Structural Adjustment and the African Diaspora in Italy
From the fifteenth to the nineteenth century, millions of Africans were forcibly abducted and transported across the Atlantic as slaves, to live and work and die, producing the key commodities--sugar, tobacco, cotton--of the early phases of capitalist development. In the process they transformed the cultures and languages, as well as political histories of four continents and laid the basis for the pan-African movements of modern times, while contributing greatly to national histories and working-class movements in lands to which they and their ancestors had been transported.
Today large numbers of Africans are once again in movement across the planet, as part of a worldwide migration flow both between countries of the south, and from the south to the wealthier areas of North America and Europe. This chapter discusses the characteristics of the African immigrants living and working in Italy. It is based on a field research carried out between 1994 and 1997 in the Veneto region of northeast Italy, which is part of the so-called Third Italy, an area known for small-scale industrial production for the world market. The chapter argues that African and other immigrants in the region link the experiences of structural adjustment in their countries of origin with themes of flexible production in the north of Italy; further, it sees immigrant transnational communities and social networks as a form of organization that seeks to resolve the pressures created by structural adjustment and makes possible political mobilization in the countries of arrival, in this case, Italy. These networks are in turn under pressure to surrender their autonomy to worldwide forces including organized crime, international financial-planning institutions, and states that seek to subordinate immigrant networks to their own objectives. Since the research conducted included other communities beyond those from African countries, I will at times refer to these as well, though the focus in this chapter is on the African experiences.