Beyond Via Sarpi: The Challenges of Chinese Immigration in Contemporary Italy



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On April 13, 2007, Italy experienced a major ethnic riot by hundreds of Chinese residents in Milan. The riot was triggered by a parking ticket, which incited allegations of racial discrimination towards the Chinese and unfair treatment by the Italian police. The Chinese government even expressed concern for its Chinese cousins in Italy. It protested the alleged discrimination and demanded an investigation. This thesis takes the Milan riot as a starting point for exploring contemporary social tensions between the Italians and Chinese. It analyzes the Chinese immigration experience, focusing not only on how and why they came to Italy, but also the reasons for their astonishing economic success. I utilize Italian, Chinese, and American media accounts and incorporate personal interviews and migration theory to demonstrate how the historical relationship between Italians and Chinese in Italy has evolved in concert with changes in Italian immigration law, debates surrounding Italian national identity and the role of immigrants in an increasingly multiethnic Italy. Based on my research, I argue that social tensions between the Italians and Chinese do not stem from racism as the media suggests, but rather from economic competition and the inability of the Italian state to regulate immigration and work. While the media tends to portray a picture of unresolvable conflict between the Italians and Chinese, this work reveals that the second-generation Chinese are, in fact, assimilating and integrating successfully into Italian culture. Although largely ignored in scholarship and the media, they are actually bringing the two communities closer together. Born and raised in Italy, the second-generation Chinese are in many ways, culturally more Italian than Chinese. Italians have accepted them because they seem less foreign than their parents. While they are economically successful, they also appear less threatening because they are more integrated in the Italian economy. Their experiences in the Italian higher education system and professional world alongside Italians have contributed to their successful integration. They are becoming doctors and lawyers, and even marrying native Italians. They are transforming Italy in ways that no one could have imagined just a generation ago.


I wrote my own translations for Italian and Chinese sources.


Chinese migration, Italian immigration, Via Sarpi, Chinese second-generation