Movement and mobility – a European perspective

In an age of ever-growing mobility, migrants and tourists mingle in great numbers in most metropolis around the world.

Scenes of migration and tourism from Milan, Italy. | Photo by Bjørn Giesenbauer

The Green College at the University of British Columbia (UBC) will be the host of a panel entitled Images of Movement: Migrants and Tourists on Nov. 14.

Led by Professors Gaoheng Zhang and Anna Casas, the panel will discuss how immigration and tourism interact, as well as how it is portrayed through photography and the media.

The Images of Movement lecture is the second part of a series focused on the theme of movement and mobility. The two speakers at the lecture will be Gaoheng Zhang and Anna Casas, both of whom are Assistant Professors in the UBC Department of French, Hispanic and Italian studies. Casas, whose research and classes focus on gender and cultural studies in contemporary Spain, with a special interest in literature, cinema and photography, will be speaking on the subject of tourism in Spain, while Zhang will be focusing on Chinese immigration in Italy, and more specifically, Milan.

Debates and the media’s influence

The Chinese community in Milan is one of the largest ones in continental Europe,” says Zhang, “and there has been lots of debate in the media about the benefits or drawbacks of their presence in the city.”

Scenes of migration and tourism from Barcelona, Spain. | Photos by Karen Eliot

As with any debate surrounding immigration, there are many different viewpoints. According to Zhang, Chinese immigration is the most controversial example when discussing issues of immigration in the media, not the most in terms of quantity.

 “This is due to their entrepreneurial success that out-competes Italian companies and how the Chinese and Italian economies compete in sectors like textiles and garments with China perceived as winning out,” he says.

“Chinese mass migration in Italy didn’t really begin until the 1990s,” says Zhang. “So in my research, I found out that until the early 2000s, many of the journalists who reported on immigration were not very knowledgeable on the subject.”

An example of Zhang’s view is that during the 90s, when the mass migration began, there were a lot of Italian journalists who connected the influx from the East to the Chinese Mafia. These sorts of stories are (for the most part, at least) not reported today, as the media’s present-day angle on Chinese immigrants focuses on their entrepreneurship and how they seek business opportunities, but it does show the power that the media has to influence its audience.

Gaoheng Zhang will discuss Chinese immigration to Italy on Nov. 14. | Photo courtesy of Gaoheng Zhang

“For my presentation I will be mostly speaking about television, as that is the main source of information for Italian audiences,” says Zhang. “Certainly, the public’s opinion of Chinese migrants is influenced by the media, as they would not necessarily have many interactions with them in their daily lives: the main source of information about immigration comes from the media.”

And that aspect of society is by no means limited to Italy. Arguments surrounding Chinese immigrants in Italy are the same arguments that are taking place all over the world, by different people and about different people.

Italy’s Chinese are an example, but it is a case study that would resonate in other contexts where Chinese migrants are becoming more common.


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