While the EU comes under mounting pressure to turn a worsening refugee emergency in the Central Mediterranean, a tiny Italian village has succeeded in turning its own faith by offering desperate refugees homes and common hopes for the future.
In 2009, the German film director Wim Wenders dedicated a documentary to Riace, of which you can see an extract here
What strikes me most in the comment of Domenico Lucano, the mayor of this tiny village, is his recognition that he too, is a potential emigrant, but one who decided to stay.
Like Riace, many villages in Calabria, Puglia and Basilicata experience the faith of abandonment and constant emigration in the urgent search for jobs and a brighter future- thus cutting deep wounds into the South’s social fabric. One village near Turin, for example, has more people from Riace than Riace itself. Oppido Lucano, a village in central Basilicata, has twinned up with Iquique, a city on Chile’s Pacific Coast. Every year Italian emigrants return to the village during the Summer, transforming it into a a global feast.
By expanding this multi-locality towards immigrants from the Southern Mediterranean, Riace represents a small, though symbolic, inversion of the tendency in Italy’s abandoned South towards a reaffirmation of a proper identity and mindset, as the Italian sociologist Franco Cassano writes in his book Il Pensiero Meridiano.
Such mindset starts from a double need, of autonomy and resistance agains the dominant industrialized North, on the one hand, and of a pluralistic cultural identity on the other. Instead of resigning in front of a landscape of stranded ships, the citizens of Riace represent a growing consciousness among Southern Italians that modernity, this modernity, is rather a shack to dismantle, so as to slowly watch the earth re-emerge under one’s feet, not to reconstruct yet other industries, towns and cities, but to construct a new common sense of sticking together and of living space in a profoundly ecological way. Through such experiences, Franco Arminio writes, Southern Italy generates the hope of becoming the centre of a new humanism, which starts, for once, not from its subaltern denial and failed modernity, but from the lived space of its rugged internal geography.