Monday, May 19, 2014

Padua: Surprisingly multicultural

A lot of my work in the U.S. has involved working with and supporting immigrants and children of immigrants. Thanks to my own experiences living abroad and learning additional languages, I feel a special connection to these communities. In my brief time in Padua, I have been fortunate to experience just a slice of the international community through volunteer work with Unica Terra, an association that runs an after school program for immigrant/2nd generation students, among other services.

Yesterday, I witnessed the international scope of Padua on a much larger scale at the city's annual Festa dei Popoli. This year was the 24th anniversary of the event, celebrated throughout last week with lectures, music, dance, theater, and a culminating weekend festival in Prato della Valle, Padua's natural outdoor event center.

With just a glance around Prato yesterday's sunny Sunday afternoon, the extent of Padua's international community became clear. The place was packed with food, crafts, and cultural experiences from all over the world. As I wandered around hearing multiple languages spoken, I suddenly felt less like a "straniera" (foreigner).

I had been aware that Padua had large populations of immigrants from Albania, Romania, Morocco, and China, but I was surprised to learn yesterday that there are also substantial communities from Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Peru. This I learned by watching the community parade (reminiscent of an Olympic Games Parade of Nations).

Before the parade, hundreds of people gathered in traditional dress around flags of their countries of origin: Ukraine, Romania, Albania, Moldova, Morocco, Cameroon, Sri Lanka, China, Peru, Philippines, and Italy, among others. Religious leaders representing Baha'i, Buddhist, Hare Krishna, and Catholic provided an interfaith (and translingual) blessing, and the parade took off. The representatives from the Chinese community stole the show with bright red, elaborate, dancing lions.
Interfaith blessing as communities gather before the parade

Dancing lions in the Chinese community

After the parade, I was able to get the inside scoop on several international stands with a friend from Unica Terra. We were invited to share fresh mint tea and cookies inside a Berber tent hosted by a family from Morocco. In the tent, we met -strangely enough- a couple of U.S. undergrads who had arrived in Padua two weeks ago for a study abroad program (this might entail an entirely separate blog post). Not knowing about the event, they had come to Prato to hang out in the park and study. Surprise surprise!

Of course I realize the challenges for immigrant communities in Italy: the injustices, the prejudices… However, I appreciate that Padua, for 24 years, has celebrated its multiculturalism in the Festa dei Popoli (which means, by the way, Festival of the Peoples).

Morocco followed by Cameroon


The only American nation represented in yesterday's parade, Peru


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