“There is an insane amount of things we will not do, and we will have very little impact on someone’s life here.” –Matteo Locci
As we embark on our final week in Sardinia, we are all curious to see how our ethnographic work throughout the past few weeks as well as our community engagement project will pan out. For some time now, our class has been conducting interviews with community stakeholders to learn more about the social and political climate in Alghero regarding migrant communities. We are also in the process of collaborating with a civic art collective to produce an interactive art installation aimed at humanizing the marginalized communities of Alghero as well as creating a more holistic, inclusive community dialogue. As these two projects unfold and begin to intersect, I have had time to think about the role of allies in the process of liberation. As I become more knowledgeable on topics of systemic oppression and the dynamics of social justice, I have come to realize the importance of recognizing your own privilege and centering voices on the periphery when issues arise. I have struggled with the idea of allies, because more often than not, those who consider themselves allies often expect more than they should—whether that is gratitude for their tolerance, control over the conversation, or a letter in an acronym, allies have the potential to burden those who are marginalized with their ignorance or guilt. Being an ally is complicated business, which is why many of us have been conflicted these past few weeks. Is it right for us to be here listening to the heartbreaking stories of our Roma and Vel Mari partners? Are we bringing anything to the table? Is our presence harmful? How can we learn from their lived experiences without being exploitative?
These questions and internal conflicts were resurfaced when we began discussion about our final community art project. When our partners from Rome presented their work with various squatter camps throughout the city— essentially spaces that communities of displaced peoples who have been evicted and marginalized transform as temporary shelter—they discussed how they used art as a medium to connect these communities with the surrounding Italian neighborhoods in order to facilitate understanding and integration. Shortly following, one of our Roma partners from Alghero explained that his Roma community had attempted similar integration through community engagement, music, and dancing, and had been met with police presence and extreme hostility by not only the community, but the government. It infuriated me that with the Rome projects, the presence of allies like Matteo, Natalia, and Maria made the difference. It was frustrating to see members of a marginalized community seek their own liberation and fail. But then I realized that even though these communities needed the assistance of a cultural liaison, or ally, to better connect with their neighborhood, the outcome was still positive and important. I started to think about allies differently that day.
There may come a time when allies are not needed as bridges, but for the moment, and in our current world, their peripherally centered activism is essential. During our time here, we have partnered with the guests of Vel Mari and the Roma community, exchanged our lived experiences with each other, and listened to their needs. My group in particular stood on the sidelines and let our Roma friends take the floor with our interview plans, and understood that they, better than anyone, know who the major stakeholders are within the community. We are not here to make an impact on their lives, because we can’t in such a short period of time. We aren’t here to save the downtrodden. We are here to listen, to observe, and to gain different perspectives that we can bring back home with us and apply to our daily lives and our careers. As we embark on this final journey in Sardinia, I am excited to learn more from our partners and understand more deeply the role that allies play in systems of oppression.