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|Invoking histories of Mediterranean mobilities has long played a role in Mediterraneanist projects, ranging from European colonial enterprises in North Africa (Fuller, 2007), to more recent EU sponsored Euro-Mediterranean cooperation projects (Giaccaria & Minca, 2011). This paper analyzes the mobilization of histories of late 19th Century Sicilian southward migration to the French Protectorate of Tunisia by advocates for Tunisian migrants' rights and 'intercultural dialogue' in contemporary Sicily. |
While Sicilians across the political spectrum have long invoked histories of 9th to 13th Century Arab and Arabo-Norman Sicily to advocate for increased cross-Mediterranean relations, over the past decade, interest in the little-known 19th Century history of Sicilian southward migration has grown. In this context, advocates for migrant rights - both from the secular left, and from a Catholic background - research and mobilize the history of late 19th Century Sicilian migration to Tunisia in order to legitimize their visions for and practices of contemporary cross-Mediterranean relations. This history is invoked in three main ways: i) as a model for contemporary relations between Sicilians and Tunisian migrants, ii) as a means to question the current fortification of the Mediterranean sea by pointing to the long-history of cross-Mediterranean mobility, and iii) as a way to construct Sicilians as Mediterranean subjects, with a long history of connection with North Africa. Absent from the discussion, however, is an acknowledgment of Italian colonial ambitions over Tunisia, and an engagement with the inequalities and social hierarchies of French Protectorate Tunisia.
By analyzing the discourses and practices of these Sicilian actors through critical literature on Mediterranean cosmopolitanism and through postcolonial analyses of migration to Europe (see Bromberger, 2007; Haller, 2004; Dakhlia, 2005; Khiari, 2009), the paper argues that mobilizing this history of southward migration represents an attempt to define a model of 'Mediterranean multiculturalism', distinct from supposed 'failed European models'. This vision, however, re-articulates older racial and 'cultural' tropes, which define Sicilian specificity within, and centrality to, Europe thanks to the island's heritage of mixing and interconnection with the Southern Mediterranean.