Johannes-Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

Welcome to Black European Studies


Lost Password?

Register now!

La Residence Roma: Senegalese Presence, Urban Spaces and Culture in Rome

Cristina Lombardi-Diop and Severine Queyras

After having explored Italian colonial literature and discourse written in the period 1880-1940, my research interests have moved to contemporary African diaspora literary and cultural production emerging in the context of Italian cities. In a forthcoming essay titled Selling/Storytelling: African Autobiographies in Italy, I explore the relevance or lack of it of contemporary literary texts written in Italian by African migrants on the larger socio-economic context of African migrations to Italy. The analysis concentrates on Senegalese Pap Khouma’s Io, venditore di elefanti (1990) in order to show how editorial and literary choices, determined by Italian editors, had impact upon authorial agency and ultimately upon actual social politics. In the essay, I move from literary texts to forms of economic and social exchange (such as street selling) used by Senegalese immigrants to find alternatives to more alienating forms of economic and cultural activities. I concentrate on the figure of the vý cumprŗ (immigrant street-seller) to show how selling, contrary to storytelling, is a social act that never isolates the Senegalese actor from its community.

The position paper proposed to the 2005 BEST Conference belongs to a larger project that focuses on the impact of Black African’s labor and culture on the transformation of the urban landscape and living space of Rome. The assumption behind my study is that, in order to understand contemporary African diaspora in Europe as an effect of global politics and practices, we need to look at the way in which, in late capitalism, space is constantly transformed to accommodate the needs of extraterritorial global politics. I argue that an analytical study of the historical and quotidian transformations of immigrant urban space can counter-act the de-evaluation of historical perspectives that is an effect of postmodern global politics. With my work, I intend to affirm how African immigrants’ quotidian spatial practices often respond to and counteract the dominant politics of the nation-state on crucial issues such as the disembodiment of human labor, the imposition of social divisions, the attempt to absorb and annihilate vital cultural practices such as cults, rituals, dialects, beliefs or, at worst, the racialization and segregation of Africans into urban ghettoes.

I start from the assumption that Africans in Europe live at the center of a constant flux of people, goods, and information. Travel and technology contribute to fast, light, and constant contacts. In the near-instantaneity of software time, the diasporic movement from Africa to Europe is no longer simply from place of origin to host country, but it is a movement in and out different types of spaces. The constant renegotiation of one’s own private, individual living place often implies a renegotiation of the idea of ethnic community and group belonging. The essay concentrates on one specific building located in the Aurelio neighborhood, where over 500 immigrants from Senegal live in rented monolocali subsidized by the Comune di Roma. This four-story high building, called La Residence Roma, was once occupied by the Roman urban sub-proletariat. Now here, beside the Senegalese, at least other 5 ethic communities also found their home.

I will ask how, in the new global city of Rome, Senegalese fill up public and private spaces once occupied by the historical proletariat of the city, and how does the occupation of a “living” place (the private/public space of La Residence) contribute to form or maintain their sense of cultural continuity and identity. Other pressing questions will be: How do Senegalese relate to the space of the nation-state? Does the urban space of Rome reject or include them? What kind of flexible experiences do they embrace or refuse to live in order to counteract their de-territorialization in relation to their country of origin, and what kind of daily experiences do they invent in order to restore a sense of place? How is the post-industrial landscape of Rome ultimately transformed in these constant acts of renegotiation? If, as cultural anthropologist James Clifford affirms, diaspora is made of “roots and routes,” I will ask how Senegalese immigrants in Rome are laying new roots while also creating new forms of movement. Finally, I will try to show how the creation of new public/private spaces may yield a new sense of unity and solidarity that is not limited to the time/space of the host nation, but it is not only outside of it.

The position paper, made of both text and images, will be accompanied by photo images by art photographer Severine Queyras. The use of both text and images responds to the need to go beyond the realm of written discursive inquiries in order to understand space in its concrete instantiation. The paper follows an interdisciplinary methodology that, by combining and incorporating anthropological, visual, literary, and sociological discursive practices, intends to fill up the gap between the space of academic inquiry, understood as a privileged, reconstructed space of representation, and the lived instantiation of its object of study. Neither a documentary nor simply a survey, the paper intends to assert interdisciplinarity as a research practice that may, one hopes, open the way to alternative interpretative trajectories away from disciplinary, monolithic totalities.

Printer Friendly Page Send this Article to a Friend

© by Black European Studies 2005, provided by,
hosted by Johannes Gutenberg Universitšt Mainz, Volkswagenstiftung