Jone Soymone was the name invented by one of the interviewees. This was not his first interview; once he talked openly with a researcher and later he was surprised to see his name connected to a tv reportage. Jone comes from Eritrea; he is a refugee with humanitarian status. He feared to be identified by his homeland’s authorities, being in danger of reprisals.
Photos from the projection’s night in Marina di Massa.
A woman once came accompanying her friend, who I should interview that afternoon. She did also want to talk, but it was difficult – we needed to repeat some questions when she assumed “ok, I’m telling you what you should hear; now I’ll try to talk my truth”.
When truth is felt like threatening the homeland and its people, it is not shared. Silence wins in sets of fear. A collective muting was the answer to most of my questions about the Eritrean context. It was almost a flop; I knew a lot of Eritreans, very caring and supportive people who welcomed me in different places and events, but most of the times they refused to talk. What I could understand, some time after the beginning of this work, was that the fear back in Africa was still present; for their lives in Italy, they believed, were known back in Eritrea.
This immigrant community has a long-lasting history of organization in diaspora, considering Bologna as one of its landmarks. Bologna is the place where Isaias Afewerki, the Eritrean provisional president since 1993, participated in some of the political and cultural congresses representing the Eritrean Liberation Front. Back in those years of fight for the Eritrean independence towards Ethiopia, the worldwide spread community had the necessary ties to gather thousands of immigrants in Bologna every summer. The community would also guarantee the financial viability of the organization through the contribution by every Eritrean of 2% of their monthly income.
There is some evidence pointing that this donation still exists. This puts immigrants in the strange situation of contributing to a country who does not consider them citizens, as they required political asylum elsewhere. They fear that, if the contribution is not effective, their families will have problems and they will be forbidden to ever come back home. This involuntary financial gathering is apparently organized by a stable structure, similar to the community back in the independence-fighting days, and still called the “Eritrean community”.
Many people would hush, but some talked. And when I have been seen together with those who would talk, a distance grew in the contexts where the majority would not share their truth. Some other Eritreans appeared when our documentary film has been shown in Bologna, manifesting their support and encouraging the talk in times of silence.
In many moments it was possible to understand, through vague answers, that they were actually telling “I must hush”, and among each other their eyes would tell the same or rarely encourage turning off the recorder and talking a little bit further. This fear had tangible proofs. Hundreds of years of violence, domination and persecution had consequences in the lives of every Eritrean that I have met; colonialism, occupation, war and dictatorship made part of the memories that have been shared. Yet, some talk. One day, I hope, silence will fall.