Watching the World Cup in Castel Volturno

This is an unpublished post edited from a first draft I wrote in 2010 while living in Italy during the World Cup.  I’ve been reflecting a lot on the situation of immigrants here, especially as Europe experiences deep economic crisis and Italian xenophobia is ever-present and particular poignant for me as a privileged outsider.  We are currently hosting an intern from Burkina Faso at the moment at the farm, and his occasional comments about the challenge of living here, as well as the strange position I’ve been thrust into as his kind of supervisor, really reminds me of this experience a few years back:

Though I couldn’t be considered a real soccer (sports) fan in any respect, I’ve always really enjoyed the World Cup.  Teams from all over the world, different playing styles, strange loyalties.  I’m into it, and at least the last three tournaments have punctuated interesting moments in my life, times when I’ve been involved in crazy situations on the brink of entering new ones.  I sense this might be another and when I’m far away from home I feel at least 6 times more patriotic.

We all know about Italians and football, though I’ve been hanging out around a crowd who don’t really care much for it.  They care enough to disparage the US and its poor sporting reputation, but as the former champions eliminated in the first round I got the last laugh on that one this time.

I got to watch us sputter and go out on Saturday night surrounded by 200 Ghanians [Ghana eliminated the US 2-1 in overtime].  Now, to be fair, I don’t know if every man was from Ghana.[my privilege speaking again] I certainly did not identify myself as a US fan hoping to get a feel from the crowd.  Fede and I were visiting a town in the South of Italy, near Naples, called Castel Volturno.  Mention its name (or better yet, your travel plans there) to most Italians and you will get  post-Katrina New Orleans tooth sucking reactions.  It’s considered a lawless, Mafia-controlled toxic waste dump full of illegal immigrants.  Many immigrants come to the semi-apocalyptic resort town because of its reputation for extra-governmental legal systems, empty houses built as tax shelters and the like.  One could consider this either a draw or the result of being turned away at every other turn.

While we were there before the game, I spoke with some of the guys who described their three day trips from Libya across the sea to Sicily, only to be picked up and sent to camps called CPTs.  They’re held at the camps for various lengths of time until they’re just dumped, without any legal status, into the Italian wilds.  That’s how it’s been described to me.  Even for those not living in Castel Volturno, life as black or Arab immigrant seems very tough here.  Right in Federica’s valley near Forli there are a huge number of immigrants working low-wage jobs at the local chicken factory.  Even though this seems like a country paradise to me with white skin and easy legal status, most immigrants are clearly very marginalized and isolated here.  No halal butchers posting their wares.  No visible immigrant support center. (I found it by accident while making a visit to the local provincial offices.  One part time, and very kind, Italian women works there.)

As the World Cup game wound down and the US was clearly not going to win, the crowd started to slowly disperse. Night fell and the parking lot with a projector screen set up in it became more empty every time I looked around.  By the time the game was over, the subdued celebrations were only obvious for a few minutes before folks left entirely.   I was struck by how I might have reacted as a fair weather fan if we’d won.

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