Language, culture and cinema for an alternative imagery of immigration and integration

Asnada is an association born in 2010 inspired from the strong desire of investigating the role of the language in integration processes. Through our social and educational work, we try to answer a question: how can we live together taking care of our specific differences?  Far from the identity concept, we make the most of our similarity, using the new language (Italian) as a common ground. We have opened a first school for refugees and asylum seekers and, some years later, a school for unaccompanied minors. We are now nine (eight women and a man) coming from different backgrounds (Journalism, Pedagogy, Classical Studies, Education, Psychology, Cultural mediation, Languages) and ages (from 25 to 55).

Our schools are the places where we try to build up familiar relationships and a sense of community, but also the place where we try to understand, together, the contradictions of the world we live in. The learning group has here an essential role because it’s the context in which every single student find his place, support and the courage to express himself. The variety of writing and speaking levels we look for in the student group is meant to lead to a free and informal circulation of knowledge and language skills, creating a context where the directory of teaching is also transversal, not only vertical.

The language we teach is not only the language of the daily routine, but an intimate language which allows people to reshape and rename their past and present experience, together with their aspirations and future projects. In order to allow everybody to have the opportunity to express himself or herself, we don’t only use the spoken and written language: theatre exercises, songs, handcraft workshops, games, silent books, pictures and images, silk-screen printing, short films are the means through which explore the new language and ourselves.

Montessori’s instruments give an important support to the learning process, as they help reading and writing but also studying grammatical and syntactical structures. We both use original instruments (for example, sandpaper letters, movable alphabet, set analysis and grammar symbols) and readapted tools we calibrated on purpose for the whole group.

During these years we’ve been meeting more than six hundred people coming from all over the world. This exchange of unconscious knowledge constantly creating new ways of schooling and in these years made us organize specific projects based on students real needs or passions:

  1. The discover of the importance - especially for illiterate students - of learning at a slow rhythm, also thanks to practical activities, is the reason why, three years ago, we started to organize “The ground language” (La lingua della terra), a class around the growing of a vegetable garden and the study of the organic agriculture principles. 
  2. The comprehension of the role of the mother tongue in our life, as the skeleton of our soul, press us to find a way to support and promote all the mother tongues. So, we hold up a group of story-tellers named “Roots and Branches” (Radici e Rami) sharing traditional and fairy tales, poems and myths in the first languages and in Italian. 
  3. Due to the need to use as soon as possible the new language also in order to better understand the world where we are living, with its contradictions, injustices and opportunities, we started to explore the city not only as tourists but as researchers: recorder, camera and a set of questions are the equipment with which we walk through the city asking people we meet to share their ideas, their point of view and experience about an issue which is meaningful for all the group.
  4. The importance to look at the students as men and women having resources, abilities and strength enhance equal relationships. 

From 2016, Asnada collaborates with the groups Nuovo Armenia and Gina Films. The City of Milano has assigned to us a farmstead (Cascina) situated in the centre of Dergano, a neighbors in the north of the city, in order to build up a place where migration issues could be faced through a cultural production, developed with the foreign communities themselves.

Our goal is to reshape the collective perception of the migration issue with the direct experience of a possibile living together, in order to avoid the usual relationships based on charity or humanitarian help. The “Cascina” will be the place where, besides our schools, will be held a multilingual cinema where foreign and Italian people will watch movies in original languages, but also a cafeteria (with controlled prices) and a coworking area. The collaboration of schools and cinema wants to start a process of thought consciousness by crossing these two situations: italians dealing with foreign languages, and foreign people dealing with Italian and other foreign languages.

The “Cascina” will be also a place for permanent education in intercultural field, where we will set meeting, readings, conferences and workshops open to all citizen, with a particular regard to the foreign communities of the neighbors.

From Imagery to identity

Thank you for sharing this very interesting experience.

The language is for sure the most powerful “vehicle” for integration and new ways of teaching might make it happen faster and deeper. Language also can instigate to newcomers a different view of themselves by providing new words, different expressions and more detached emotions.

I wonder if you ever involved second generation Italians in your projects. I was just reading this article that made me think of many connections with your activities.

I’m pretty sure also @Franca and @Medhin_Paolos may be interested.

Schools = buildings?

Hi @SaraAsnada I’m curious how did you get your first school? Did you have a building where you could organise things? Currently, running more schools and activties means that you have different places where people meet to learn?

I’m asking because you posted in Policies of Care - did the City help in the beginning or did you have your own assets?