Kyenge immigrated to Italy in 1983 to study medicine. She married an Italian, had two children, and while working in Modena as an eye doctor, became active in local politics.
Her 17-year-old daughter, Giulia, seems to be following in her mother’s footsteps: She was recently interviewed by an Italian blog for the children of immigrants, called “Yalla Italia,” in which she made clear her thoughts about racism.
“Racism is pure ignorance,” Giulia said during a break at an Italian multi-cultural festival where she worked as a cook earlier this summer. “In the end, someone who is racist is someone who doesn’t know, but likes to judge without knowing what’s going on.”
The interview was conducted prior to the Calderoli attack.
It’s not the first time Calderoli has been under fire for racist remarks: In 2006, he was forced to resign as a minister in Silvio Berlusconi’s government after he wore a T-shirt on state-run television featuring one of the Prophet Muhammad cartoons that had inflamed the Muslim world.
Calderoli is vehemently anti-immigrant, and his party has opposed Kyenge’s calls for Italy to change its citizenship laws to allow children of immigrants born in Italy to obtain citizenship. Currently, such children can apply for citizenship only once they turn 18, but bureaucratic problems often interfere.
Italian commentator Beppe Severgnini said Calderoli’s comments were clearly aimed at rallying the League’s base after the party has weathered tough times following poor electoral showings and a party funding scandal involving the family of League founder Umberto Bossi.
“It’s a dangerous calculus,” Severgnini warned on the front page of Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper Tuesday. “If leaders are allowed to compare a woman of color to an orangutan, their followers will feel authorized to judge people by the color of their skin. They’ll feel justified when they diminish them with a joke or offend them with a comparison or humiliate them with a look.”