I’m writing you a letter because nowadays the epistolary form seems to be the most appropriate when it comes to expressing moral outrage.
Just like you, I’ve read Pier Luigi Celli’s letter in La Repubblica, encouraging his son to emigrate, to wander off into the horizon in search for a better future. Just like you, I’ve read the Time magazine article informing its readers (and anyone willing to listen) about the troubles a young Italian with a university degree encounters when searching for a job. And just like you, I’ve seen a variety of Facebook friends tag that YouTube video playing the scene from La Meglio Gioventu’ in which a professor exhorts his young(ish) student to leave Italy because ‘dinosaurs’ like him are running the country into the ground. But, perhaps, unlike you, I am not willing to resign myself to the doomsday analyses and pessimist outlooks and continual laments many find convenient when times are tough. The grass may be greener on the other side, but the question they must be asking themselves now is “What have we done in order to cultivate a better lawn in our own backyard?”
I observe with ‘nativist’ amusement the rush of Italians swarming New York City’s streets, the same streets in which I grew up, and wonder from where their indiscriminate passion for this city stems. When I wrote ‘10 Reasons to Hate New York’, the most virulent protests against my piece came from the Big Apple’s Italian residents, their deafening outcries shouting in defense of their adoptive city. Young Italians love New York because it’s dynamic, because it’s diverse, because it offers a sense of possibility around every corner, because for them it’s everything Italy isn’t. But New York hasn’t carried this aura of invincibility across the centuries because it’s inherently a great place or because confidence flows through the city’s sewers or because the air smells better or because the people are nicer. New York is both home to the Wall Street goon and the Mexican busboy, but both operate within the city’s confines with the necessary ‘can do’ optimism that allows them to dream big while being small, to construct a future from raw will. At least, that is the fuel that New York and America have run on throughout their brief histories. Nonetheless, it’s a fuel that is both generated and consumed by the inhabitants, the people, the man and woman on the street. New York is but a stage upon which the player’s existential buoyancy is lived. To make a long story short, New York is such a thriving place because New Yorkers make it so. A little bit of will power goes a long way.
But not for the Italians.
Italians suffer from negativist exceptionalism. Ask a young Italian how things are going in Italy, and they will most likely reply that the situation is ‘horrible.’ They will compare Rome’s political milieu to that of the most downtrodden African country… and say Italy is worse off. They will say the economy is on the down-and-outs, that society is crumbling in the face of mysterious organizations like the P2 or the P3. They will point to corruption, sexism, television, organized crime, tax evasion, vandalism, and nepotism as the nefarious evils slowly devouring the country from the inside-out like furious worms. And they will pretend that there is nothing they can do about it. That these are crimes being perpetrated against them; that they are unwilling participants in an Italian farce, victims being taken along for a ride.
So, it perplexes me to see the very same Italians, so helpless at home in Italy, undergo a rebirth in New York. Suddenly, those same people, who months before complained about the social torpor of Florence or Rome or the provinces, rediscover their enthusiasm, creativity, imagination, ideas, business plans, and social awareness. Suddenly, they stop complaining and ‘start doing’, because, as everyone knows, New York has no time for whiners. If only they ‘started doing’ in Italy, too.
Professor Celli’s letter and the anecdote from La Meglio Gioventu’ have gotten it all wrong. Young Italians don’t need to flee Italy, escaping to Berlin, New York, and beyond. They need to stand up, take action and claim what’s rightfully theirs. Instead of complaining, or drawing up anachronistic theories that assign blame for Italy’s long and lazy decline, they need to understand that it’s time to shut up and get to work. It’s time to jettison the existential desperation, the ‘everything is impossible’ attitude, and seize the opportunity to rebuild from the ashes of their fathers. It’s time to crowdsource the creativity of those Young Italians living in Williamsburg, the entrepreneurial skills of those working in London, and the brains of those who’ve gleaned MBAs and PhDs from Harvard and LSE and Princeton and find and impose solutions into and onto the Italian context. Italy cannot become a dynamic and progressive society if its most dynamic and progressive citizens escape without giving a fight. And, signing petitions and demonstrating in squares and grumbling on Facebook can lead nowhere if they are not backed up with credible, bottom-to-top alternatives.
I’m writing this letter as an appeal, not a complaint; it should serve as a stimulus, not an offense. Let’s begin the crowdsourcing here and now and start sifting through ideas that can serve as the new foundation for an optimistic and dynamic Italy- a New York-style Italy that offers opportunity for everyone.
How Would You Change Italy For the Better?
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