Chinatown Is a Hard Sell in Italy

March 5, 2004

ROME – This city that prides itself on welcoming all nationalities is wrestling awkwardly with an issue concerning its changing face: Should there be a Chinatown here?

The prospect has created plenty of hard feelings here. City hall and Italian residents of Esquilino, the district where thousands of Chinese have put down roots, are aggressively resisting the emergence of what is being described as an ethnically defined ghetto. What might be fine for other cities doesn’t wash here.

“This is a neighborhood in the historic center of Rome. Rome is Rome and not a provincial Chinese capital,” said Dima Capozzio, president of the Esquilino Block Association.

City hall has laid down rules to limit Chinese commerce in Esquilino and make it less of an immigration magnet.

“We’re trying to avoid development of ethnic neighborhoods. There cannot be a Chinatown in Rome,” said Maria Grazia Arditto, spokeswoman for the commerce adviser to the mayor.

The conflict is rooted in the Romans’ view of themselves and their city. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” has become a rallying cry because, in the Roman view, the Chinese are doing as the Chinese do – and in upsetting ways. They sell products in bulk, raise signs in Chinese characters, work long and odd hours and keep to themselves in a way that many Italians consider unfriendly and mysterious.

Chinese immigrants number about 60,000 nationwide, and no more than a10,000 in Rome.

 

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