Second generations in Europe: a legislative, moral, psychological and personal gaze
Nowadays, it is pretty common to hear about “second generation”, especially in newspapers or the news, but whom exactly are we referring to, and how do their daily lives differ from their peers?
“Second generation” is an umbrella expression that generally refers to people whose parents are from another country compared to where they were born and raised. This expression is commonly extended to people with at least one foreign parent and people born in a foreign country but who lived and rose in a new nation from a young age.
A general look at second generations in Europe
Taking into account the whole European population aged between 16 and 64, in 2014, 82.4% were "native", 11.5% were first-generation immigrants, and 6.1% were second-generation, of which 4.4% with at least one parent born outside Europe and 1.7% with both.
In absolute terms, it was estimated that the most significant number of second-generation people in Europe are residents of France (30.7%), followed by the United Kingdom (20.5%) and Germany (15.7%).
One of the main differences between the second generations and their parents is that, having lived all or the majority of their lives, in another country, in most cases, they became aware and got to know their parents’ culture of origin indirectly, only through the family context.
Conversely, by coming into contact with the new country's culture from an early age, they can experience it directly, making it their own, precisely like their peers.
Nevertheless, if theoretically, this scenario seems entirely positive, in reality, in many European countries, still today second generations often find themselves having to face quite a few difficulties: first of all, the legislative ones.
The legislation: ius soli vs. ius sanguinis
As regards the processes for obtaining citizenship, European countries are generally divided into two different lines of legislation: those based on the “ius soli” and those based on the “ius sanguinis”. And as far as the second generations are concerned, these two modalities present various differences and consequences.
“Ius soli” is a Latin term that means, “right based on belonging to the territory”. Therefore, whoever is born in a country that adopted the “ius soli” method will automatically be considered a citizen and be granted citizenship. For instance, Spain's and Portugal’s legislations are based on this method.
On the other hand, in countries where “ius sanguinis” (which means “right based on blood ties”) is in force, the only way in which someone can automatically obtain citizenship is by having at least one parent whit that nationality.
Theoretically, both options seem to have their own logic and legitimacy, except that the “ius sanguinis” hides quite a few paradoxes.
The paradoxes of ius sanguinis
First of all, there is the case in which a person who has never lived in that country, does not know its language or culture, nor intends to live there subsequently, and therefore will never contribute economically and socially to that country, for the sole reason of having a parent, or even a grandparent, or a great-grandparent (and it can go on indefinitely) deriving from that country can automatically obtain citizenship.
Meanwhile, to a person born and raised in a country, who speaks its language, knows its customs and traditions, eats its food, sings its songs, laughs at its comedy, and participates in all those little things that build the culture of a country, and is economically and socially invested in the development of that country (for example by paying its taxes). Still, whose parents are from another country, this right is denied. This is one of the main problems and controversies that second generations living in a country based on "ius sanguinis", for instance Italy, face.
They speak and think in the national language daily in almost all contexts, sometimes even at home. With all the probability, they even dream in that language. Daily, their lives probably have more similarities to one of their peers than those with whom they share the nationality written on their identity cart. They study the same subjects as their fellow student. They listen to the same music, watch the same films, and wish to buy the same clothes or technological items as their peers. Shylock from “The Merchant of Venice” by Shakespeare said that we are “fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed by the same winter and summer”.
Nevertheless, they are not “legally” the same as their peers in their countries. Their “blood ties” are not of that country, therefore, their nationality is not guaranteed. And merely for this reason, they cannot have the same rights as all their peers.
They will always have to prove that they are worthy of staying in that country as if living in a country if your parents are foreigners is something you must deserve. As if sharing blood (as if pure national blood existed) was more important than sharing a culture.
Desiring elsewhere: a sin or an act of courage?
Deepening the theme, as if having foreign roots was a fault that had to be repaid rather than an opportunity to discover other cultures and stories, a mirror to recognize ourselves in diversity. “Punishing the children for the sin of the fathers,” the Bible says, but what did their fathers sin? Could, wanting to live in another country, for whatever reason, be considered a sin?
It was not sinful when Europeans decided to explore the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea and take possession of American and African lands. In that case, despite the consequent extermination of peoples and cultures, nobody talked about “ethnical substitution”, and we are still struggling to admit this part of our past for what it was.
Nowadays, we still celebrate those people as forward-thinking explorers with a heart full of courage and hope. And even though, after centuries of denial, we realize their actions have led to devasting and reprehensible consequences, we still try to justify them behind their good intentions to discover new possibilities and realities.
Nevertheless, the same presumption of good faith is not recognized with the same empathy if perpetuated today by the people who arrive on the European coasts or borders asking for a home, a job, or a different possibility of life. They will have to demonstrate to be “good immigrants”, and if they will be recognized as so, to be forever grateful for the European benevolence that “welcome” them into its countries. And for this reason, they will have to undergo the processes of integration to wash away the “stain” of having been born elsewhere or their parents being born elsewhere. Thus, another paradox arises in which the second generations are destined to be considered “guests” in the countries where they were born and raised.
Psychological negative outcomes: Two-dimensional model of acculturation
Moreover, second-generation problems also extend to the psychological and social branches. The “Two-dimensional model of acculturation”, developed by psychologist J.W.Berry in 1990, on the types of adaptation following migration processes can helpfully explain the different situations second generations may face.
In one of the scenarios, assimilation, the person who has gone through the migrational process (in this case, the parent) modifies all his behavior, conforming only to the new cultural context and reducing the emphasis on the culture of origin.
On the one hand, this scenario would satisfy the conservative segment of the European population who deem it necessary for immigrants to completely adapt to their country’s culture while leaving behind the cultural elements of their country of origin. An instance known to many is the request to Muslim women not to wear a headscarf or niqab, as it is not consonant with the prototype of the Western woman. Paris had already banned the wearing of the Islamic veil in state schools in 2004, and in 2010 it also banned the niqab in public places such as streets, parks, transport, and administrative buildings.
On the other hand, these requests, which could seem harmless at first glance, can lead to many consequences, especially for second generations. They could experience a condition of malaise since they are not considered “fully citizens” of that country, but their origins are always underlined. However, they do not have the tools to claim this partial identity because the parents, who adopt an assimilationist model, do not give them the skills to interface with their culture of origin.
In another scenario, called separation, the person who has gone through the migrational process maintains a strong bond with the culture of origin and does not develop skills of the new culture. In this case, the host context often rejects the attempts at integration and fusion made by the migrant, relegating migrants and their families to separated areas. An example of this can be found in the French banlieues, developed in the late 60s when immigrants from the former French colonies began to settle en masse in the suburbs of the cities.
In this case, there is not only a ghettoization of migrants, but there is a risk of resulting in the scenario described by psychologist Berry as the most dangerous and degrading for the individual and the society: marginalization. In this situation, the migrants attach importance neither to the new culture nor the references to their own culture of origin. Therefore they are in a condition of anomie (i.e., without law, as social norms and reference values). They move on the margins of society and can more easily slip into a series of deviant behaviors, such as petty crime, drug use, etc.
Nevertheless, social responsibility is not to be entrusted exclusively to the migrant, as it still is in many countries nowadays. But more to the reception context and the hospitality policies put in place to ensure that it is possible to arrive at a positive fusion and co-habitation for both parties involved.
Psychological positive outcomes: Model of biculturalism of alternation
And speaking of fusion, the “Model of biculturalism of alternation,” which comes from the psychological studies carried out by LaFramboise, Coleman, and Gerton in 1993, outlines another possible outcome of the encounter between cultures, which describes explicitly the more favorable situation in which second generations can find themselves. In this scenario, called fusion, a new cultural identity is created in which there is no longer either a culture of origin or a host culture. The new identity is a unique culture that draws from the previous two creating something new.
There is also another favorable scenario called alternation. In this case, the migrant or the second generation integrates both cultures, maintaining his own culture but absorbing the new context. The two cultures remain separate and alternate harmoniously based on the person's context. For instance, they might speak the national language with colleagues and switch to the mother language while communicating with familiars.
How the rising far right’s positions in Europe are affecting second generations
With the birth of the European Union (begun in 1957 and finally established in 1993), the hope was to build a world where borders were no longer a reason for wars and adversaries but an opportunity for sharing and mutual growth. Therefore, whoever was beyond those borders should no longer be seen as the enemy but recognized as equals, and cultural differences as riches. Nevertheless, these same founding principles still do not seem to guide the approach with those beyond European borders.
In recent years, extreme and conservative right-wing movements are gaining ground in Europe, and with them, the legitimacy of people to openly express and perpetuate racist positions is also growing. One of the strong points these movements have in common is the indiscriminate fight against the “immigrant enemy” based on nationalistic concepts of closure and conservation.
For instance, in Italy, especially following the last general elections, won by the most far right-wing alignment since the end of fascism, the atmosphere has become increasingly heavy. An example is the outburst of the agriculture minister Lollobrigida a few weeks ago while talking about the falling birth rate in Italy: “We can't give up on the idea of ethnic substitution”. While reading this news, I realized that he was talking about me: belonging to the second generation, I am part of the much-feared ethnic substitution. But what would I be replacing? How does my dual nationality make me a no-give-up option?
Only a few days later, the weekly magazine “Panorama” came out with a cover in which Italy was portrayed with the faces of black people inside and above it an inscription: "An Italy without Italians".
Again, this emphasizes how Italy is being invaded and the "real" Italians are disappearing, further adding rather explicitly that one cannot be both black and Italian. If this is the language used by institutional and media sources, it is unsurprising that there is a lack of "integration" on a daily social level.
With the awareness that the Italian case might represent an extreme and that it does not necessarily reflect the reality of other European countries, one cannot deny a growing hostility towards immigrants, of which second generations are also inevitably victims.
Some testimonials: different first-hand impressions
Of course, individual life experiences cannot be reduced to a static category that applies to everyone. Consequently, people of the second generation, depending on the country, the social and family context, and the reaction of greater or lesser acceptance of the host context, have different life experiences. It is, therefore, interesting to listen to their individual voices, sometimes conflicting, to get a more in-depth idea of this phenomenon.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s worked,” says Fátima J., 23, born in Almeria to a Moroccan father and Spanish mother.
Another opinion is the one of Fátima A., 20, who wears the traditional Moroccan headscarf. “My parents wanted me to have Spanish nationality so that there wouldn’t be a difference between me and Spanish people, and we would be treated equally,” she says. “Afterwards, you realize that although you have the nationality, you’re still considered different on racial grounds.”
According to the mothers of children of African descent in Spain, such as Sara Plaza and Kenia Ramos, second-generation children need references to help them identify, “both in the media and within institutions,” says Sara, the mother of a two-year-old whose father is Senegalese. “Everything that reaches them contains images of white people and particularly the typical blonde girls with blue eyes,” says Kenia, who has a seven-year-old daughter.
Yet another voice is that of Nadeesha Uyangoda, a Black Italian of the second generation with Sri Lankan origins, podcaster, freelance author, and writer of the book “The Only Black Person in the Room”.
She says what second generations have to deal with in Italy “is not just a racism you could see, it was a racism you could feel”. About writing her book, she stated, “It wasn’t an easy task; people don’t want even to say the word racism in Italy, let alone talk about it. Italy’s unwillingness to deal with its colonial past has made space for denial, historical distortion, and, ultimately, the idea that Italians can’t be racist”.
Being an italo-brazilian in Italy: my personal experience
I was born in Italy to an Italian mother and a Brazilian father. Consequently, I immediately obtained both citizenships thanks to my “blood ties”. Therefore, I could spare myself all the legislative problems to which many of my peers of the second generation are subjected.
Another factor that definitely made my life less complicated is my relatively fair skin. So, at first sight, most people think of me as totally Italian. However, the same is not true for my father nor my brother, both black people. And this has undoubtedly caused a difference in treatment even within the same family, even when the blood is the same. A question legitimately arises: shouldn't the rule of blood ties apply? Apparently, not if you're black.
Consequently, the most extreme experiences of racism I had were always lived indirectly through them, not in terms of the protagonist, but in terms of a person worried that something terrible could happen to their loved ones just because of the color of their skin.
The first time I felt this danger was after the Bataclan attack in 2015. Back home, my father told me that a lady on the street had begun to inveigh against him, ordering him to go back to his country with his bombs. I will clarify: my father is Catholic. Not that it wants to be a justification, but to understand how much still today the ignorance of many stops exclusively at skin color: white equals Christian and good Samaritan, black equals Muslim bomber.
Even my brother, since childhood, has had to deal with repeated episodes of racism: from kindergarten classmates who teased him for his curly hair to the constant feeling of receiving different treatment from high school teachers. Moreover, I remember that in the discussions with his friends that I witnessed, the n-word was a must. But, to be completely frank, in Italy, this is still considered a secondary theme, a whim of left-wing progressives, and the so-called “do-gooders”.
Nevertheless, for all the experiences my fair skin kept me from, my Brazilian name ensured I had others. Over time I realized that my name was the pretext for many to be able to say that I'm not a pure Italian, or at least not as Italian as they are. As if having a dual nationality meant both were always partial and incomplete.
It's not just about the fact that immediately after introducing myself, the question always was, “Where are you from?” (to which I've learned to answer simply: “Milan”). It is more about realizing that your name is always spelled wrong, even by people who have known you for decades, is not at all related to the difficulty of pronouncing it but to the unwillingness to learn it as if a non-Italian name did not have the right to be pronounced correctly.
And always with today's gaze, I realized how much as a child I was in a desperate search for models to represent me, and, not finding them anywhere, I regretted not having been born like the Disney princesses or the Barbies: blue eyes and straight blond hair.
Then, it follows various stereotypes related to my Brazilian origins, which, to some, would make me more attractive and desirable to male eyes. For instance, a schoolmate told me that I should stress these origins of mine to "pick up the boys better" as if I were some kind of exotic fruit. As I was told by guys I was dating: "I've never been with a Brazilian", as if I were some kind of wild animal to be tamed or a goal to tick off a list.
Second generation: the fusion between two worlds
That feeling of always being a little different, out of place, of a partiality that can never be completed, stays with you. Nevertheless, over the years, you begin to appreciate more and more all those elements that, as a child, you tried to polish, hide, and change. The more you become aware that the problem is in the gaze of others, in the lack of education, in the unhealed ignorance, the more you realize the great gift that is being able to bring two worlds within yourself.
Because being second generation doesn't mean being half of this country and half of that other, but never enough for either of them. It means being of both because the sum of two units never gives half. The elements are not subtracted or divided; they are multiplied. Being second generation means you can mix cultures, have a double background to draw from, and from that, create a new and unique perspective on the world. It means being fusion: a wonderful and powerful word that contains both mystery and complexity.
Written by Joana Ribeiro Vieira Lima