I have Tunisian parents but I was born and raised in Milan, so I am a second generation migrant. Now there are more migrants here, but when I was young there were only Italians.
Outside my household, I was exposed to Italian life with its language and religion, while within my household l spoke another language – Tunisian, a mixture of French and Arab – practiced a different religion, and ate different food. So it felt like I was in Italy but every time I set foot in my house I was back in Tunisia. I always lived both realities, and that is why my identity is hard to define.
I feel Italian and Tunisian, fully. My mom used to tell me this since I was 7 years old: “Remember, you are not 50% one and 50% the other, you are 100% Italian and 100% Tunisian, you are complete.”
There was only one time when I experienced an identity conflict, and it was when the World Trade Center was attacked. Everybody was telling me, “You’re a Taliban, your father is a Taliban!” or asking me “Why don’t you wear the veil?” In that moment I realized that I wasn’t exactly like everyone else, like I thought.
I was always curious to know how Italians lived in Tunisia, since I am a Tunisian living in Italy. There was a massive migration from Sicily to Tunisia right after Italian Unification in 1861. There is a big Italian diaspora, where they are known as “Kif kif”, which means “look-alikes” since they were considered to be very ‘Tunisian’-looking. The first time I visited Tunis by myself, I went to an Italian neighborhood where I had the chance to meet the Italian community there, and I was so excited to meet a man who talked in Sicilian, French, and also in the Tunisian dialect!
I am studying Political Science because I would like to become a diplomat, and work on relations between Italy and Tunisia. I’d serve as an Italian diplomat in Tunisia rather than the other way around because I feel diplomacy was born in Italy, and I feel proud to be part of something that was the first of its kind.