Author Archives: Tim Brauhn

Why Are We Afraid of Refugees?

This article was originally published at Sojourners.

When it comes to refugees, our country seems to be torn between a desire to open our arms and hearts and a desire to be safe from all harm — as if those fleeing war are really just aggressors themselves, waiting to spring a vicious trap.

Xenophobia? Sure. Islamophobia? Double sure.

But there’s another scary idea at play: Refugees are an existential threat because they force us to confront the inconvenience of radical compassion.

Refugees arrive in our land with little more than the clothes on their backs, struggling against language and cultural barriers. Some of them are physicists and doctors and university professors, now scrubbing dishes or emptying bedpans in nursing homes to make ends meet. And while giving thanks for their own resettlement, many help the next group of new arrivals and work to strengthen their adopted communities with a humility that perhaps only fleeing war can bestow.

Their generosity brings to mind Luke 18:22, when Jesus said, paraphrasing, “None of this temporal stuff matters. Please sell everything you own and use the money to care for the poor and disadvantaged. You’ll be fine, because this is what God is really concerned about.”

Refugees shame us by throwing into stark contrast the real division between “haves” and “have-nots,” and our responsibility to the latter.

This is a consistent tension in our belief systems.

The Old Testament mentions caring for the stranger, no fewer than 36 times, because “You were once strangers in the land of Egypt.” The New Testament is chock-full of more exhortations to the same. Set your search engines to Exodus 22:21, Deuteronomy 10:19, Matthew 5:1, Leviticus 19:33, Deuteronomy 27:19, Matthew 25:25, 1 Corinthians 12:12, Galatians 5:14, or Luke 10:29.

The Quran is likewise insistent upon showing compassion for those displaced by war or disaster. Similar searches of Sikh and Hindu and Buddhist and Wiccan and Secular Humanist texts will reveal the same message: Be a radical welcomer, because that is what humans need to do.

This kind of compassion is part of our national civic-religious-ethical fabric, but that doesn’t make actually doing it any easier. For Christians, refugees force our eyes up the cross until we find the broken body of another Middle Easterner, crying and bleeding, and yet still forgiving those who trespassed against him.

And that can cause us to lash out against our own shortcomings.

If my fellow Christians were honest about the deep shame that we feel when we don’t live up to the example of Jesus, we wouldn’t need to convert that shame to loathing and heap it upon those whose only sin was being born in a part of the world where violent men wield weapons of war against civilians.

This past Sunday, I hoped in my heart of hearts that my priest would spit fire about Catholics’ obligations toward refugees — especially of the Muslim kind — as we Catholics were once similarly despised in America. Instead, he focused on the value of humility — of clearly recognizing that sic transit gloria mundi, “thus passes the glory of the world.”

Luckily, in addition to the gospel reading of the Beatitudes, our second reading was from 1 Corinthians 1:26, which, among other things, says, “God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something.”

Refugees threaten to reduce us to a holy nothing. In so doing, they free us from our own selfish pursuits. And that is scary.

Did Someone Gift You Preserved Lemons for Christmas? Here’s A Guide for the Perplexed.

preserved lemons and spicy preserved lemons with korean gochujang

Korean gochujang lemons on top, regular preserved lemons below

What you’ve got here is called preserved lemons. Technically, they aren’t really preserved yet, as that takes time. But in a few weeks/months, a variety of fabulous chemical reactions will take place inside the formerly sour or boring fruit that you see before you.

Since time immemorial, we’ve trusted preserved lemons to do basically everything important to human life: mow the lawn, harvest the pumpkins, feed the infants, and mow the lawn a second time because holy buckets did you really just put a fruit in charge of your landscaping? You’re nuts.

Anywho, preserved lemons are a mainstay of Moroccan cuisine and are often found here and there across North Africa and the Levant (Lebanon through the Sinai Peninsula), showing up in traditional dishes like tajines or couscous. But preserved lemons are so much more than that.

When you age a bright, spicy, sour, yellow fruit in a wildly acidic salt brine for a long while you end up with something much more than the sum of its parts. Preserved lemons capture the very best parts of “lemon” as we know it but without any of the mouth-puckering sourness. In fact, they offer a very special treat in the form of the mysterious 5th sense: umami.

Sweet, sour, bitter, salty: these are the taste groups that we know and love. But umami, the 5th group, is what ties them all together. Umami is meaty, brothy, savory, comforting, and pleasant, and helps make imbalances across the other tastes unimportant. Think deeply cooked mushroom soup, bone broth, monosodium glutamate, black garlic, or slow-roasted root vegetables.

Why on earth would umami show up in a salt-aged lemon, you ask? I have no idea – I’m not a scientist. What I do know is that it’s tasty as all get out. As in I regularly drag half a lemon out of the jar, scrape out the interior fruit and membranes, wash the rind, pat it dry, chop it up into small bits, and chew them very slowly. What a treat.

I’ve made these preserved lemons classically with salt, albeit a wild admixture of kosher salt, smoked salt, Maldon flakes (which earned a Royal Warrant on their 130th birthday in 2012), Breton Celtic sea salt, and basic Morton non-iodized sea salt, plus a bit of sugar along with solid additions of bay leaf, cinnamon, and whole white or black peppercorns and coriander because that’s what I like and I am the boss here. They’ll be ready to use on March 1st (if you got them at Christmas) at the earliest. It takes a long while for everything to process itself.

It’s important-ish to keep the main body of the fruit below the fluid level; in these jars, it’s a mix of lemon juice and…lemon juice. It leaches out due to the salt/sugar maceration and is added, sparingly, by hand from bottled lemon juice when needed. From time to time, crack the lid and gently push the lemons down under the surface level. If you want to get super-attached to your lemons, you can poke a bamboo or steel skewer down along the sides to remove any lingering air bubbles.

In the interim, you can certainly store your jar in the warmest part of your fridge or the coolest part of your house. There aren’t many dangerous microbes that can thrive (or even survive) in this stuff, so don’t worry about botulism. Like most food products that don’t rely on extremely low temps for preservation, you’ll definitely know if your lemons shouldn’t be eaten because they’ll be criss-crossed with hairy filaments and will ANGRILY STOMP AROUND YOUR KITCHEN SCREAMING “WHAT AM I FOR?!” UNTIL THEY COLLAPSE AND DISINTEGRATE IN A TERRIFYING PUDDLE OF GOO.

When they’re ready, the lemons will be quite soft and very obviously changed. I typically do not use the fruit itself; rather, I scrape that part off from the rind, which is super-easy once they’ve had time to sit in the jar and think about their life choices. Many recipes call for and are rewarded by adding the whole lemon, but I haven’t removed the seeds and they aren’t totally destroyed by the ageing process so if you’re worried about chewing one up (they’re like lightly-roasted pumpkin seeds in texture), feel free to discard the fruit.

After a longer time, the fluid around the lemons will congeal and make semi-snotty globules. This is normal, or so says the leprechaun who sold me my first batch. It’s easily washed away with water.

Recipes:

Honestly, you can put preserved lemons on or in almost anything. We particularly enjoy them diced and spread on pizza (even frozen ones), diced and mixed into simple (or not so simple) salads, diced and thrown into grain dishes, or thinly-sliced (you thought I was going to say diced, didn’t you?) and rolled into sushi. They are nothing if not versatile.

The best path forward is to visit Google and search “preserved lemon recipes” or “use preserved lemons”. You’ll find loads of great recipes and whole lists like “Here’s What to Do With the Preserved Lemons That Your Mad Scientist Relative Gifted to You At Christmas”.

If you have any questions, do let me know. If you enjoy the lemons, I can send a quick primer on how to make more – it takes mere minutes of active preparation – so that you never run out. If you don’t enjoy the lemons, keep your damn mouth shut because I don’t want to hear it. Just pretend that they’re excellent and instead use them to strip paint or polish your car.

Talk to Others, Transform Yourself

This leaves me wondering where the tops of the skulls have gone off to.

I took Interfaith Youth Core up on their challenge for Better Together Day on April 14th and reached out to others of faith or philosophical tradition to have a conversation about what they believe and what values inspire them to do good in the world. I did this because I believe that when it comes to religion, we’re too often told that our differences define us. I’m for fixing that. Join me.

I’m a Catholic. For the past decade, in my work as an interfaith leader and through my job at Islamic Networks Group, I’ve been lucky to meet a huge variety of non-Catholics. I’m talking denominations and sects and sub-sects and sub-sub-sects of faiths from all around the world, and even a few who believe that they are from another planet. Many of these interactions have been casual, unremarkable even, but on occasion, I’ve found myself challenging my own stereotypes and misperceptions about other faiths.

A long time ago, I thought that Muslims were dangerous (usually Arab) villains. Movies, television, and my rural milieu all seemed to suggest that they were a violent “other” to be feared. After a few visits to my local mosque, hundreds of handshakes, and a great many gigantic meals, I’ve found that Muslims are indeed dangerous, but only to my waistline. Otherwise, they are just like me in most ways. My contact with them has prompted theological soul-searching more than once, and my old prejudices have disappeared in the face of generosity, compassion, and laughter.

It’s intuitive that interacting with unfamiliar people can head off stereotypes and contribute to better understanding between disparate groups, but in our religiously turbulent landscape, it bears repeating.

An example: To my knowledge, I’ve never met anyone from Georgia — the Caucasus one, not the American South one— so my understanding of what Georgians are like is a bit lacking. I know a little bit about the country’s history, I find their script fascinating, and I have enjoyed at least two separate Georgian wines. Academically and alcoholically, I am not unfamiliar.

Fortunately, I am not aware of Georgian stereotypes, either. If a friend said that I was “…as quick as a Tbilisi dessert,” I would check them for signs of stroke. Perhaps I’m lucky; I’m sure that there are many people like me, un-Georgianed, who have a very low opinion of the Caucasians. I’m looking at you, Russia. But imagine that I sit down and share a meal with a Georgian, or work with one (or more) of them to clean up a local park. As long as we don’t spend the time bickering about what fork/rake to use, I’d guess that by the end of the interaction, I’d have a generally positive impression of Georgians. They will be personalized in my mind as normal, nice humans. If, during that conversation, I find out that Georgians don’t even eat dessert, I’ll know that my friend was essentially praising my speed, and I’ll be enriched by the knowledge.*

Personal experience with people outside our immediate sphere of knowledge can be transformative. In psychological terms, it’s called the “contact hypothesis,”or “intergroup contact theory.” The US Army experienced it in the post-World War II era when the Armed Forces began to formally desegregate its units. The Army found that sixty-two percent of the soldiers in white-only units said they would dislike the idea of serving with black soldiers. Yet within semi-integrated units, white soldiers who already served with black soldiers reported only 7% dissatisfaction with the arrangement. These findings helped convince the rest of the Armed Forces that desegregation would not, as some believed, be a horrifying experience for white soldiers.

Researchers have noticed the same phenomenon elsewhere. Michael Savelkoul and his team in the Netherlands found that non-Muslim Dutch people were more likely to regard Muslims positively if they lived near or worked with said Muslims. A Zogby poll from 2014 shows the same effect in the United States: 36 percent of those who said they knew a Muslim viewed Muslims and Islam favorably, as opposed to only 19 percent of those who did not know any Muslims.

What’s the lesson here? How do we mend the divides between the world’s faith traditions? I think it comes down to three steps.

  1. Meet someone of a different religious or non-religious background.
  2. Talk about something that inspires them.
  3. Share the experience with those around you.

Easy, right? If you don’t know much about, or are slightly afraid of, Muslims or Baha’is or Mormons or non-theists or Deists or Sufis, the best way to figure them out is to talk to them. This is not rocket science, people. We do it all the time when the stakes aren’t high at all: asking the mail carrier about their day, chatting up the cute person for one reason or another, etc. We have a notion that it’s incredibly weird to talk about one’s religion or philosophy, but consider how many aspects of our lives are profoundly shaped by our deepest beliefs. In the religiously complicated world that we live in, the stakes can be immensely high; it behooves us to talk about our differences and similarities.

Aside from healing some of our planet’s ills, such dialogue can also be personally transformative. I have no idea where I would be on my faith journey if not for years of long, passionate discussions with adherents of religions not my own. My Muslim conversation partners have expanded my understanding of the place and importance of God. Hindu friends have helped explain cosmologically imperative notions of personal duty. Atheists have helped me sharpen my views on…basically everything faith-related (they ask a lot of questions). And Evangelical Christians wildly more conservative than I could ever hope to be have sounded suspiciously close to very liberal Christians when they show me the radical side(s) of Jesus, and how compassion can change the world. Countless other religious people have helped me articulate both what I believe and what I don’t believe.

If there’s one thing that the world’s faith traditions can agree upon, it’s that our faith journey is never really complete. There’s no end-point, just a constant work-in-progress; a slow, clumsy, plodding walk towards our ultimate visions. Learning about the beliefs of others helps us understand our own beliefs; we walk a little faster, a little straighter, a little more up-right. I plan to keep learning from others until we’re all running together in the same direction, arms locked, singing whatever praises we happen to sing, doing good deeds along the way. I imagine that it’ll look a lot like Better Together Day.

So get out there, cross a religious line, get to know a non-WhateverYouAre. Talk about the weather. Complain about the weather. Chat about the Chicago Cubs’ chances for a national championship, which could very well involve a discussion about whether there truly is a god. Share a pastry or five. Learn how to be better together. Talk to a human; build understanding, and combat ignorance.

*If Georgians truly don’t eat dessert, however, I might very well find it hard to trust them. Who doesn’t like dessert?

On Keeping Up With Friends

Moments ago, I hung up the phone after a long chat with an old friend. By “hung up”, of course, I mean pressed “End” on my iPhone. I’ve known this friend for years. I’ve traveled overseas with her. We even lived together for a time in Illinois. She was an awesome roommate, if you were wondering.

This long chat has itself been a long time coming. Our last in-person meeting was almost accidental – her vehicle broke down near Denver in early 2011 and we spent most of a day hanging out while it was repaired – and I’d missed other opportunities to see her upon my semi-regular returns to Illinois. A few days ago, though, it occurred to me that, for the entirety of 2012, all 366 days, I hadn’t heard the sound of her voice. That was a stunning realization. It’s one thing to be incapable of sharing a meal with someone very close to you, but it’s another thing entirely to be incapable of picking up the phone and hearing “home” vocalized for you.

We talked about that lack of vocal contact during 2012, and agreed that we were both complicit to varying degrees. But what was behind it? Why was it so hard to check in – even a quick “HOWDY! OK BYE!”

She experienced the same phenomenon with some of her family and friends last year. 2012 was not a perfect year for either of us. There was stress, sure, but it seemed to be the special kind that drives you to bring it up when someone on the other end of a line said, “So, how are things with you?”

The idea that we formulated was that perhaps the lack of contact is an unwillingness to burden others, especially when no unburdening happens on your own end. It’s an anti-catharsis: You hang up the phone and think “Damn, that got really dark. Now I feel bad for having unloaded like that.”

I put on my popular psychology hat and suggested that perhaps it was our compassionate humanist natures that prevented us from making the calls-in-question. “It’s OK. We want to be nice to people so we’ll leave them alone. We’re helping by not hurting!” This prompted some laughter, of course. I don’t think that negation in the case of friendships is healthy or useful.

So we ended our call with a vow to be more connected to family and friends in the coming year. Since I’ve been slow to choose Resolutions for 2013, I think I may have found an easy one. Time to make some calls…

*The caption of this picture doesn’t really suit the reality of the photo’s backstory. It was taken at the end of our second day of skiing at Winter Park. And by “our”, I mean “her”. I’d cracked a few ribs on the first day, so I sat it out. She did shred the gnar alone. My bad. Even though I look pretty boss in this photo, I was in a great deal of pain, which actually makes me even more boss. 

“The Good Side of Social Media”: article from Pubblicita Italia magazine, featuring Tim Brauhn

They even used my crazy beardo pic. Awesome.

In case you missed the other posts in the series, I traveled to Italy in June at the behest of the United States Department of State to present a series of lectures about interreligious dialogue, social media, and immigration/integration on the Italian peninsula. It was an incredible tour. The kind fellows at Televisionet.TV even produced a short video (pretty groovy) at one of my stops. I sat down for a quick interview with Andrew Crocioni from Pubblicita Italia magazine. Little did I know, my bearded mug would soon grace the glossy pages of a major Italian publication. Here’s a shot of the spread (only a few pages away from the cover story about Edward Norton):

I asked Mr. Crocioni for a transcript, which arrived promptly (in Italian), so what follows is the best translation that I could muster. My thanks go out to Andrea and the great crew at Pubblicita Italia for putting this together and making me feel like a really glamorous international star. Read on, friends:

The good side of social [media]

by: Andrea Crocioni

Summary: An interfaith activist and expert on American digital networks, for years Tim Brauhn has been committed to promoting social use of the Internet, convinced that a multiethnic and multicultural society functions only if a dialogue is established between its various components. But can this process really be accelerated thanks to the ‘shortcut’ technology of social media? We talked with him as a guest of the Milan Italo-Moroccan Youth Group.

Blue call-out box: “You have to build a narrative about something shared, a common theme, regardless of the personal past of each person/community.”

Blue call-out box: “Young people can play a crucial role as a bridge between different cultures.”

“Today, social integration also occurs through the intelligent use of technology,” says Tim Brauhn, interfaith activist and expert on American digital networks. He is in Italy as a guest of the Milan Italo-Moroccan Youth Group (CGIM) and the U.S. Embassy in Italy for a number of seminars. A vegetarian, cyclist, big tea drinker, Tim looks like a tireless globetrotter and promoter of the social use of digital networks. He’s an expert in interreligious dialogue and is the Director of Operations for The 1010 Project, a humanitarian agency in Denver, Colorado.

He spoke of recognizing the way that the Catholic minority in the United States was treated (poorly) by the Protestant majority in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Brauhn (himself a Catholic) recognized the discrimination against Muslim communities and other religious minorities in his country, the same ‘ghettoization’ that had happened to his community in the early decades of the last century. It must be remembered, in fact, that some anti-immigrant movements, such as the Know Nothings and the Ku Klux Klan, were also deeply anti-Catholic. Hence his commitment to promoting dialogue and peaceful coexistence between members of different religious faiths. “The most important thing,” says Tim Brauhn, “is to connect people around an idea ‘typical’ of the community, in the broadest sense of the term. You have to build a narrative about something shared, a common theme, regardless of the personal past of each person/community. Also, I think it is import to bring your message to the people wherever they are located, and not vice versa so that both people to come to you.”

According to the American aid worker, therefore, you need to put things on the ‘table’ that can unite, rather than focusing on the differences. “Dialogue can take a variety of forms: questions related to shared values ​​which I mentioned earlier, the cultural elements that are present in the country for a long time, but also on other topical issues that unite us, such as the debt crisis or themes that we know well: environmentalism, road safety … topics on which we all want to have our say, as part of a community. In this context, young people can play a crucial role as a bridge between different cultures.” said Brauhn. In all this technology proves to be not only an amplifier, but an accelerator of the messages. Just think of the Arab Spring that saw the network become the protagonist of the political revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East. Seems more complex, however, to be able to use social networks to build a constructive dialogue between different cultural and religious communities on a daily basis. “We must all become the storyteller,” says Brauhn. “Today we have new tools, just think of how they have changed our lives, like Twitter or Facebook, but behind it all there are always stories. We have news, events, feelings, to communicate with new media, but at the center is the narrative, the real driving force able to mobilize the people.”

From this activist American, then, comes a message of hope for the future, even if behind the incredible flow of information that pass through the web and social networks are hidden also many pitfalls. Online we can move virtually without filters, including hundreds of millions of blogs and multimedia content of all sorts are uploaded constantly. YouTube adds over 60 hours of new video every minute, for instance.

“The social networking tools at our disposal facilitate relations between individuals, but in parallel make it easier to transmit negative messages, racist or xenophobic – precisely – for this to be used with a sense of responsibility. Today it is easy to tell a lie, but sooner or later the lie is bound to be discovered, because the network has its own antibodies. The web is a space where you can verify the information in a few minutes. So I say that there can not be limited to passive users, but please be scrupulous in their search for information and checking them.” But in this process of democratization the benefits are still above the critical issues. “Social media has transformed the way journalists network, for instance.” says Brauhn “We went from monologue to dialogue. So when we come to the digital world it is essential to be honest and tell the truth, the only way to establish oneself and become a credible voice. Those who speak the truth will prevail over those who are purveyors of negative messages and discriminatory attitudes. The important thing is to never let these voices prevail, and to take steps to ensure that they remain ‘strangled’ in the great chorus of integration and civil society.”

My State Department Lectures in Italy: Activism and Change

Reblogged with permission from IFYC.org

On my recent speaking tour in Italy, I presented six lectures in eight days to NGO representatives, ethnic media journalists, and minority community leaders to discuss best practices for social web tools and movement-building in general. In an earlier post I wrote about some of the big conversations that I had with Italians, but now that I’m removed from the tour by a few weeks, I’ve ferreted out a few more reflections about what I saw and heard.

1. The extensive history/proliferation of civil society organizations (NGOs, regional/city nonprofits, etc.) in the United States is not mirrored in Italy, with the exception of faith-based institutions. The Catholic Church has done that heavy lifting for a while, apparently. American social sector development as of late has revolved around the buzzword “collaboration,” and this movement is gaining traction in Italy, too. Italian nonprofits are finding each other and working together. Organizations promoting dialogue and/or action with the “other” will have to struggle at first, but there is plenty of room to grow.

2. At times during Q&A sessions, my audiences were quite vocally frustrated with the glacial pace of reform in Italy. They described cases of personal and community discrimination. They heaped scorn upon Italian media for its complicity in promoting xenophobia, and wondered why other Italians weren’t interested in having simple dialogue with them. These conversations could just as easily have taken place in America. I felt that frustration, which seems a dominant undercurrent in young people globally. We’ve got all these tools and all of this intelligence and the capacity to network across vast distances to solve huge problems, but we’re held back by old (and generally white) men.

3. The Arab Spring offered a glimpse of these frustrated young people employing social media to organize, share, and connect. Let’s not forget the other examples of the powerful nexus of protest movements, youth, and social media: Russia, Belarus, Moldova, Colombia, England, China, and Occupy. The increase of social web density across the world will have an incredibly powerful impact on how we run future mass information campaigns. This is not only about “flattening” and democratizing media; I think that the real change zone will be bringing people together around issues of common concern. I spoke about this in a web video filmed during my last lecture in Milan. In a place like Egypt, for instance, which has clear minority and majority populations in terms of religion, class, and education, social tools allow people to promote a common cause (in this case, revolution) without having to agree personally on everything else. Digital coalitions, perhaps?

It’s like an analogy of interfaith work: We may not all have the same idea of what happens when we die, but we can certainly work together on the important things before then.

I was stunned at the readiness of the young Italians that I met. They won’t stop agitating for full representation and civil rights. They may have Moroccan or Senegalese or Romanian ancestry, but they are Italian through and through. I especially sensed (and observed firsthand) young Catholics’ eagerness to work with their fellow Italians across faith lines. The country’s de facto gerontocracy, and the frustration that young people feel as a result of it, has brought them together just as much as issues of civil rights. There is change in Italy’s future, and it will come from the second-generation children of immigrants.

My State Department Lectures in Italy: Immigration and Faith Identity in Catholic Italy

I have a newfound appreciation for how easy it is to promote and “do” interfaith and social justice work in America. Our lengthy and diverse experience with immigration, our relatively equal access to civic rights, and the penetration and thickness of social networks (online and offline) have created the perfect storm for bringing people together around shared values. This is not the case in Italy, where I am nearing the end of an incredibly busy week of presentations, lectures, and meetings with civic and religious leaders, students, NGO representatives, and a variety of other activists (and proto-activists). Each audience has been vastly different, so I’ve really gotten a 360-degree view of the situation here.

Italy has only had to “deal with” extensive immigration in the past two decades. Sudden waves of immigrants (many from North Africa and the Levant) have made themselves a huge part of the Italian population. By some counts, there are between three and five million immigrants in the country. Many of them are Muslims from various countries. They don’t look like “proper” Italians, and they certainly aren’t filling the churches on Sunday. Italy’s history as a Catholic nation-state is a weight that I feel every time I walk past an impressive cathedral – of which there are many.

My lectures and workshops have centered around a few key issues:

  • Immigrants and their path to citizenship – Italian law doesn’t allow children born here to immigrant parents to gain citizenship-by-birth, and the regular procedures for attaining citizenship are terribly convoluted and difficult, not to mention expensive.
  • Interreligious (or inter-confessionale, as it’s said in Italian) dialogue and understanding. Consider that until recently, most Italians were Catholic. There haven’t been many large-scale attempts at bringing diverse communities together.
  • The use of social networks and the social web to promote and explain the above two points – Facebook, Twitter, and their kin are used more for personal interest here than as professional organizing and publishing tools.

I’ve gotten into some deep conversations with groups here. I’m talking sweeping cultural and political change stuff. This is a place where open discrimination against a population that comprises something north of 10% of GDP is still widely accepted. The immigrants and children of immigrants (2Gs – second generation) that I’ve met with are Italian through and through, if not Catholic. They speak Italian and follow AC Milan. But they can’t vote for those who would represent their communities.

This isn’t to say that Italy is a bad place, or that the government(s) refuses to fix things. The Democratic Party, and perhaps some other regional parties, actively work to engage these issues head-on. Furthermore, Italy is still taking its first steps in the immigration debate. They haven’t had to deal with these issues until now.

For all the problems that immigrants face here, and the irreducibly important issues that my conversations with second generation Italians center around, one thing remains constant: The people who I’ve met are all very optimistic about change in the near future. They are active, educated, and committed to bringing about a new era in the history of Italy. It’s quite exciting to partner with them as we look for useful solutions and novel approaches to these issues. Watch their space.