Old and new Italian migrations in Belgium

Federica Moretti, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, BE

In the past decades – especially between the Fifties and the Seventies –, Italy experienced a massive migration flow; many Italians migrated from the Southern to the Northern part of the Country and to wealthier European Countries. Moreover, the ‘Bel Paese’ is currently witnessing to a new outbound flow of Italians, leaving in search of opportunities and relief from the shortcomings of a severe financial crisis. Amongst the ‘migration-target’ Countries, Belgium is one of the most important. Indeed, many Italians moved to and settled in the Belgian territory, laying the foundations for what is now a large Italian community, composed by the older – first, second and third generations – and the younger Italian migrants.

The paper investigates the above-captioned issues, focusing on the experiences of young Italians currently residing in Leuven (Belgium). For the sake of analyzing how the two phenomena – the older and the more recent migration flows –, are interconnected, the paper first describes the experiences of graduate students currently pursuing Master or PhD programs at the University of Leuven, and second of those of the second generation students enrolled at the University of Leuven. The research unfolds and compares the two groups’ conceptions of Italy, especially focusing on two issues: (1) how is Italy ‘imagined’ by the migrants and (2) how do these imaginaries open up to various courses of action.

Based on an ethnographic research and through the lenses of an anthropological perspective, the paper demonstrates that whilst ‘imaginaries’ may be conceived as mere fantasies or dreams – thus as a sort of a meta-world of intangible images –, such conception would be erroneous and fallacious. In fact, the empirical research shows that migrants’ imaginaries influence the lives and the identities of the people, and the ways they behave and choose.