This is the time of the year when we tend to make a balance of our life and of the experiences we’ve enjoyed – or not – in the twelve months about to end. The Fondazione Migrantes, a pastoral organization coordinated by the Conferenza Episcopale Italiana (CEI, the Italian Episcopal Conference) and founded in 1987, did just that in relation to the migration status of the country. Needless to say, it uncovered interesting information.
The Fondazione Migrantes was created by CEI to provide insights into the lives and needs of migrants in Italy, but also of Italian living abroad. While its operational context remains clearly connected with the Roman Catholic Church, the fondazione also funds relevant research in the field of immigration and emigration in the Belpaese. It wants to “follow and care for foreign and Italian migrants while promoting tolerance and support, so they can be welcomed all within the community.” The foundation also explains its aim is that of “Cultivating, within civilized societies, the understanding of other cultures, so that their identity can be valorized in an environment of pacific cohabitation, all while safeguarding the rights of all individuals and promoting responsible citizenship among migrants.”
This year’s Rapporto degli Italiani nel Mondo (the Italians in the World Report) compiled by Fondazione Migrantes and recently presented in Rome, focuses on Italy both as a destination and a point of departure for migrants. The first thing the document does is strongly deny the common stereotype that Italy went from being a nation of emigrants to being a nation of immigrants, a stereotype that has never truly matched reality, neither in the past nor today.
Data show that Italians have never stopped emigrating. Especially in very recent years, including those after the pandemic, characterized by the exacerbation of the economic recession, the community of Italians registered with AIRE (Anagrafe Italiani Residenti all’Estero), officially grew larger than that of foreign individuals residing legally in Italy.
Italy is growing to be a multicultural country, as 8.8% of foreign citizens demonstrate – we are talking of about 5.2 million people – yet the number of Italians who have moved abroad is higher: 9.8% (around 5.8 million people). There are some differences, however in these two demographics’ communities: the foreign population in Italy is on average younger than Italians residing abroad. There are more than one million under-18 foreign citizens in Italy, who are already second generation, that is, born in Italy to foreign parents. 22.7% of them obtained Italian citizenship (in Italy, being born on national soil does not automatically grant Italian citizenship). To them, we should add all foreign nationals residing in the Balpaese who were born abroad (some 245,000) and those who were naturalized (around 62,000). The Migrantes Report also found out that 1,3 million of our “kids” under the age of 18 have a migratory background: that’s 13%!
Undoubtedly, the report continues, these young individuals are an important resource for the well-being of the country and its economic and social growth: Italy, as we all know, has been going through a severe demographic crisis, with fewer and fewer Italian children being born from Italian parents. We are a country that has been growing older by the day, with all the issues this may entice. But our young “foreign” Italians have great plans in mind for their futures, and many do not include staying in Italy: 59% of them would like to move abroad at the end of high school, against a mere 42% of their Italian-national peers. This is, of course, explained at least in part by their desire to reconnect with their land of origin, with their cultural roots: 11.6% among them would, quite simply, “return home.” But almost half of them would like to move somewhere different, with the USA being top of the list. It seems that the American Dream is still alive in the minds of young born-abroad Italians.
Young Italians, therefore, are more and more culturally diverse, and they may be dreaming of, one day, leaving Italy to seek fortune somewhere in the world.
Until this remains nothing more than a teenage dream, Italy can sleep tight, but what could happen if, once they are of age, our younger generations decide to go seek a better life abroad for real? We shouldn’t forget how this is already a reality: ever heard about the “brain drain”? Well, that’s quite a common phenomenon in Italy, which has been going on steadily since the beginning of the 21st century, A longing to get in touch with other cultures, surely, but also the necessity to live and work in a country where one’s skills and knowledge are appreciated and not devalued: this is, sadly, the way many young Italians feel towards their -otherwise beloved – country.
The Migrantes Report quite clearly speaks of an “Italy outside of Italy,” formed by young Italian people who do not feel welcomed nor appreciated for what they can contribute, and so they leave seeking fortune elsewhere. Often, “andare all’estero” is the right solution from many points of view: from enrolling in the right university to obtaining a better-paid job; from getting to know cultures they feel akin to being taken seriously professionally. The result is a country, Italy, whose younger generation is leaving to bring their expertise, skills joie de vivre and youth somewhere else, leaving behind an increasingly old country, with an ever-decreasing reserve of lifeblood to carry on.
As of the 1st of January 2022, the Migrantes Report continues, the Italians registered with AIRE were 5,806,068, or 10% of Italians (we are 58,9 million in the Belpaese). Data are even more striking when considering that the Italian population grew last year by a mere 0,5% (even less than in 2020, the year of the pandemic), while it increased around the world by 2.7%. And don’t be fooled by the old-fashioned idea that only Italians from the South leave to go abroad: 21st-century migration hits every single region the same way.
If it is true that the number of Italians living abroad is on the rise, we need to make some more considerations to clarify why it has been happening. Both internal and external factors have been contributing to the status quo. The continued migratory trend of Italians towards foreign countries brought to the rise of their numbers around the world, just like the birth of children abroad born from Italian parents who maintain alive in their culture and habits also their Italian roots. There’s been an increase of 167% in the number of Italian children born abroad, children who enrich, the report states, the culture and multiculturalism of our own country, even from a distance because they bring along with them, when they return, all the characteristics and cultural habits they have inherited from their birth country.
The identikit of Italians abroad today is varied: they are young, with almost 50% of them being aged between 18 and 39 and coming from the South, but with a high percentage of Northerners, too (around 37%), Similar is the profile of the Italians living in Italy: more and more ethnically mixed, many of them, as the Migrantes Report delineates, with roots in other countries and cultures.
That of the Italian nation depicted by the report is an image different, perhaps, from what we are used to: Italians – both in Italy and abroad – are becoming true citizens of the world. Some have been Italians for generations, their origins lost into the dusty records of their parish church or municipality; others were born in Italy, but have deep and meaningful ties with another land, through their parents and families, ties they cherish and nurture, along with those they naturally developed with their own country of birth, Italy. Other still, came to Italy at a later stage and became Italian by residence: they call Italy and somewhere else in the world their home.
Then, we have the “Italians abroad:” the young professionals who moved from a country that, perhaps, didn’t do enough for them and ensure their qualities were valorized; others were born away from Italy, but their family heritage is still solidly rooted in the Belpaese.
The Italian nation is expanding, it’s spreadings its branches everywhere, from Europe to the US and Latin America, but it’s a different nation from what we were used to: it’s embracing young multiethnicity after decades of diffidence, and it has finally understood the cultural importance of all the Italians living abroad: first, second, third generations of people who can give to Italy just as much, culturally and humanly, as Italy has given to them.
So, the first thing to keep in mind in 2023 is that there are way more Italians around the world than we think: and each of them is an essential piece of our national cultural identity.