“I still remember my mother’s words when I left: 'Don’t come back until you have found what you’re looking for. You must be strong, because one day your job will save many lives.'
And so I came to Italy to fulfill my dream of becoming a doctor. I managed to find a place to stay with the help of a Hungarian priest, who was a refugee. And a few years later, I became an ophthalmologist.
In 1994, I married an Italian man and since then, little by little, I started to look beyond my personal dream, diverting my attention towards other people’s struggles, in particular the rights of migrants and the promotion of multiculturalism.
I’m doing a lot of things today that were not part of my life plans; but living and integrating in this country have inspired me to take on a commitment that was ...meant to be.
My experience in politics is part of this commitment. At the beginning, it was hard for me to understand that I was representing a strong symbol for Italy: I was the first black minister in the history of the Italian Republic! The President, Giorgio Napolitano, could have declined my Ministry designation but he wanted to create a “cultural rupture”. Not everyone agreed with his choice...
Now I realize how important it is, not only for Italy, but for the rest of the world, that designations like mine can open a political debate. Sure, there is still a lot of work to do about discrimination. I had to face many personal attacks, but my victory in the European elections shows that things are already changing.
As an EU diplomat, I now split my time between Modena, Italy and Brussels in Belgium. Always being on the move, on a plane or a train also feels a little bit like home to me now. I try to find short moments to relax, read a magazine.
Sometimes I wonder where “home” really is. When I went to Congo a couple of years ago, I felt like a foreigner and I caught myself saying ‘It’s time to go back home now, back to Italy.’ I genuinely feel at home in Modena: it’s my city, with its smells, its colors, and its people.”
Cécile Kyenge Kashetu was the Minister of Integration of the Letta Government and the first black Minister of Italy. Since 2014 she is a Member of the European Parliament.