The following six numbered items appeared at the dates indicated on different pages in the original version of the Around Naples Encyclopedia. They have been consolidated here onto a single page.
(1) directly below (2) the extracomunitari (3) emigration (4) multiculturalism (5) The ships are leaving
(6) They're not Gypsies!
In Italian, the term extracomunitari refers to those persons from outside the European community. Technically, that includes Canadians, citizens of the USA, Australians, and Martians—and it is true that citizens of those countries and planets stand in the extracomunitari queue in airports. Yet, in general terms, everyone in Naples knows what extracomunitari really means. It refers to Asians, Africans and people from the Balkans who wash up on southern Italian shores in search of a new life. Very often, they really do wash up on the shores, having been abandoned by heartless refugee smugglers who think nothing of dropping a pregnant woman into the sea, 100 yards from shore, and speeding off to pick up another boatload of people who will do anything to get into Europe.
These people who have deserted their homes, families, friends, and native language in Albania or Morocco, or wherever, generally find Naples to be a city with a good heart. (I have never (!) heard a racial slur against these people. You know—“Hey, why don’t all these black people go back where they came from.” I have heard: “Are you nuts? We haven’t got any jobs for ourselves!")
Many of the immigrants wind up in the grey world of peddling wares of one sort or the other on the streets, either on Via Toledo or Corso Umberto, two of the main drags in town. They lug their goods to and fro in those huge zippered duffel bags of the kind that scuba divers use. They generally set up right on the sidewalk (photo): first a tarp—or maybe just large piece of cardboard—on the ground, and then they unload the leather handbags and belts, assorted trinkets, even small African musical instruments and carved animals. Some of those may even have been carved in Africa, though maybe they were done at “home” in Torre del Greco, a town near Naples right on the slopes of Vesuvius. Many of the African extracomunitari live there, sharing flats—nothing unusual in what is, anyway, the most densely populated area in Europe.
Usually, they are left alone, even by the police. Yet, there is such a thing as “vendor overload” on any given street, I suppose, and if they are set up right in front of your store on the sidewalk and selling tax-free contraband handbags and draining customers away from your shop that sells the real taxed deal—well, then, you are going to call the cops and let the chips fall where they may.
That’s what happened yesterday on via Roma. The police move in on street vendors with all due lack of deliberate speed. The point is not to arrest 25 poor bastards and confiscate their stuff; the point is to roust them, send them packing and give the merchants of the area a breather. The extracomunitari peddlers have a nose for trouble and the minute the roust starts up at the end of via Roma, the grapevine is electrically fast; within seconds they are gone—right down to the end of the street they have packed up and left in no time flat.
Yesterday, a young
Senegalese by the name of Djouf was a bit slow in
gathering up his stuff. He got the word —“Cops!”— but he
stuck around a second or two longer than the others, just
to make sure that he hadn’t left any of his wares behind
on the sidewalk. That’s when the police moved in on him,
as the law provides, to “check his papers”. And that’s
when the street people moved in on the cops. A crowd of
residents of the popular Spanish
Quarter quickly surrounded the “Forces of Order” (as
the Italian euphemism has it) and demanded Djouf’s
release. Push came to shove, but the long and short of it
is that the police backed down. Djouf not only got
released but was carried away on the shoulders of the
crowd, like in Hollywood where Robin Hood gets sprung from
the clutches of the king’s men by the villagers. It is
certainly not that simple. The police chief’s view in the
papers today was, “Fine. You tell us what you want us to
do. You called us, remember?”
occupies a good deal of space in the collective
psyche of southern Italy. Everyone seems to have a
brother, cousin or uncle who has gone away to find work
and never come back. Indeed, even though the great waves
of emigration from southern Italy of the early 20th
century are well behind us, great cites around the world
still have sections of town called “Little Italy”. By now,
they are inhabited by the grandchildren and
great-grandchildren of those who left southern Italy in
such numbers that their villages of origin in the
mountains of Calabria, Puglia and Campania are, to this
day, ghost towns. In Naples,
today, if you are pulled over for a traffic violation, you
might be lucky enough to have the traffic cop look at your
non-Italian name, ask you where you’re from, smile and
say, “Hey, my relatives lives in California! Say, you
know, you really shouldn’t be speeding like that on the
sidewalk outside a major hospital. Well, run along. Just
It is difficult to
leave home, and, for whatever reason, it is very difficult
for Neapolitans. The 1925 tear-jerker evergreen of the
emigrant Neapolitan song is “Lacreme
napulitane”. It is in the form of a letter from
America, written home by a son to “dear mother” in Naples.
It is a lament of how difficult it is to be far from home,
away from the sound of the zampogna,
(the Neapolitan bagpipes, traditional at Christmas), and
away from the “sky of Naples”. The refrain starts with the
cry, “How many tears America has cost us” and ends with
“How bitter is this bread”.
The so-called Neapolitan diaspora—the
great waves of emigration from Naples and southern Italy
to the Americas, especially the United States, Canada,
Brazil, and Argentina—was part of the pattern of
large-scale emigration from Italy, in general, in the late
19th and early 20th centuries. Between 1876 and 1913, 11.1
million Italians left. Depending on just how one defines
the area under scrutiny—the city of Naples, the province
of Naples, the region of Campania, or all of southern
Italy (including Sicily and Sardinia)—most reliable
estimates claim that at least 4 million of those who left
were from Naples or near Naples.
[See also Demographics of Naples]
The general rule that
"emigration from cities was negligible" has an important
exception, and that is the city of Naples. The city went
from being the capital of its own kingdom in 1860 to being
just another large city in Italy. The disrupted
bureaucracy and financial situation encouraged
unemployment. Also, in the early 1880s, grave epidemics of
cholera struck the city, causing many people to leave. The
epidemics were then the driving force behind the decision
to rebuild entire sections of the city, an undertaking
known as the risanamento
(lit. "making healthy again") and one that lasted until
World War I. That process of tearing down and rebuilding
also disrupted urban life and became another reason for
many to leave the city.
Today, generations after emigration took southern Italians over the seas, there has arisen a different kind of “emigration,” one within Italy, itself. It strikes non-Italians as strange, but Neapolitans or Sicilians who moves to Milano for a job—as so many of them have done since the Italian “economic miracle” of the 1950s and 60s, will often say that they have “emigrated,” using the exact same terminology they would if they had moved to New York or Frankfurt. After all, Milan can be just as cold, foggy and foreign as those other places—and you can barely understand the language and, God knows, you sure can’t eat the food up there!
One difference between the overseas emigration of many years ago and the newer emigration within Italy is that many of the “new emigrants” try to make it home as often as every weekend. Depending on exactly what northern industrial money-machine they work at and where they live in the south, this can mean a four or five–hundred–mile train ride, once a week. The routine is rough: get off work on Friday afternoon, rush down to the station, catch the overnight train (nicknamed the “Fog Express"), get off nine or ten hours later, catch up on sleep on Saturday, spend Saturday evening and some of Sunday with the family, pile back on the northbound train Sunday evening, get into their northern destination early Monday and rush to work without really having slept on the train.
Sleeping berths and express trains generally cost more than the average worker will be able to spend every week; even the bare-bones second-class seat runs 60 euros for a return ticket. Two-hundred and fifty euros a months is too steep for some, and the word among the “commuter emigrants” at the station is that if you jump in the last car and stand in the corridor all night, the conductor is a pretty good guy and may just not notice that you have no ticket—after all, he knows you’re just trying to get home to see your kids.
A few manage to grind
out the miles like this, week in and week out. Very few
manage to last, year in and year out. The turnover is
enormous; that is, every month, 35 out of 100 southern
workers in northern Italy will quit, to be replaced by
other commuters, who presumably will last a while and
then, in turn, call it quits themselves.
[See also Napoletani a Milano, a film with and by Eduardo de Fillipo.]
The terms “multicultural” and “multiethnic” present a certain paradox when thinking about Naples. At times, looking at the long history of the city, it seems that it must have always been a grand mixture of different peoples. When the Spanish first got here in the 1500s, for example, Spanish soldiers, officers, diplomats, and merchants suddenly occupied most of the area near the Royal Palace. That is the area still known as the "Spanish Quarters”. Of course, there are no Spanish there, any more. Whatever was separately and distinctly Spanish about the area is now totally Neapolitan. Taking that which is foreign and making it your own is very characteristic of Naples. The Spanish experience has surely been repeated many times over the centuries. Naples seems to be a giant blender that homogenizes whatever might start out to be separate and distinct elements in society. Thus, it is, yes, multicultural, but then very quickly Neapolitan.
The Naples daily, il
Mattino, uses the term “multicolor” to describe the
relatively new phenomenon of immigrant children in Naples
attending local public schools. Naples has never been a
racist culture, so the journalist uses such terms quite
innocently. She is merely describing what for her is new
and fascinating when she writes about a little girl as
“three–and–a–half years old, a tiny thing with grand eyes,
wearing a rose-colored checkered school blouse that
contrasts with her coal–black skin."
Also, the Neapolitan public school system is now dealing with the fact that Naples, for whatever reason, is home to thousands of immigrants. They may be newly arrived refugees from eastern Europe, au pair from almost anywhere in the world, African street vendors, or Rom—gypsies.
Children of immigrants are, of course, required to attend school. Last year, 2,825 immigrant children registered for elementary schools in the Campania province, of which Naples is the capital. The trend seems to be about a 20% increase per year. More than half, 1650, were registered for elementary schools in the city of Naples, itself. Caserta had 750 and Salerno 200. One particular school in Naples actually qualifies for a special state subsidy since more than 10% of the student body is immigrant. “So far,” says the principal, “we haven’t seen a cent.”The consensus among teachers is that there are no problems having to do with a pupil being of a different race. (That is gratifying, but I would have predicted that.) There are the same language problems, especially with older students (say, above the age of 12) that you find almost anywhere in the world in schools where children are suddenly required to learn a new language. Socially, there is some problem in getting parents in particularly intransigent immigrant groups such as gypsies to send their children to local schools in the first place. Volunteers regularly go out into the community to try to convince these parents to do what is best for their children.
Between 1861 and the early 1960s, more than 25 million persons left Italy. This phenomenon of emigration, people leaving their homes behind in search of answers to their economic problems, was one of the most intense episodes of social unrest in the history of our nation. Emigration characterized 100 years of our national history and was not only a southern phenomenon, as we are often led to believe. At least at first, it was centered in the north; between 1876 and 1900, more than half of those who left were from three northern regions: Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, and Piedmont. The great explosion of southern emigration followed in the period leading up to WWI, particularly from Calabria, Campania, Puglia and Sicily. They were almost all bound for North or South America. Today there are 64 million descendants in the world of those who left Italy for the United States, Argentina and Brazil.
I'm the chief offender. I see in the items above on immigration/emigration that I referred to "Gypsies" a few times. That was sloppy short-hand on my part because I thought, "Well, everyone knows what I mean — the nomads who come into town from their campsite and want to sell you stuff or steal your stuff or tell your fortune or play the accordion for you while they kidnap your children."
I should clear the air on slipshod nomenclature. I read a recent article in the Washington Post on the "camminanti" subtitled "The ‘walkers’ of Sicily survive on the tradition of selling balloons." A few lines [paraphrased]:
"In the evening, older people tell legends and stories of the "camminanti" and thus pass on to the new generation the tradition centered on the word itself, camminatori (walkers, wanderers) and their traditional selling of balloons.
The author tells us that the descendants of these nomads landed in Sicily at the end of the 1300s, with the Arberesh refugees. "The walkers have kept intact the original family organization, based on the man, the patriarch, with marriages within the community." That is all precise and interesting, and I am sincere when I thank the author for telling me that fascinating tradition. She speaks of her childhood in the Val di Noto (Val does not mean "vally" but is somewhat like '-shire' in English —a district) and how her father always bought her a balloon from the 'camminanti' (not far from Siracusa, near the southern tip of Sicily. She offers this remarkable metaphor...
"balloons; the object that makes us dream even as adults... so colorful and evocative of dreams, lightness and happiness ...a symbol of ephemeral freedom... yet air enclosed in a plastic bag unable to fly because it is tied to a thread or a stick, held in the hand and dominated by other people."She notes poignantly that the nomads knew they were not wanted and, indeed, were actively disliked. But she includes the line "The camminanti ... are neither Roma nor Gypsy." That is not correct and, in fact, sounds as if she got some slipshod lessons from Yours Truly.
Red areas on this map are places of historical and even current Arberesch presence.
In the first place, the 'camminanti' are, indeed, Roma. OK, here goes...
She is correct in her point that the nomads came into Sicily (and much of the boot of Italy) with the arrival of the Arberesh in the late 1300s. There were no helium balloons to sell in the late 1300s, but they were selling something. The Arberesh were from Albania and fled west across the Adriatic to escape upheaval along the Dalmation coast, the Balkans. (Imagine that. Trouble in the Balkan!) That arrival is also noted in Arab chronicles as early as the 1100s; a new people on the scene in the Adriatic. The author of "camminanti" just didn't go back far enough. Anthropological, archaeological, linguistic and genetic evidence now hold that the Arberesh communities and their Albanian forbears are descendants of those who went west from the great diaspora of the Indus Valley civilization [IVC].
We recognize four great civilizations on our planet: China, the Indus Valley, Mesapotamia (our "fertile crescent", Babylon, the Garden of Eden), and Egypt. They all had their beginnings as cohesive states in about 3,000 B.C. Of the four, we know a lot about three of them. The IVC, however broke up in about 2,000 B.C. Why? Probably a mixture of earthquakes, aridization of the soil, or a shift in the course of the great Indus river. A lot of people went east to India, but a few went west and are the people we call Gypsies. That term is wrong since it implies they came from Egypt, which they did not. Yet "Gypsies" is the common derogatory exonym (what other people call you). What is their own "endonym" (what they call themselves)? Roma, Romany, from their name (Rom) for husband, man, patriarch. You may also hear "Sinti" and that gives away their origin, the Sindh provice of British India as well as the modern Sindh province of Pakistan. But the idea that they were itinerant Egyptians is a medieval European fiction.
In modern English, the Council of Europe and other organizations say that Roma is the correct collective noun for the people and that Romani is adjectival, used to describe the language and culture. Thus, the Roma speak Romani.
But they're not gypsies. And no, this Roma has nothing to do with the capital of Italy, as in what you are singing "Arrivederci" to in the famous song. That one comes from Romulus. Or so they say.