Classes are over! I am not going to pretend I am too sad about not having anymore work to do (besides study for my finals), but I am going to miss my sociology class. Even though it met at such an awkward time (6:20 to 7:50 PM), it was the one class that gave me the best introduction and subsequent tools for analysis of Rome. Professor Smith lectured on urban studies and always pointed us towards the right text to read. Furthermore, the project I took on for the class led me to the so-called “Chinatown” of Rome around the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele. Even though I grew up in the United States, I still have a strong connection to my Chinese heritage and so the idea of exploring the Vittorio Emanuele neighborhood definitely intrigued me. However, to be perfectly honest, my findings were a little disappointing.
Although more diverse than any other part of Rome, the diversity of the Vittorio Emanuele neighborhood exists on solely an artificial level. During the day, Bangladeshi citizens roam the sidewalks and piazza alongside Italians, while East Orientals man the small businesses that line the streets. Chinese, Indian, Turkish, and Japanese restaurants occupy a prominent place in the neighborhood, and many vendors advertise in both Italian and Mandarin. The market a block away from the piazza which sells Asian vegetables that I have not been able to find anywhere else in Rome, as well as traditional rice noodles, soy sauce, jasmine rice, and other Asian cooking ingredients. Furthermore, the market also sells fabrics of an obviously Indian origin. Among all the shopping activity, I also noticed that most meat and fish sellers were Italian, while fruits and vegetable stall owners were Bangladeshi. Yet, this stratification does not stop the wide range of shoppers—Italian and otherwise—from bargaining for the lowest price, paying no heed to the color of the owner’s skin. Furthermore, the Università degli studi di Roma La Sapienza’s Department of Oriental Studies was housed inside the market complex! Their courtyard even featured a statue of Chinese philosopher Confucius, and advertised language classes for Mandarin, Japanese, and Korean! I was so impressed by the large number of students in the courtyard and hallways; I had no idea Oriental Studies was such a popular area of inquiry for Italian students.
Despite evidence of all this diversity though and the evidence of enthusiasm for Asian cultures, the names on the call buttons of apartment buildings were all Italian. Thus, at the end of the day, all the people that give this neighborhood its diverse flavor leave for their homes located elsewhere. This migration suggests that the apartments in the Vittorio Emanuele area are too expensive for immigrants to afford or that non-Italian people suffer from some sort of disadvantage in the social housing lottery. Furthermore, I noticed that the area only has one shop, located on the edge of the neighborhood, for Asian household items (woks, chopsticks, rice cookers, bamboo mats, etc.), again emphasizing the superficiality of the Vittorio Emanuele quarter. In the end though, nothing is perfect, and I do appreciate the area for what it is. It was a breath of fresh air from the rest of Rome and if anyone is ever looking to taste a non-Italian cuisine, I would recommend hopping on the metro (line a) and getting off at the Vittorio Emanuele station!