I arrived in Italy on May 22nd 2010, I was 14 years old and I still remember that day as it was yesterday.
I remember that the main barrier was the language, and I felt the urgency to learn Italian as fast as I could (and my Italian can’t still be considered perfect). The language was just the top of a bigger ice-berg, because I knew and I enjoyed things that the other kids didn’t even know. When you are a teenager, your life revolves around certain music, TV shows, books and interests, and you make friends according to the things you like the most. Looking for friends despite my diversity, was very hard. Plus, even attending an international school, I was the only Asian girl in a class of Western kids, who sometimes, for this reason, made fun of me.
Now, all that difficulties seem so far, and paradoxically when I visit Pakistan, the old friends I left, notice that there’s something different in me: “you don’t know how to act here anymore”.
However, I do feel Pakistani. And Italian. I’m a person split in three: my roots are from Pakistan, my adult self is from Italy, and then there is also an American part, the one that comes from the international schools I attended and the people I met.
Being a Muslim, it is something that somehow influenced my staying here: just think about the fact that I don’t drink alcohol in a country where drinking is somehow a way of socialization. My class mates used to hang out on Saturday night for a drink, or they went clubbing, and I wasn’t used to it. So yes, my religion exposed me a bit to other people attention. I used to wear the veil, but I decided to stop because it was getting too difficult for me to do anything in public, from taking buses, to having coffee in a bar. People starred at me asking stupid questions like “aren’t you warm?”. One of my friend even asked me “what if I rip it off”? I used to feel very confused by people’s behavior. So I just decided to quit.
It’s strange, because we, people coming from let’s say “less” developed Countries, have this idea of the Western world, generally more open-minded and tolerant toward diversity. Well, it’s not exactly what I experienced. Misconceptions, stereotypes, they are not strong, but still exist. Why do people who studied, whose life gave real opportunities, more “cultured” people just don’t realize the importance of inclusion, the opportunity given by globalization? Now, more than ever, they don’t realize that migrants aren’t a danger.
Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful, and I know that society is made of many different people, there’s good and there’s bad in it. Of course I have met also kind, welcoming and open-minded people and their support has been fundamental: a breath of fresh air during the rough initial period. People I couldn’t do without.
When I am asked where I see myself in the future, I know it is Italy. It’s not Pakistan, neither any other Country, it is Italy. It might happen that I’ll have to leave Italy for work, but you know, having the possibility to choose, I would stay here.