Milan Bus Stories
Using public transportation networks to carry migration stories across the city
In 2009, residents of Milan came face to face with first and second generation immigrants in their city. Not via a protest. Not via news about a migration tragedy or scandal. Waiting for a bus, tram, subway, if they looked up from their daily paper, smartphone or tablet, they had an opportunity to, if only briefly, learn about one of their neighbours.
For three months in Milan, lettera 27 provided them with “authentic and significant stories from Italians and first and second generation migrants, publishing them on posters, in important meeting places and on public transport. They were published in Italian, the shared language, as well as in the authors’ own languages.”
The stories give a name and face to people and stories that exist in cities invisibly, to challenge people to think beyond stereotypes when they hear the words “migrant” or “asylum seeker” and create the opportunity for connection.
Since 2009, this media campaign that literally travels throughout the city, has also travelled to other Italian cities and continues to travel. From Milan to Naples and Modena in 2010, to Parma in 2012, Lampedusa in 2012 and Palermo in 2013, “these faces and these stories tell us about ourselves, how we were and what we are today, but also what we might become through paths of respect and mutual recognition, throughout interaction processes in which conjugate democratic values and shared ownerships. We owe it to ourselves, as well as them.”(Alessandro Triulzi, lecturer at the University of Naples L’Orientale and organizer of Confini (Borders), a project of lettera27).
In each city, the campaign transforms just a little to reflect local reality and stories. In Milan, the campaign became part of the 2010 of African Asian and Latin American Film Festival, presenting a set of short video interviews with 14 film directors. In Naples, a video story was added in transit stations to promote the campaign, telling one immigrant’s Italian arrival story.
“I arrived forcedly in Lampedusa and they moved me to Rome without telling. Naples is the third Italian city where I have been but for me it is the first, because I have come here by myself, with my desire”.
In Modena, a bookstore exhibit added to the travelling campaign. In Parma, postcards and catalogues added to the posters and placards on transit. In Lampedusa, the campaign coincided with the Lampedusa In Festival, a local culture and arts festival, and local protests about the treatment of asylum seekers on the tiny Italian island.
While primarily focused on posters and placards presented to passersby on transit, in Milan, teachers and students at a local primary-secondary school created a video telling the students’ stories of immigration and integration: “The stories collected and the video produced are the result of the work done by both teachers and students. The teachers interviewed the students who also sent a postcard to invite a friend to visit their home country. ‘Luoghi Comuni’: Kids have their say’ immediately proved to be a good educational practice, developing close collaboration among teachers, and between teachers and students. The project opened up new perspectives by bringing together students and teachers, Italians and migrants, kids – who express themselves in their new language – and their families (proud to have children like this!).”
The campaign is promoted and curated by CISS – Cooperazione Internazionale Sud Sud, as part of ‘Talenti integrati’, a project which started in 2012. It’s success is built on the stories, but also the large number of collaborators and partners that come together in each city to make the campaign work. “The stories tell the tale of ‘luoghi comuni’, experiences that have shaped people’s identities, symbolic imagery and different languages. As they move through the streets of the city, they reveal the hidden richness between people, giving each person a face and a name, while transforming a distracted and rushed moment into a smile and occasion for complicity with other people.??”
In a country with some tension around migration and asylum issues, Luoghi Comuni offers Italians an opportunity to connect at a more personal level with the people they might otherwise only come into incidental contact with, or get to know through unbalanced media or political stories.
On the face of it, it’s a simple idea to place posters on public transit to amplify migrant voices and tell short stories of struggle, success and sense of place. Put them in front of a captive audience as they travel through their city. Let them make the personal connections to these stories. Hope that these everyday encounters lead to deeper common understandings of a shared humanity and a sense of neighbourly connection.
Making it Work for You:
- Work with a myriad of collaborating partners, with a core organization leading, but with local partners in each city helping take a lead role.
- Have a cross-sectoral team of producers, made up of researchers, community agency service providers, migrants, teachers, other community leaders, journalists, marketers, psychologists to make the stories most impactful.
- Look into places where people congregate and you'll reach your audience when they're most potentially receptive to receiving short, impactful messages, like while travelling on public transit.