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We Are Migrants: Teasing Italian Taste Buds

ROME, Apr 23 2018 (IPS) - Atik and Said have many things in common. They are both from Bangladesh, both are about the same age, in their thirties and, they are both migrant workers in an Italian restaurant in the heart of Rome, a stone’s throw from Saint Peter’s Basilica. They are not the only migrants working in the food service industry in Italy, where most of the pizza makers today are Egyptians and most of the Chefs are either Bangladeshis or North Africans. This is an interesting phenomenon in a country known for its cuisine where many of the Chefs today are not locals but foreigners.

The “culinary melting pot” Italy, after several years of decline in the food sector, has become a trendy sector for many young people who are attracted to food preparation as an art where talented young Chefs are commanding handsome wages amidst a growing sense of excitement about learning how to cook delicious, healthy dishes as highly qualified Chefs do. Not surprising at all, considering the importance of food in Italian culture. It is surprising though that despite increased interest of the younger generation of Italians in the art of cooking, restaurant kitchens are seeing greater numbers of migrant workers as Chefs and sous Chefs and helpers, considering especially that these are not “undesirable” jobs any longer, such as that of a farmer (mainly because the latter is considered to be more labour intensive).

The UN Migration Agency (IOM) estimates that there are 132,397 Bangladeshi migrants regularly residing in Italy (January 2017). Among these migrants, the rate of employment is 63.8%, which is definitely a positive asset for them and for the Italian economy, that is still suffering from the financial crisis of the past recent years.

This IPS correspondent sat down with Atik and Said at the restaurant where they work, near the Vatican. The two Bangladeshis opened up and shared their stories about how they entered Italy, a typical day at work for them, what they like and what they don’t like in their new country of residence and about their families they left behind.

In response to most questions both Atik and Said had similar views . When asked if they wish to open up their own businesses like several returning migrants have done in Bangladesh or in Italy, Atik and Said said almost in chorus, “It depends on if we are able to reach a certain level of expertise to run a restaurant on our own. If we can we would certainly consider that” said Atik. Both of them stressed that they would need a lot of financial resources to do that and, since they are regularly sending money back to their families in Bangladesh and they also have their own expenditures in Italy, they cannot think of investing in their own entrepreneurial projects now, but maybe in five to ten years from now after they have saved substantial sums, the idea could be feasible. Indeed, many Bangladeshis in Italy have set up small and medium sized enterprises such as grocery shops, internet points and cafes which are sustainable and profitable at the same time.

“I always miss my family even though I hear from them every single day” stated Said. “I speak to them at least two or three times a day” he added. “When I have a call with my family” said Atik “either with a video call on Skype or not, they always cry, always”. When asked if he cries as well, he hessitated for a moment and said “In front of them, I compose myself and I don’t cry, but when I am alone, it turns to be ‘heart-wrenching’ for me”. Atik added that being the only child it is very difficult for his patents not to have him with them especially during the many festivities.

Said spoke about his wife and a one year old child who live with his parents back home. While they are well looked after, it is not an ideal situation to be so far away from his dear ones. However, he emphasized that he is fortunate, unlike many others without jobs . His job is enabling him to build a sustainable future for his family and he thinks it is worth the sacrifice. And, after so many years in this country he has come to like living in Italy and says that he doesn’t have any complaints. Atik stated that he is grateful for what he has learned and that every day, he learns the best aspects of Italian cooking that is renowned for its healthy aspects. Both Atik and Said could not find anything negative to say when asked what they did not like about living in Italy. They expressed concern for their other country folks in Italy who are without jobs and hoped that they would soon find employment as it is very hard to live without any income especially when their families back home are relying on their remittances.

Both Atik and Said entered Italy from France where they arrived about a decade ago on tourist and student visas. Once in italy, both were able to find jobs with help and guidance from other Bangladeshis who were already here and as a result of them being employed, their documents to live in Italy were processed in a reasonable amount of time.

The UN Migration Agency (IOM) estimates that there are 132,397 Bangladeshi migrants regularly residing in Italy (January 2017). Among these migrants, the rate of employment is 63.8%, which is definitely a positive asset for them and for the Italian economy, that is still suffering from the financial crisis of the past recent years.

At a recent event on the occasion of the 47th year of independence celebration in Rome, the Ambassador of Bangladesh to Italy, Abdus Sobhan Sikder, highlighted the contribution of Bangladeshi migrants in Italy and thanked the Italian government for accommodating the large numbers, adding that their contribution to Italian society as a group of hard working people is well recognised and respected by the Italians.

These migrants send substantial remittances to their home country while at the same time they contribute significantly as migrant workers in the host country, where many job fields are not attractive to Italian youth. It is therefore a win win for both countries. It is undeniable that the Bangladeshi migrants have become a pillar for the Italian economy.

Valerio Mattaccini, head Chef at the restaurant where Atik and Said work states, “These are two people of great moral substance and integrity. Anyone would love to have them in their team; their contribution is measured not only in terms of the day to day regular activities they are involved in, such as preparing the ingredients for the day’s menu or setting up everything for the service, Atik and Said are incredibly dedicated and work with others demonstrating respect for all. They are very appreciative of the opportunity to learn through work and have deep esteem for the society they have embraced to live in. They are key pillars of the restaurant. I am so pleased to see how quickly they have learned, especially all the secrets of Italian cuisine ! I should thank them for their commitment and the collaboration they extend every single day”.

 
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