In this photo taken on Friday, Feb. 2, 2018, Omar Kanteh, of Gambia, with red fleece at center, and Moussa Sissoki, of Mali, holding a shovel at center right, are surrounded by children as they build igloos in San Simone di Valleve, near Bergamo, northern Italy. Migrants from African nations far from the frozen north picked up the art of igloo making to help a local restaurant owner realize a project to lure tourists back to this dying mountain resort. (Luca Bruno/Associated Press)

Migrants Reshaping and Redefining Italian Communities

Northern Italy – Home is hard to define – with more people on the move than ever before, migration is adding extra layers of meaning – and of sweaters, probably – to the concept.

For Omar Kanteh, a Gambian migrant living in Italy, the subtropical environment he grew up in has been replaced by one in which living spaces can be constructed from blocks of snow.

Kanteh’s base is San Simone, a place in northern Italy once known for its bustling ski slopes. As reported by Charlene Pele for the Washington Post, when financial troubles brought the winter sports to a halt, a group of 80 migrants and asylum seekers took up residence in the alpine village’s local hotel.

David Midali, a local restaurateur, saw an opportunity to bring tourism back to San Simone – he constructed a series of igloos for rent. Many of the village’s new residents took up the challenge with him.

The tactic paid off and reservations to stay in the igloos rolled in, as did the hordes of curious tourists who wanted to take pictures next to the icy habitats. The project provided an opportunity to boost local commerce, while fostering new bonds between migrants and members of the host community.

“It’s not about me being from Africa and [Midali] from Europe,” Kanteh told the Post. “We are all from one race.”

Kanteh’s reality is removed both physically and culturally from what he knew in Gambia, but his presence in San Simone and the arrival of other migrants in Italy are producing ripple effects

throughout the country.

This is being felt acutely further afield in Castellina in Chianti, where the migrant population is increasing while many of the village’s natives move out, in search of opportunity in bigger cities. Writing for the New York Times, Gaia Pianigiani noted that the issue of migration looms large as Italians prepare to head to the polls next month.

“Take what has happened in Castellina and multiply it by thousands to understand how Italian towns and villages are changing,” Pianigiani wrote. “No place has reacted like any other; sometimes, the reaction has been ugly.”

As people continue to migrate, within their own countries and beyond, bridging the gap between nations and cultures will be crucial. Pianigiani met a young boy, Bilal, who embodies what this synthesis can look like. “I am Moroccan and Italian, from Castellina,” he told her when she asked if he felt that he belonged.

Read more: The Washington Post | The New York Times