Immigrant Voices

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Taoufik Menai was 19 when he left his native Tunisia. He had been working in one of Tunis' largest bookstores, but traveled to Austria to learn German. Within a year he had decided to return home, disillusioned with the formality of Austrian society, but on the way he entered Italy as a tourist and decided to stay. During an amnesty for illegal aliens in 1986 he managed to get a permit to work in Italy. After stints at a restaurant in Caserta, picking apples in Bolzano and picking fruit and tomatoes in Genoa, Taoufik took up soldering in Foggia. Eventually a businessman from Reggio Emilia offered him a job and he moved there in 1989. In 1992, he and eight Arab partners each invested $50 in El Karama (which means "dignity" in Arabic), a cooperative that assembles machinery and makes salami and last year had a turnover of more than $500,000. Taoufik is now known as the "Berlusconi of the immigrants.""We learned to depend on ourselves. After ours, another 20 cooperatives of immigrants have opened in Reggio Emilia. It is a positive trend. In Reggio Emilia nobody gives you anything, but there is an entrepreneurial spirit. If you are good, you can find a space. Many industries here work with foreign firms. They have no problems with black or white. In Italy, biological racism doesn't exist. There is a racism of class. The immigrant is looked on as a threat. But it is the poor Italians who are afraid of the immigrant. The position that I find most dangerous is the one that maintains the equation: immigration equals criminality. In all this talk I don't want to forget all those immigrants who wake up at four o'clock in the morning to go to work in the foundries, the slaughterhouses, the tanneries, the stalls, the fields and who contribute to the wealth and well-being of this country. As in all cultures, to be considered equal [immigrants] have to be better."