He was supposed to be one of the main guests at the “Filofest”, the “Festival of philosophy for non-philosophers in everyday places,” which should have been held in Amandola Pedaso from 25 to 30 August, with the subtitle: “Inhabiting the world, earth, places, our body, spirit, and social spaces.” But the event was put off till an indefinite date in the future because of the earthquake that destroyed some of those places chosen as the living room for noble daily thoughts. Filomeno Lopes, journalist of the Portuguese editorial staff of Vatican Radio, philosopher, missiologist, theologian and writer, originally from Guinea-Bissau, regarded one of the greatest exponents of African culture, was going to talk about “immigration”, civil and anthropological, using his last book From Mediocrity to Excellence. The Philosophical Reflections of an African Immigrant (Sui editions). In Terris has interviewed him.
Filomeno Lopes, you coined a significant neologism: expatriant instead of expatriate. Who is the expatriant?
“It is a linguistic formula that aims to correct some ‘errors’ I notice when I hear people talk about immigration. How can I contribute, as an African, to the topic of hospitality? I wondered. Immigration is treated as a political issue, but the truth is it is primarily an anthropological question and we should talk about hospitality rather than immigration. We are all expatriants on earth, guests one way or another, of a country, a family r of a human condition. We are all permanent migrants in life, expatriants. Birth is immigration, an immersion in the history of mankind. When we use the word expatriate to distinguish some people from citizens, it is a way to forget that we are all travelers on earth, until the evening of life we go back to the place we came from. We are born naked and bare we return to earth. In Africa, the body of a dead person is washed before burial. It is not only for hygienic reasons, but also to remember that with death we ‘purify’ ourselves from all the links and worldly possessions. The challenge is a cultural one: to recognize the other as a person, like us, see in their eyes our responsibility towards ourselves, them, and towards creation. Starting with this awareness, we can address the questions of change, coexistence between differences, and even the problem of security.”
“Over 90 percent of the victims of the Lampedusa tragedy and those who still continue to perish in the Mediterranean Sea and in Sahara are of African origin,” recalls Father Federico Lombardi in a statement. Is there an African genocide of migration underway?
“It started in the fifteenth century. John Paul II, on a visit to the island of Gorée, said that transatlantic slavery is a forgotten Holocaust’. This forced migration, which began with the first colonization and still continues today because of war and poverty, is a genocide. Westerners stated their ius migrandi, a reserved right to be citizens of the world, while denying other people even a right to exist. It was the first justification for transatlantic slavery, then for the Apartheid, today it used to close the borders. The difference, compared to the slavery of the past, is that the first Africans were still given a chance to live, no matter how painful and difficult their existence because of forced labor, today they are forced to leave their country without any life prospect.”
On the same note, Father Lombardi talks about the responsibility of the politicians, even local. What are the causes of what is happening?
“Of course, along with the deafening silence of the media on this genocide of Africans there also the guilty silence of our political representatives. The Mediterranean Sea has become an open-air cemetery, and Sahara is even worse than that. After inventing this ius migrandi exclusively for westerners, it claims to confine Africans on the African continent, as if it were an open-air prison. It is a question of civilization, a political problem, and African representatives and leaders should address and solve it in cooperation – mainly – with the European Union.”
As a journalist and a cultural and social analyst, do you think that racism, fear and rejection of what is different, and indifference have worsened?
“The new phenomenon today is what I call uninhibited racism. Until not so long ago, racists were called racists. Today, you can be racist and publicly proclaim racist ideas without fear of being considered one, even without being aware of it. More than 90 percent of Italian politicians, even some of those who overtly support the exclusion of the immigrants and contempt towards them, have foreign caregivers at home. Often, the latter are African and they take care of their children, grandchildren or elderly parents. Immigrants are the ones who look after children and after the elderly, they are entrusted with the future and the memory of the Italian society, the last and most valuable family secrets. This is the real problem of our society: loneliness, lack of affection, individualism and indifference. The issue is a money and possession culture that has prevailed.”
How has African society – if one can talk of “an” African society, as if it was homogeneous – in the last century and at the dawn of the third millennium?
“African societies are not immune to history. They are the result of Western societies too. Africa is born with a conscious identity on the ships that transported slaves to the Americas, that is, with the problem of forced migration. It began as a blend of passion and suffering, and as a project for a better future. The West has become global in the process of westernization of the world descrived by the French philosopher Latouche. When Coca Cola arrives in an African country, it does not change only people’s nutrition or what they drink; it changes the whole society. The good things and the atrocities that take place in the West, in Europe, have an effect in Africa and worldwide, and vice versa. We are interconnected, citizens of the world, regardless of our formal citizenship. The power of money is worldwide, it can be felt in Africa too, where it triggered a crisis of traditional values, hospitality, and of the family.
What does the title of the book: “From mediocrity – whose? – to excellence – what kind of excellence -“?
“Mediocrity in the Latin sense, of what remains as a bare minimum of a life that aspires to something better. People do not use the term immigrant in Africa, yet there are millions of them, there is significant internal migration, but they are not considered inferior nor different from the citizens, they are not forced to take unskilled jobs. To be able to coexist in peace, they need to exist in the first place, with dignity, as human beings, able to excel, to give the best of themselves, not on the basis of their skin color, religion or nationality, but on the basis of their value and human virtues. These things are the triumph of life over death.”