For Dessert, Millefoglie di Racism

I’m not an expert in Italian politics; I’m not an expert in anything Italian except for the neighborhood bus schedule, and that’s only because I always know when it should have come. #BusBurn

But I do know a vitriolic swamp monster when I see one, and unfortunately, Matteo Salvini, Italy’s interior minister and leader of the far-right anti-immigrant party Lega Nord (Northern League) came out ahead in last month’s European elections with 34% of the vote. To learn more, listen to this “Italy First” podcast episode from The Daily, June 12, 2019.

“I didn’t entrust the immaculate Mary with a vote or party success,” Salvini told reporters in Milan. “But with the future and destiny of a continent.” Please note, in his celebratory tweet below, that his office shelves feature photos of Vladimir Putin, Jesus Christ and a Make America Great Again hat.

Like his idols (aside from Jesus — sounds like JC was pretty humanitarian), Salvini likes to talk about the thousands of immigrants who “fight, steal, rape and deal drugs” and those who say otherwise are “fake news” (fake-uh news-uh) buonisti, sinistri, giornalisti” (do-gooders, leftists, journalists). Deja vu? Remember: Steve Bannon consulted with Italy’s far-right on how to be extra terrible, all’americana.

I’ve often noticed that when an Italian is trying to sound less racist, they’ll use the word extracomunitari — for example, “I don’t like that there are extracomunitari hanging around the park, piazza, subway.” Literally, an extracomunitario is someone who is not from the European Union (e.g. this white girl typing). What they actually mean is they don’t like black, brown, Muslim, Roma, other people. Hey, small world — this reminds me of a North Carolinian who I was told used the codeword Democrat to mean black person: “Becky, did you hear a Democrat moved into our cul-de-sac?”

Woman calls cops on black men having barbecue

The love-thy-neighbor lecture would be a waste of time on these voters, but the dire-economic-future argument doesn’t seem to put hatred on the back burner either: “Italians are emigrating in record numbers while live births last year dropped to their lowest level this century,” the Financial Times reported in February. So, young educated people are abandoning Italy, the ones who are staying aren’t having enough babies to fill labor gaps, and Italy is the second “oldest” country in the world with 168.7 elderly people per 100 young people. Good luck harvesting those olives and taking care of your nonni without extracomunitari, y’all.

In Milan, I met a man from Eritrea who was held prisoner in Libya — you know, the place most recently famous for doing a #ThrowbackThursday with slavery. “I don’t like to eat plain rice anymore,” Anbessa* says, glaring at the tub of riso in the migrant center where he is now employed. “That’s what they gave us in prison each night,” often accompanied by a beating or a bucket of ice water to the face, he adds.

“All Libyans are terrible. That race is terrible,” he concluded.

“The race? Surely you don’t mean…” Silvio*, a white Italian volunteer responded.

“TUTTI.” All of them, Anbessa affirmed. “The Maltese are also bastards. They turned our boat away. We were at sea for three days.”

Flashback to another afternoon in which an immigrant from the EU declared to me, “La razza nigeriana è cattiva.” The Nigerian race is — depending on the translation in her soul — bad, mean, nasty, wicked, naughty. A Nigerian asylum-seeker, the catalyst for the comment, had been rude, or merely antisocial, to the volunteers/staff serving lunch.

Stunned by such blatant language, especially from a person whose job it is to serve vulnerable migrant women and children, I make a noncommittal grunting sound (such bravery). She reiterates: “Proprio cattiva.” Ma, noooo, non è così, I reply. “You don’t know. I spend a lot of time with them,” she doubles down.

Back to the Eritrean in Libya. “It was only the women who worked while the lazy men sat around and smoked,” Anbessa continued. The prison guards smoked a lot of ganja, too, he added, and when they were high and fighting among each other, Anbessa escaped through an unlocked gate.

“I am clean, like this plate,” he says directly to me, assuming that I might believe otherwise. “I’ve had no trouble with the police for the 11 years I’ve been here in Italy.” I reply with something obtuse like Bravo or Molto bene. “Milan is good. It’s diverse,” he adds.

Another African man, possibly from Senegal, enters the cafeteria, and for reasons I can’t remember, Silvio says, “Why is Latin America doing well and you guys in Africa aren’t? You’re the third generation now.”

John Leguizamo on Colbert Show says Everyone is really a moron when it comes to Latin history

Momar*, showing impressive restraint, contends that Europeans have a “foot on our neck. We can’t advance. France is still there. Exploiting resources. They don’t actually want us to be free and independent in Africa because then they’ll have less influence and power.”

Silvio isn’t convinced as the conversation continues. “You don’t get it,” Anbessa sighs. “And in Latin America, they lost their culture to the Spanish.”

Flashback to another lunchtime when a young Brazilian-born man, adopted by Italians at age two, asked me, “What is the most hated race in the United States?” Shit. Umm… “Is it the Mexicans?” he asks, perhaps having seen the build-the-wall videos on Facebook.

Well, most hateful people in the U.S. don’t even know the difference between a Mexican and a Honduran… “They probably wouldn’t like me in the South, huh?” He laughs and gestures to his brown skin. “Are there problems in the United States?”

Regina George on Mean Girls: Can I just say that we don't have a clique problem at this school?
Janis Ian on Mean Girls says How do I even begin to explain Regina George?


Millefoglie means a thousand layers, a thousand leaves. The dessert has French origins (mille-feuille) and traditionally includes layers of puff pastry and pastry cream, topped with sugar, maybe cocoa, crumbs or crushed seeds. It might be glazed with alternating white (icing) and brown (chocolate) stripes which are then combed.

“Basically, ideal for the millefoglie, is to serve it in tile-like portions, in which the layers are kept intact and melt in the mouth once touched the palate. Over time, however, even the way to serve this dessert has ‘modernized,’ passing from small and very nice single portions, ideal even in small confectionery, and ending in ‘glass’ versions, where the structure is lost and mixed on itself … giving life to what, perhaps, is the most ‘hated’ version by the purists!”Gran Caffé Gambrinus


*Names changed

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