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Diversity and Inclusion

Posted by on Friday, June 2, 2017 in 2017 Blog post.

Diversity and Inclusion

Annam Iyer


Many different groups have come and taken power in Sicily. In chronological order, Sicily has been possessed by the Greeks, Phoenicians/Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Goths, Byzantines, Muslims, Normans, Hohenstaufens, Spanish, Bourbons, and the US and England in modern times before being considered fully part of Italy. Thus, Sicily’s population and demographic has always been diverse. Every group within these aforementioned peoples has had a different way of ruling over other, but religion made the most impact.

In the ancient times before religion was important, groups of people generally avoided each other except for trade. By this virtue, most violence was due to land and trade issues. When each of the empires would come in, large groups of their people would migrate to Sicily. But overall, Sicily had enough space for different groups of people to settle, and originally there was no unification across the island. Even when the Romans came in and essentially unified the island, the Sicilians kept to themselves, not even bothering to learn Latin to communicate with their rulers. No matter which group of people came in, the local people remained unconcerned with assimilating. Each town kept to themselves. Eventually when religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam became prominent, the differentiation in culture came into play. When Christians were in power, the Jews and Muslims had to pay extra taxes and had limitations on their status in administration posts. Similarly, when Muslims were in power, the Christians and Jews had to pay extra taxes. It is hard to say how each of these groups actually treated each other on a day-by-day basis, but we do know that multiple Christian kings dressed in Arab garb and kept Muslims in their administration. So it seems that perhaps people were relatively passive towards other religions and ethnic groups, just as Sicilians are with most ruling parties.

Now on the island, we only really see Catholics and white people. From the cities we have been to, I can see a sharp divide between people of different ethnicities. First of all, the majority of people I have seen have been white- tourists or locals. Even in Palermo, a larger city, the diversity was not much more evident. But across the board in every city, if the person was colored, they clearly seemed of lower social economic status. Most of them were vendors on the streets or performing more blue color jobs such as manual labor. Thus, it is obvious that these ethnic people are looked down upon. I have never seen them interact with lighter skin Sicilians except when selling goods. There was a lack of diversity even within the groups of colored people I saw. They were all from either North Africa or the Middle East- I rarely saw a local who was Indian or Asian from further east. This makes sense because of Sicily’s proximity to Tunisia and other North African countries, as well as the fact that it is on the way out of Middle East through the Mediterranean Sea. Most of them that come in seem to be poor or perhaps even illegal. From the military/police presence I saw on the island, I imagine it is relatively simple to escape to Sicily. From my observations, I saw no open racism towards colored people. But after events occurring across Europe regarding jihadist bombings and shootings, I can imagine people naturally being more resentful towards Muslims. Perhaps the normal Sicilian “eh whatever happens happens” attitudes might snap. Overall, modern Sicily is relatively diverse but from less groups of people.

On the other hand, in the US we have people from every corner of the world. People of all colors interact and mix in most regions of the US. We consider the US to be a melting pot, but there is an “ideal image” of an American, and everyone attempts to conform. More than anything, we lose a little piece of our original cultures trying to fit the American mold we see. But in my opinion, that is what moving to a new country is all about. If I move to Italy, then I cannot keep all of my American customs, or Indian customs, and assume I will fit in and not be treated any differently. When you move to a different country, you are agreeing to – and hopefully wanting to- become part of their culture. I do not think you should lose every part of your roots, but try to bring those into American culture for everyone to appreciate. There is a fine line between appreciating and appropriating a culture, so we need to work towards determining what is ok. Immigrants and foreign cultures have made a large impact on American culture. But we always take our favorite parts and Americanize it. For example in food, we take Mexican food and make it Tex Mex; we change Chinese food; we have come up with our own Italian dishes and fusion foods. Yet the term immigration still has relatively negative- or sticky- connotations in our society. We are scared of different, and people taking our jobs. Immigrants who are willing to conform end up fitting into society better than others. Plenty of foreigners hold high positions and maintain successful careers. This is an interesting contrast to the Sicilian culture towards immigrants. As I mentioned previously, all of the colored people I saw were in lowly jobs. Most of them spoke Italian as far as I could tell, but even then they were not doing particularly well for themselves. I assume in combination with coming in with no money, no education and later in life, it is hard in the to make a proper career.

America is a melting pot- just not the way we all try to define it. We all give up a little piece of our roots to fit in and adapt to the American way of life. There is nothing wrong with it- we should just be more honest with ourselves that we do not assimilate different people and cultures well. Sicily is a melting pot in a different way- they have had multiple groups of people come in and assimilate into the culture. In fact, these groups of people have made the culture. In the modern times, the immigrants from the Middle East and Africa that have come in do not integrate as well and lead relatively separated lives.

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