Ellie Lehto is a sophomore at the University of St. Thomas who enjoys traveling throughout the beautiful world we live in and writing about her explorations.
The EUR is an area in Rome that was designed by Mussolini to be a “New Rome.” It was designed as a place unified in culture, architecture, and people---a place only for Italians. The buildings in this section of the city are grey with square edges and square windows and square bricks. There is no room for color or art. In class, I visited the EUR and instantly felt out of place. I thought to myself, Could it just be me projecting onto my environment because I know the uncomfortable Fascist history of this place? I took a minute to think. I think it is partially because of its past and partially because it is perfectly unified. I do not belong here. This place is not meant for me. It was built for Italians only. The air is eerie. It is too cold and too quiet and too still. The buildings are too perfect.
Above: The EUR
Above: Piazza Navona
Because I am a white American who lives in the United States, I have never felt like a foreigner until I came to Rome. In my mind, there is often a connection between feeling foreign and feeling like you do not belong. In the EUR not only did I feel like I did not belong but I felt like a foreigner. As a study abroad student, oftentimes I forget that I am a foreigner. I know the culture, speak much of the language, and remember where my favorite shops and restaurants are. I feel like I have a right to live here until someone asks me a question in Italian that I do not understand and I am struck with the realization that I am a foreigner.
What is a foreigner in Rome? There are tourists, immigrants, expatriates, and study abroad students. The longer I stay in Rome the easier it is to distinguish these groups. I see the immigrants selling bundles of colorful spices in the markets, expatriates speaking fluent Italian and then turning to talk to their friends with a British accent, and study abroad students packed on the metro after class. Of all these groups, tourists are the easiest to pick out.
Most tourists take tons of photos in front of Rome's many beautiful sights. They do not speak any Italian and they need a map in order to get from one place to another. They do not dress like Italians. I came across this woman around one of the big tourist destinations, the Spanish Steps. She spoke English with an American accent, dressed in a typical American style, and was reading a map in order to get around. I also speak with the same accent, dress in American clothes, and look at my maps app to get around. I wonder if I stick as a tourist as this woman does.
Writer Iris Origo was a foreigner in Italy during the World War II era. Although she was a foreigner, in her diary War in Val D’Orcia she never seems concerned about her foreigner status. Instead of worrying about whether or not she belongs in Italy, she breaks the walls built up between human beings and treats everyone like they have a place in the world, and more importantly, like they have a place in Italy. She took social responsibility for Italian issues, something I believe she would have done no matter where she was. This was clearly shown when she took in child refugees of the war. She did not think of her actions as extraordinary. She simply did what she felt was right based on her personal duty for society. Instead of treating others differently based on their status, she treated all people as what they are, human beings.
In modern society, there is a great emphasis on breaking down stereotypes and differences and instead, noticing the similarities we all hold as human beings. By definition, a foreigner is simply someone who resides in a place different than their native one but, I believe the word is much more complex. I think oftentimes, the term foreigner is a label either you put on yourself or someone else puts on you when you do not belong. It is used as an insult and to show someone they are not wanted. Personally, I believe instead of drawing lines between groups of people we should focus on our similarities as humans. We should share our culture and invite others in because you and I are all native to the same Earth. Rome is warmer than the Midwest and full of amazing pasta and crazy driving but the people here are the same as back home. We all cry and laugh and do our best to be happy. Our language and culture might be different but, we are all human beings.