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The Italian-Chiese community in Prato

The Chinese community in Prato is an important and complicated topic to investigate, mainly because it is a laboratory of ongoing human integration experiments. When this photographic research started in 2012, it became immediately clear how important it would be to choose a point of view different to those undertaken before. There have been several studies about the economical and sociological issues involved, but none that looks at the new identity, the interaction of the Italian and Chinese community through photographs. The main focus of this photographic research is to show how the new identity of part of the population of Prato has developed and evolved in recent years, using images as a document of integration, interaction, communication. In the moment the two communities touch and begin to interact a third identity, a hidden identity, starts to exist.

Prato is about 30 km. N/W from Florence. It is a typical Tuscan city with an old medieval center and industrial suburbs just outside the ancient walls. The main concentration of the Chinese population is between Via Filzi and Via Pistoiese. The Macrolotto 0 was one of the first areas bought by Chinese to start their companies. The big Chinese migration to Italy started at the beginning of the 1980's, but the strongest growth occurred in the 1990s and the first half of the 2000s. Since 1978, after the impulse of Deng Xiaoping's opening strategy, China has been undergoing a process of gradual and incremental reforms from a centralized economy to a socialist market economy. With a gradual removal of restrictions on migration, the Deng Reform (1978-1992) allowed Chinese to migrate to Europe in a more massive way then before. Two laws changed the impact of the Chinese migrant flux in Italy: the law n. 943 of December the 30th 1986 was the first law about immigration (“Norme in materia di collocamento e di trattamento dei lavoratori extracomunitari immigrati e contro le immigrazioni clandestine”) and the law n. 40 of March the 6th of 1998 (“Disciplina dell'immigrazione e norme sulla condizione dello straniero”) in Italy gave the permission to all the migrants to open a private company. ISTAT data (National Institute of Statistics in Italy) on January the 1st 2013 report that Romanians are the biggest migrant group (1,072,342), Moroccans are the second one (513,374), Albanians are the third one (409,761) and Chinese are the fourth one (304,768). According to the latest ISTAT data (December 31st 2014), in Prato live 191,002 inhabitants of which officially 15,957 are Chinese. This makes the Chinese population the 8,35 % of the whole population, the biggest in Europe in terms of population density (London has the 1,3 %, Paris the 0,56 % and Madrid the 0,54 %). The Chinese migration flux has different areas of origin. The first migrants arrived from the Zhejiang province. Most of those people came from the villages surrounding Wenzhou and started businesses related to import/export. In the early 1990s Chinese migrants arrived from the Fujian province and found work in the existing companies started by the people from Zhejian. They accepted the most modest positions. Year after year the Fujian migrants managed to open their own companies and employ other Chinese coming from their same region of origin. In the 1990s the most diffused idea to make easy money in the Zhejiang and the Fujian provinces was that migration to Italy (and Prato in particular) was the solution. People from Manchuria (Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning) were part of the third migration flux. They arrived in the second half of the 1990s. They mainly came from big industrial cities where they had lost their jobs. Women from Manchuria became prostitutes and baby-sitters. Men preferred to work as employees for Italian companies.

The main field Chinese companies started to work in was the garments industry. The success of these companies is generally due to the easy access to the growing number of workers coming from China, the flexibility of the work conditions and family run businesses.

“Hidden Identity – The Italian-Chinese community in Prato” is not centered on the illegal work issues, but it is a documentary photography work describes the sociological issues connected to this new identity. Through a general overview, this photographic project tries to investigate ways the two communities interact and work on integration.


Arese Visconti
Head of the Media Communications Department a.i.
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