An Italian businesswoman of Somalian origins, Layla Yusuf is standing as a candidate in the European elections for Più Europa in Italy’s North East constituency. A symbol of the gradual change for the new Italians who participate, or are aspiring to participate, in their country’s politics.

The first time she wrote her story for us, towards the beginning of our journey on integration, she started by saying: «In a supermarket in Modena, I approached a cashier to ask for something and she replied using only infinitive verbs; so I explained to her that I’m Italian and as such, that I am fully proficient in my country’s language. What happened? The cashier simply based her judgement on the colour of my skin. My name is Layla Yusuf and I was born in Somalia. I arrived in Italy in 1991 after living for one year in Kenya as a refugee with my family. We were forced to flee Somalia because of the civil war. For three years, thanks to a scholarship, I was a researcher in the department of instrumental analytical chemistry of the University of Padua. My research focused on the identification of aromatic polynuclear hydrocarbons, related to exhaust emissions pollution through HPLC. As they say: “Not bad!”».  

Now that she is standing as a candidate in the European elections for Più Europa in Italy’s North East constituency,she introduces herself as follows: «My name is Layla Yusuf, like you, I live in Bagnolo – in the Valle Fiorita area – I work here and I brought up my daughter, Muna, here. I have worked to support international trade and development between Italy, Africa and China for many years. I am proficient in Italian, English and Arabic. I have always been an activist for women’s rights. I fight because no woman should ever be subjected to any form of violence and I support women’s economic and social empowerment».   

I am not after money or power. I am standing as a candidate in the European Parliament elections because I owe a lot to Italy and to Bagnolo, which welcomed me, and because I am tired of the kind of politics that is full of hatred and empty slogans. I really think that we can all live better in an improved and different Europe.  

What is most surprising is not her amazing CV but the fact that this time – despite the government’s attempt to slow down change by putting even more hurdles on the way of foreigners wishing to acquire Italian citizenship – there are finally more first and second generation candidates standing in both the local and European elections. People who were born, or who grew up, here and who we insist on calling ‘new Italians’ simply because we struggle to find a more appropriate term to define them. Layla Yusuf was an activist in the Partito Democratico (PD) for many years. She still has her old membership card. But she has now chosen Più Europa (More Europe) for various reasons. «It was the disappointment following their failure to pass the jus soli law (birthright citizenship)  as well as their inability to repeal the Bossi-Fini Bill. Too many blockages inside the Party prevented us from moving forward, and staying still makes me anxious», she tells us. «Moreover, I enthusiastically support the idea of a United States of Europe and I passionately support civil rights. It is not just about the Ero Straniero (I was a foreigner) campaign that aims to help fully integrated migrants find stable jobs. I chose Più Europa because they are more sensitive to civil rights, which, today, must be safeguarded more than ever. In addition, as a businesswoman, I also support Più Europa’s liberal economic approach».

Who is Layla Yusuf? You can find out by watching a very short video introducing all the candidates from her constituency. In the beginning, she appears hesitant, wearing an African headscarf that they have given her to emphasise her identity, or better her origins. She has a serious look about her until she decides to take the headscarf off and she lets her thick hair loose. Looking significantly relieved, she puts her glasses on and looks into the camera with a serene smile. The image of freedom. This is Layla Yusuf. Do watch her

«I established the local branch of Più Europa in Reggio Emilia with a group of friends and other professionals. To begin with there were twelve of us, like the Apostles», she says laughing, «Then we were joined by others who felt disillusioned with the PD and the five star movement. Now, I am the coordinator for the whole province and, following the Party Congress, I am even a member of the National Assembly. In the five constituencies, there are three candidates of foreign origin. I believe this is a step forward. Europe should harmonise the procedures for acquiring citizenship because we are Italian and we are also the children of Europe. In any way, I care deeply about the rights of all minorities». 

As I like to repeat at every meeting, I have always been a women’s rights activist. I fight because no woman should ever be subjected to any form of violence and I support women’s economic and social empowerment. With my story, I aim to sow ideas to inspire other migrants who may have stayed in the shadow. You cannot just sit back and watch social tension grow fuelled by hate-filled campaigns. You must take action and I hope my example can help with this. 

And the headscarf? She took it off, she explains laughing, because wearing it did not make any sense. «I never wore it, even when I lived in Somalia. I don’t understand why I should wear it for an electoral campaign, to support cultural stereotypes». More Europe (Più Europa), more employment, more gender equality, more free trade, more Erasmus for young people, more foreigners who can become Italian even on paper. Layla Yusuf’s programme, that you can read, is a long list of “more”.  

(traduzione a cura di Costanza de Toma)


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