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Scroll through ANGI’s facebook feed, and you can trace the spread of Covid-19 and its effects. ANGI stands for the Association of the New Italo-Chinese Generation and is one of several organisations of second generation youth in Italy. Usually engaged in promoting the cultural exchange between Italy and China through language courses and cultural activities, over the last two months the virus has been the primary issue around which ANGI’s activities and communication has been revolving.
In January, when the virus had not yet reached Italy, ANGI, like many other Chinese-Italian organisations, collected money and sanitary equipment for Chinese hospitals, using their transnational business and family networks to overcome bureaucratic, linguistic and logistical hurdles:
[ANGI asks for solidarity from all communities to collect suits, face masks and gloves for the health workers of Wenzhou. ANGI will organise shipping and delivery to the Wenzhou hospitals]
Bilingual messages of solidarity highlighted the connections between the two nations, embodied physically and symbolically by second generation youth, who often stress their bridging function between cultures and nations:
[Friendship will save the world! China and Italy are genetically friends.]
Come mid-February, as COVID-19 spread around the world, the mood changed: Racist episodes against people of Asian descent skyrocketed, as hatred found fertile ground in an environment of panic, confusion and uncertainty — just like the virus itself. Chinese-Italian children reported being called “Coronavirus” in school, Chinese restaurants and shops were boycotted, persons of Chinese descent abused openly in public. Nothing new, as people of migrant descent regularly report racist discrimination, but more intense – and perhaps troubling — in a time of crisis.
[We join the plea of the Embassy of China in Italy against the corona psychosis. Rome is the universal city of hospitality where everyone is welcome.]
[Dear friends! Two days ago, the TV programme “Buongiorno Regione Piemonte” visited us to document the racist acts suffered by Chinese citizens and Italian citizens of Chinese origins. Our message always remains the same: fight racism with gestures of peace and love. … ]
The hashtag #IamNotaVirus soon went viral, documenting these and similar racist episodes worldwide, connecting victims of abuse, and constructing a virtual space of anti-racist resistance that emphasised social solidarity in times of physical distancing.
In late February, as Italy became the country with the fastest growing number of infected people, witch-hunts against people of Chinese descent diminished. Discriminatory instances against Italians in and outside of Europe were reported instead. As Italians struggled to come to terms with the virulent outbreak, ANGI’s offerings of solidarity and aid changed direction: face masks and gloves were no longer shipped from Italy to China, but from China to Italy, through the same transnational channels employed before; people of Chinese descent distributed face masks to their neighbours. And once again, young Italo-Chinese highlighted their transnational belonging and multiple identities “We are Italians, we are Chinese.”:
[Happy to help. We are Italians, we are Chinese. We are all under the same sky. “Wenzhaunese across the world” and “Young Wenzhuanese” donated and distributed 6000 single-use gloves, 1900 3M facemasks, 660 protective glasses and 30 single-use overalls]
Covid-19 emphasises the complexities of being a child of immigrants in contemporary Italy, and ANGI’s Facebook posts reflect some of these: from racist encounters and multiple identities, to the power of transnational networks and displays of translocal solidarity. In times of crisis, people become hyperaware of difference. Difference is painted in negative terms, while its positive aspects (the power of transnational identities, networks and solidarity, for instance) are overlooked. To avoid the spread of prejudice and hate, social solidarity is key. Let’s therefore remember the simple message of two hashtags gone viral: #IAmNotAVirus — #HateIsAVirus!
|Johanna Mitterhofer is a social anthropologist researching issues related to identity, diversity and borders at the Eurac Institute for Minority Rights. She also coordinates the annual Summer School on Human Rights, Minorities and Diversity Governance.|