Saida Hamouyehy: «I’m a hybrid poet without an identity crisis»

A writer of Moroccan descent, she was about to become an Italian citizen but the Salvini decree has prolongued her wait. She entrusts her inner feelings to her poetry verses but, she explains, she has chosen not to allow politics to exploit her inner balance. In fact, she has a very clear conception of her…

Saida Hamouyehy was born in Morocco, although she’s almost Italian, paperwork included. She’s been in Italy since she was 6 and lives in the province of Reggio Emilia with two slightly younger siblings.

Saida is a student in Bologna where she’s doing a Masters in International Relations after getting her first degree in Foreign Literature, but her dream is to be a writer.  She’s on the committee of NILI, the Italian Network of Leaders for Inclusion, which she has been a member of since it started.  She’d like to be a journalist, she works with the online publication LeNius and she writes poetry, some of which has been published in anthologies.  “Writing is how I can best explain who I am, it brings everything out, including my hybrid Moroccan and Italian identity, which I think of as an asset.”

Are you an Italian citizen?

“I arrived in Italy at the end of the nineties for family reunification as my father had come over for work in the late 1980s. I was about to become an Italian citizen, but just as the required ten year period of residency was coming to an end, the Salvini decree came into force.  So I have to wait two more years.”

A common story these days….

“Yes very common. I’m as Italian as the Italians. Overall these years, I have acquired an almost completely Italian culture. Obviously my roots play a huge role too.  So I feel hybrid. For me this is an asset. Like so many others, I’ve had identity crises but I’ve got over them. The main thing is to find balance.”

The debate has been going on for years; the right to vote in local elections, ius culturae, ius soli – what’s your opinion?

“I think these are areas that have been exploited by politicians.  The younger generations of Italians like us want to make a contribution to this country, and to take part in politics.  Some people think of us as second class citizens, we want to be first class.  Citizenship for people who live in Italy is a right. And if you were born here, you are Italian regardless of your origins.”

These are areas that NILI, the Italian Network of Leaders for Inclusion, has been working on. You’re a committee member, how did you get involved with NILI?

“I came across it in Brussels in 2018, when I was taking part in a workshop organized by the German Marshall Fund, an American organization fighting for inclusion and to encourage transatlantic relationships.  NILI is fighting for the civil rights of minorities and to bring out our identities.  We respect our original cultural identities but we are also Italian.  We are organizing a workshop that we hope to hold in Rome, probably in May.  A workshop open to native and new Italians.  We want to build leadership, to network.”

As well as studying, what else do you do?

“I’ve worked for a year in a social welfare office in Bologna.  I do voluntary work with an intercultural association in Bologna called Universo.  We help people write CVs and fill in application forms for residence permits and citizenship.  I write for the online publication LeNius and I write poetry, some of which has been published in anthologies for the Guido Zucchi (Bologna) and Lingua Madre (Turin) literature competitions.”

What kind of poetry?

One I am particularly fond of is called Blow.
Blow you storms of the North,
Inundate the thousand foreign faces
So my mind is intoxicated,
And suddenly my heart is frozen

Writing is the best way to tell you about me.  To let it all out.

You say you have a hybrid identity. What language do you speak with your family at home?

“We sometimes say a few words in Berber. We’re not Arabs, our roots are Berber, the original population of North Africa, before the Arabs arrived.  But we usually speak Italian; it’s easier, more direct, it’s our everyday language.”

Translated by Anne Parry