Italy for Latinos

Versace. Benetton. Dolce and Gabbana. Whenever foreigners utter the word ‘Milan’, it usually conjures up luxury brands. Not Ecuadorean migrants. During the year that I lived there, Italy’s fashion capitol became synonymous with an entirely different set of signifiers: Colorful Spanish-language flyers for charismatic Christian festivals, and Peruvian big band gigs. And, on occasion, all-too familiar gang tags, like MS-13 and the Latin Kings. Homesick for my former neighborhood, the Mission District, in southeastern San Francisco, it was somewhat reassuring. I could still get a plate of lomo saltado.

It makes sense. Since 9/11, Italy has been a primary destination for Latin Americans unable to enter the United States. Whether it’s due to ancestral ties to the country, (millions of Italians immigrated to Central and South America during the 19th and 20th centuries) or the similarity of Italian to Spanish, Italy’s Latino population appears to be growing. Largely overlooked by European immigration critics, who tend to focus on migrants from the Middle East, the Italian Latino community appears, at least from the outside, to find itself at home here, in ways that other foreign communities have not.

If only the Mexican cuisine was better. As a Californian, I have yet to find a decent burrito here. Ironically, the best are to be found in Berlin, not Turin, where I presently live, and which boasts amongst the highest number of cantinas I’ve seen in Europe. More Tex Mex than anything else (with food comparable to the American Chevys chain) there’s room for improvement. Or, at least parity, with the consistency of the flyers. One would be hard-pressed to distinguish this New Year’s party advert from anything similar in the United States. There are many things I’m glad I left behind in the US. This isn’t one of them.

Photograph courtesy of Joel Schalit. Taken on Via Padova. Milan, December 2010.


  1. “…I have yet to find a decent burrito here.”

    You don’t know how to make a burrito? You can buy (flour)tortillas at any supermarket. I lived in Milano for eight years, also being from California – I grew my own peppers on the balcony, and got a tortilla press. You can find masa harina there, you can find the spices, you can find avocados, sour cream, beans and meat. I made many mexican fiestas while there.

  2. Haha. Thanks Chiaroscuro. I know, we make burritos at home too. I can regularly get cilantro at Porto Palazzo in Turin, for homemade salsa.

    The tastes are wonderful and familiar, of course, but It’s just not the same as the taquerias in SF. Nothing compares.

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