Florence suburb embracing diversity, accepting immigrants

By Haley Edmondson

Piazza Vittorio Veneto, Sesto Fiorentino’s main piazza, in front of town hall.

FLORENCE, Italy – While debates about immigration take place globally, one small Italian city is offering solutions, including asylum, to immigrants.

Sesto Fiorentino, a suburb of Florence, has a progressive history that dates back to the late 19th century and the election of Giuseppe Pescetti, Italian Parliament’s second socialist. That tradition is being carried on today by Lorenzo Falchi, a 38-year-old socialist who won Sesto’s mayoralty in late 2016.

Lorenzo Falchi

Under the mayor’s leadership, Sesto has opened itself up to immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. For example, earlier this year the city agreed to host 100 asylum seekers, and it opened two refugee centers to provide housing. The refugees are coming from mostly north African countries and Pakistan, Falchi said.

Referred to by locals simply as Sesto, the city is home to about 49,000 residents, approximately 10 percent of whom are foreign residents.

Unlike those in other Italian cities, Sesto’s small refugee centers are in locations that allow for and encourage dialogue between local community members and the refugees to help newcomers learn about Italian culture, customs and the economy, Falchi said.

Lilia Lamas

By offering housing inside the city, Sesto is being deliberate about allaying potential fears of the immigrants by Italians. Housing diverse populations in the same places and spaces allows diverse groups to get to know one another and “see the human part of each other and learn from each other,” Falchi said, translated by Lilia Lamas.

Whether making decisions regarding politics, religion or social issues, Falchi has been on the initiative to foster an inclusive community open to those of diverse backgrounds, according to Lamas, a resident of Sesto, and according to much of the newspaper reporting on Falchi in Italy.

For example, the mayor has fostered events in Sesto designed to encourage social activity, something not common before his election, Lamas said.

Freedom of religion

“The liberty of religion is very important,” Falchi said. “I have inherited the history of the city of the region that has very strong convictions for religion or for the freedom to practice whatever religion you choose.”

Like any city, however, the effects of Falchi’s efforts come with their challenges.

“Unfortunately you still have a lot of narrow-minded ideas that people think immigration is automatically bad,” Lamas said. “So hopefully the initiatives that the city creates or whatever the government implements to create more integration will help to change people’s minds and not just think that anything bad that happens is blamed on immigrants.”

Lamas, whose family emigrated from Mexico to the United States, where she grew up in Southern California, said that, “when people start complaining about immigrants I’m like, ‘look don’t complain to me, I am one.’ You can’t segregate people. You can’t treat people differently.”

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