Italy: Tapping the talents of young immigrants

They've been called the "new Italians" or G2 - the second generation of immigrants who were either born in Italy or grew up here.

Their numbers are increasing in Italian society and young creative talent is emerging from the new cultural mix.

Crossmode is a non-profit organisation that wants to celebrate and cultivate the creativity of these young immigrants.

"We thought of creating a project where instead of always associating immigrants with those that land on the shores of Lampedusa [an island off the coast of Sicily], we wanted to show immigrants as creative people who can have a positive impact," Michele D'Alena, president of Crossmode [] told Adnkronos International (AKI) in an interview.

"In Italy, when we talk about a 'cultural contamination', it is always seen in a negative way."

According to a recent report by the Italian Catholic charity Caritas, there are over 3.5 million immigrants in Italy, making up 6.2 percent of the country's population.

While half these immigrants come from Europe, there are many Moroccans from North Africa, Chinese and Filipinos from Asia, and many others from Peru, Ecuador and the US.

According to national statistics, 10.3 percent of those born in Italy are the children of immigrants and more than half a million students in Italian schools are foreign citizens. With so many different cultures in Italy, there are often tensions and misunderstanding between local and immigrant communities.

However a group of Italians in Milan, including D'Alena, saw this as an opportunity and established Crossmode in 2006 to tap into the talents of these second generation immigrants.

"The basis of the project is that cultural diversity brings about creativity," he said.

In over a year, Crossmode built a network of public, private and non-profit organisations to help fund the project.

With the Polytechnic of Milan university, the group created a competition offering the "new Italians" a chance to win scholarships and opportunities in creative fields, such as fashion, music and design.

The prizes range from a 12,000 euro scholarship in strategic design, to smaller grants in other fields like fashion. In the music category, the winner will have the chance to record a track on an album and also perform in a concert in the Italian capital, Rome.

So far Crossmode has received 35 entries for the competition and the awards will be presented for the first time in May.

One of the judges in the musical category of the competition is a "new Italian" himself.

Amir Issaa is an Italo-Egyptian rapper, who has been involved in the Italian hip-hop scene for over a decade.
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Born in Rome to an Egyptian father and Italian mother, Issaa can relate to the immigrant experience of being marginalised because of his ethnic background.

"I get stopped on the street by the police asking me for my ID. They do this because of my features and because of my origins and my name," Issaa told AKI.

"This has increased after 9/11. Extra attention is given to people of Middle Eastern origin."

"Then came the [July 2005] attacks in London. Those responsible for the attacks were people born in the United Kingdom. So now in Italy, there is also concern that those of Middle Eastern origin here could be terrorists."

Issaa dealt with some of these themes in his first album, L'uomo di prestigio, or Man of Prestige. One track on the CD is entitled Straniero nella mia Nazione or Foreigner in my Nation, in which Issaa raps about how he straddles two worlds, growing up and living in Italy as the child of an Egyptian immigrant.

"I can talk about cultural problems and the fact that a man with the name Amir Issaa is not treated like a Mario Rossi in Italy, even though they are both born here," he told AKI.

Issaa, now planning the release of his second album, also performs at various Crossmode events, promoting their initiatives and ideas.

"As the son of an immigrant, I do see it as a strength," he told AKI. "There is a wealth of many cultures in Italy today and that is a positive thing, not just as a cross-cultural fact but also in terms of creativity."

"It's a contamination that I really believe in and that works. It's absurd that there are people who still think about it as a something that is holding Italy back," he said. "I see it as a an enrichment."

Issaa has also collaborated on a compilation album of songs by young artists who are children of immigrants living in Italy.

The album, entitled Straneiro a chi? or Foreigner to Who? was released last month and is the latest initiative by an organisation known as G2 [], which is a political network of second generation immigrants living in Italy.

Also set up in 2006, the group's main aim is to highlight the problems faced by second generation immigrants trying to acquire Italian citizenship. However it also tries to address the image problem that immigrants face in Italian media and society.

"We were set up to give a voice to the second generation within the political and cultural debate in Italy," G2 spokesman Mohamed Talimoun told AKI.

Besides Issaa, the CD also includes artists who can trace their origins around the world, from a rapper in Rome who has a Filipino father and a Chinese mother to a hip-hop artist who can trace his roots to Italy, Cape Verde and Haiti.

"We want to show that appearances aren't always what they seem to be," said Talimoun, who is himself of Libyan origin but came to Italy when he was just five years old.

"In this way we can make those of G2, the protagonists of their own image."

While artists like Issaa, celebrate their origins and their culture, they do not want to only be defined by their identity.

"I know that my identity has helped me. It has given me more media coverage perhaps," he said.

"But it all begins with the music, that's the premise, good music."

Source: AKI (English)

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