Today, while on my way back home from the grocery store, I was physically assaulted by a woman named Vanya Dalessio, right after she told me to ‘go back to my country.’
My dog, Bentley, and I were walking past her clothing store, when her dog walked out of the shop and got aggressive – growling and trying to bite. So I jumped in and stomped my feet to shoo him away. Then all hell broke loose when she stood up, approached me close to my face and told me “go do that in your country.”
The next thing I know, I was getting into a heated argument with the younger, blonde, version of Big Ang from Mob Wives.
I could feel her bad breath oozing out of her overly-injected lips close to my face as she spoke. In the exchange, I told her to educate her dog and put a muzzle on him, because clearly he’s not well trained, and it ended with her hitting me, and me holding her arms back so she wouldn’t jab me in the face.
It’s the typical scenario of a white woman thinking she can talk down and put her hands on anyone who isn’t white and who might be from another country. It’s xenophobia and fascism in all its glory.
I felt embarrassed to even be speaking to her during the altercation.
Her physical appearance is disgusting. She is just a low-class and low-life citizen, who works selling ugly low-quality clothes at a local retail store in the neighborhood I currently live in.
I was only able to take one photo of her. She got really angry when I took out the camera. Then, I went and did my research on the store and on her.
After seeing her company’s social media, I realize that she was probably aggressive when she saw me take out my phone to record her, because she wasn’t wearing makeup like in her terribly edited pictures. Everything that I found online, from her photoshopped photos, her tattoos, her outfits and her ugly overly-injected lips are horrendous. Also, who would want to go viral online for a video of them being violent and racist?
Her physical appearance shows that she has terrible taste and low self-esteem; However, that’s beside the point.
Her words are what tell you that she’s clearly uneducated.
The problem is how disgustingly racist she is; how easily she spews discriminatory phrases out of her mouth; how the first thing she thought of to try and offend me, was reminding me that I’m not Italian, even though I am and she doesn’t know it. But how would she know it? She was judging me based on my appearance. Her Fascism came out as soon as she felt angry. Her white supremacy seeped through her pores – a very pathetic and retrograded behavior.
But in Rome, it seems to be normal to behave that way with foreigners.
The more I live here, the more I come to terms, sadly, with the fact that Italy is like that: racist, xenophobic, and for many people Mussolini’s Italy, where white supremacy and extremist Italian patriotism, are still in place. They give themselves the green light to remind those who come from somewhere else that they are not Italian, and they do it with the intention of trying to make you feel bad. As if being Italian in contrast with being from any other country were a badge of honor, to carry more proudly. In their head, being Italian equals superiority.
To Italians, many of the ones that I have encountered, you’re less of a race if you’re from somewhere else – except for when you say you’re from the United States. Then they say, “oh wow, amazing!” As an American, I find it to be very weird, how much they idolize America. I also find it amazing to see the contrast in reactions when I say I’m Colombian instead of saying I’m American.
When I say I’m Colombian, they begin to make comments on stereotypes for what they expect a Colombian to be and act like – all of which they see on TV and in Narcoseries.
They don’t realize that their ignorance actually makes them inferior and pathetic in the eyes of someone like me, who owns three passports, speaks four languages, has traveled the world and therefore, who has really seen the world and people for who they are. I’m not saying I’m superior to anyone for having those luxuries. I am saying I feel superior to them for not being prejudiced, racist and xenophobic, though, and I owe that to my travels and my education.
In Italy, I hear racist phrases on a weekly basis. I have been living in Rome, since April 2022. From the day I arrived, until today, I have been asked “are you a gypsy,” I’ve been told numerous times, “go back to your country?” I’ve been asked, “Where are you from, cause you’re not Roman” – all with a will to offend me, because that is their objective.
I have been stopped numerous times at the grocery store by someone asking to check my bags and count the items…to make sure that the same number of items on the receipt are the ones I put in my bag. When they realize that I haven’t stolen anything, they say “oh, wow, indeed it is the right number of items as in the receipt.”
I am proudly half Colombian and half Italian, and the other day, a taxi driver told me I “don’t look Colombian because Colombians are darker.” I assumed he doesn’t know who Shakira is nor what Colombians actually look like, so I didn’t refute the comment.
I have also heard Italians refer to black people as “colored people” and to gay people as “fags.” They use terms such as, “Your colored friend.” My neighbor, whose son is gay, says she was also told by someone in her building that “fags make him sick.”
With everything going on in the United States – where I was born – concerning Roe v. Wade, women’s rights, gun laws and other social conflicts, which spark conversations, and an ongoing influx of unknowledgeable Americans on social media say that they want to ‘flee’ the US and move to Europe (where Racism was invented, fyi), I can’t help but make comparisons and realize, that while we are clearly very flawed and ass-backward on certain laws, we aren’t as behind as Italy is on social structures for an inclusive, openly diverse and safe society.
No immigrant is safe in Italy from ongoing microaggressions – or worse – from being physically assaulted by someone screeching the words “go back to your country,” except white foreigners and Italians. And yes, if you’re Italian but tanned…you’re still white.
While the United States is definitely not safe for many black and brown folks – and I dare to say that I have benefitted greatly from my skin tone and predominantly eurocentric facial features in the United States – I can also state with certainty that we are no longer a country where the ethics and morals in the use of terms such as “colored people” and “fags” and phrases such as “are you a gypsy?” aren’t put into question. The conversations on the immorality of rejecting, attacking, discriminating and judging others based on their appearance are discussed and known, even by those who still spew racism. Those who judge and discriminate, do it under their breath most of the time, as they understand that they are acting and being immoral.
I’m not saying that makes America flawless and fully safe right now, but I am saying the conversation and awareness on what is and is not ok to say, has been had and will continue to be had. While I have numerously said the UK is also racist, the ethics and morals that stand behind the act and behaviors attached to racism are also a conversation; same with France.
Here in Italy, it’s not. Here, it’s like they don’t know. Here, apparently, it’s ok to be a homophobe; it’s ok to harass women on the street (and I’ve been told I should appreciate it because ‘if I were ugly, nobody would talk to me’); it’s ok to be a racist; it’s ok to judge a person based on ethnic features; it’s ok to tell someone to go back where they came from.
And they do it openly, because, sadly, there are no consequences. There are no conversations. There is no controversy. It’s still an ecosystem of fascism, masculinism and xenophobia. It’s indeed a very switched-off, old-school, misogynistic, uneducated and retrograded society.
Being here feels like I come from the future. I teleported from 2022 into 1930 and Benito Mussolini’s beliefs are still in place for some. At first, I assumed it was mostly the older generation, but after that woman hit me and told me to go to my country, I realized the younger generation is just as mentally fucked.
I do think to myself that if they treat me – a somewhat light-skinned, white-passing, Italian-American – like an outcast who belongs somewhere else, I can’t imagine what some other immigrants of color might experience.
It’s disappointing, yes, but mostly, it makes me hurt for the people of color, refugees, immigrants and members of the LGBTQ community who, unlike me, might not have moved here out of curiosity about ‘what life is like in Italy’ while making a salary in America. They moved here out of real need and in search of peace and a better life. A lot of them probably bust their ass, focus on work and pass off the comments as if they hadn’t heard them, because they have more important things to worry about, like putting food on the table for their families.
But it still sucks. It’s still messed up and should not be happening in 2022.
While I chose Rome as my current destination, I was looking forward to meeting stunning Italian people, eating delicious food and roaming other beautiful Italian cities and small towns, while understanding my father’s country and culture on a deeper level – and in many ways, I have been able to do that. Living here has also shown me a different and very shameful side of a country that represents half of who I am – though not morally or ethically – just culturally and by blood.
Luckily, ignorance can’t be inherited.
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Cata Balzano, the dynamic Global Content Director at Homage Magazine, is a self-proclaimed polyglot with an extraordinary life journey. Having lived in Bogotá, New York, Miami, London, Cote D'Azur, and Rome, she currently calls Miami home with her beloved pup, Bentley, and two rescue dogs, Romeo and Kiara. Her Colombian-Italian heritage infuses a unique global perspective into her editorial prowess. Cata's passion extends across travel, lifestyle, culture, fashion, and entertainment, creating a rich tapestry of stories for Homage Magazine. She embodies the essence of a worldly storyteller weaving tales that transcend borders.