Florence Through the Eyes of Migrants

Piazza Santa Maria Novella, in the heart of Florence, is one of the best-known sites of the city. Every day, countless tourists arrive from the nearby train station to admire the 15th century cathedral and enjoy a break in the lovely piazza. What most tourists ignore is that just off the piazza lies one of the most diverse neighborhoods of Florence, where traditional Italian shops operate side-by-side with businesses run by people from all over the world.

To explore this lesser-known side of Florence, students from the University of California took part in MigranTour Florence, organized by the NGO Oxfam Italia. MigranTours are led by foreign residents and encourage participants to look at the city through the eyes of migrants, learning about cultural integration and the stories of various individuals who made Florence their new home. In this instance, students were led by Candida Delvento, a Filipino citizen who has been living in Florence for the last twenty years.

The tour started from Piazza Santa Maria Novella itself, with Delvento pointing out its long history as a hub for foreigners and immigrants. In the Middle Ages, pilgrims and travelers could find shelter and assistance at the Ospedale di San Paolo, whose porticoes still face the piazza across from the basilica. In recent times, the proximity of the train station made it a convenient destination for travelers and migrants arriving in Florence. Since the 1970s, the piazza has been a meeting place for the Somalian and Filipino communities in Florence, a place to maintain connections with one’s country of origin.

The group then moved to the nearby via Palazzuolo, another location with a high density of immigrants. There, students learned about the NGO Anelli Mancanti, an intercultural center helping migrants and those who are unhoused. The center offers various free services, including Italian language classes, legal representation, and professional development courses.

The second part of the tour visited some of the many businesses and shops in the area owned by foreign residents who are part of the Oxfam network and talking to their owners about their experience as migrants.

The tour was part of the “Food, Identity, and Citizenship” course, taught by local Accent faculty Dr. Guido Gualandi. The course discusses contemporary national identities, nationalisms, and trans-national exchanges by looking at the role played by food practices and policies. To complement the tour, Gualandi discussed with the students the current contradictions of immigration in Italy. While seasonal immigrant workers have an important role in agriculture, their presence is a highly divisive topic in national politics and the source of heated debates.

Through Delvento’s tour and the following discussion, students were able to discover a different side of Florence, one that few visitors experience. They also gained an understanding of immigration in Italy, and of the personal and collective experiences of foreigners living in Florence.

Accent collaborates with U.S. partners during the program design process to identify company visits, expert guest speakers, and other experiential learning activities to complement program learning goals. Please reach out to Accent’s Program Development team at development@accentglobal.com if you are interested in discussing these ideas for your customized study abroad programs.