someone out there was hoping for this to happen to my people and me burns me up.

    My in-laws told me they overheard tourists suggesting it may as well blow at the supermarket. I was horrified. I can't believe in 2017 there is still such thinking, especially among those who are supposedly educated.

    The next thought is what to do about this blatant racism. How do you bring together people with different needs and economic classes? Putting them under one flag and one government doesn't seem to do the trick. You need to invoke compassion in each of them. A leader must come along to help both sides see the other's point of view. Don't get me wrong. This is not easy and would take years, perhaps a generation, to achieve.

    But the southerners need to take it upon themselves to have zero tolerance from crime. They must make education a priority. If everyone agrees to make honest work the way to survive, then eventually the system will evolve. Of course, they can't do it alone. They need people with finances – big companies and the like – to invest and bring business to the communities. The criminals will no longer rule. And smart, decent people would have a fighting chance.

    And the northerners must recognize that people are usually victims of their circumstances. They must work hand in hand with the south to help lift them up. Their companies should be the first to go south. Instead, they continue to try to push down the south. Actually, that line of thinking only hurts them, too.

    If they truly helped lift the south by investing and bringing jobs there, the whole country would be better off financially. I realize this is all easy to say. Perhaps, I'm being too simplistic. But I think we make these problems and divisions more complicated than they need to be.

    Finally, northerners must recognize their own wrongdoing. Wishing for the deaths of an entire population – especially their own people – demonstrates their own ignorance. It also shows that both sides of this argument need to take a good look in the mirror.

    It's not just southerners, with their constant mafia murders, who are taking life for granted. Everyone needs to recognize all life is valuable. All people deserve the chance to earn respect. You will never achieve that by bullying or constant judgment and criticism. We all need to feel needed and that means being able to contribute to a greater good. If you don't give that chance to someone, you have a breakdown of society. That's the kind of eruption no one wants to see.

    Di Meglio has written the Our Paesani column for since 2003. You can follow the Italian Mamma on Facebook or Twitter @ItalianMamma10.

    Article Published 7/17/17


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