How Italians are making their way in London

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Luca Vullo, the director of INFLUX. Photo: Mauro Galluzo
12:41 CEST+02:00
In a period when European immigration is continuously debated in politics, a new documentary offers an emotional self-analysis that reveals the strengths and weaknesses of Italians living in London. Mauro Galluzzo meets the director of INFLUX, Luca Vullo.

I meet Vullo outside E Pellicci - an Italian cafe on Bethnal Green Road, east London.

Luca is 37 and has only been in London for three years - enough time or thereabouts to get to know the city.

I meet him for breakfast to talk about his new film, INFLUX - a documentary exploring Italian migration to London.

“Influx is a positive word, it's not negative, it's like the influx of people, an influx of ideas, hopes and dreams,” he says.

London has never attracted so many Italians as in the last few years. The Italian consulate estimates that 600,000 Italians are now living in England and Wales. It's no surprise therefore that Luca has chosen E Pellicci as our meet up point.

The grade-II listed 'greasy spoon' café on Bethnal Green Road is home to one of east London's most famous landmarks. Opened in 1900, it's still in the hands of the same family, the Pelliccis.

Photo: Mermaid/Flickr

“My grandparents came over from Italy. My dad was born upstairs,” explains Anna, the owner. “The café is very 'cockney Italian'. I'm Italian but I was born and brought up in Bethnal Green. So I'm a 'cockney Itie',” she chuckles as she takes our order.

I sit down with Luca and order a cappuccino and a traditional English breakfast - the so-called fry-up. I'm curious to know what brought him to London.

“I moved here because of a girl, a relationship,” he admits.

“I had never been to London, and I never studied English, but I thought 'why not?', it was a good challenge, and I tried with all my skills and my limits.”

Luca is a writer, director and producer. As an expert of Italian body language and nonverbal communication, in 2011 he wrote and directed a short documentary about Italian hand gestures called 'La Voce del Corpo' (The Voice of the Body). Despite his successes in Italy, he was struggling to get by.

“In Italy all those skills are important, but you need to know people. I like the competition here [in London]. I prefer this society to mine. It's healthier, it's better because when I arrived here I felt that I was in a freer place,” he observes.

I ask him what his friends think of him moving away.

“I have a lot of friends who have stayed in Italy, talented people, and probably they have less courage to take risks but they think that probably I am less courageous because I left. I think it's a good challenge [to leave] because when you leave you are in a new country, you need to integrate yourself in a different society.”

Luca started exploring the issue surrounding migration following the tragedy off the Italian island of Lampedusa in October 2013, in which over 350 boat migrants died.

He wanted to make a documentary on historical Italian migration to create empathy amongst Italians for refugees but found that he himself had now become a migrant.

“I'm a migrant also, me, the story is now part of my life. I'm a part of it,” he explains.

“[In the documentary] I interview a lot of Italians who are very well integrated with the country, with a good position with good work and a lot of success, but we also interview young Italians [who have struggled].

"It is very hard to create a picture of Italians. It was my mission, but it is very hard, a challenge because I think we are one of the most unbelievable populations in the world, we are a mosaic of personalities, we are beautiful.”

We stop for a moment when our breakfast arrives. E Pellicci has a warm, family feel. The wood-panelled interior is filled with Formica tables and art deco touches. Food is still prepared with pride every day by mamma Maria.

“Mamma has been here for 56 years, explains Anna. “She'll be 76 in September. She works in the kitchen, and she's so with it. I think it was because [that generation] had to know what was what and where it was coming from. We've been spoilt here in a sense. Of course, we've still got that work ethic, thank goodness, and that's the one thing I want to drum into my kids.”

I ask Anna what she thinks of the new generation of Italians now moving to London.

“For us it's lovely, but it's actually quite sad, it's happening again, like it happened with my family, they all came over because there was no work. It's wonderful for us, but when you think about it, it's a shame really,” she says.

“Some of them come over and they are quite apprehensive - especially those who come from tiny villages,” she explains.

“But I reckon once they get a taste of London - they don't want to go home. Some of them, miss their mum,” she laughs.

“I think London is great, isn't it? It's so welcoming and accepting of everybody, thank god. Most of them love it when they are here. They find that they can work. I mean London is quite unique. Not that it's their aspiration [to work in a bar] but you can get by for a while in London.”

I’m curious to ask Luca if he sees any connection between the new Italians and the older generation.

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“There is a divide. [In the past] the centre of the community was the Italian church in Clerkenwell. There were strong connections with the church and the community, but now a lot of Italians don't know there is an Italian church.

“There are two different kinds of Italian migrants,” Luca observes.

“There are those who ask help from Italians and create a connection with the Italian community and step by step they are integrated with the Italian society. And those who hate the Italian community and avoid Italians as much as possible.”

I ask Luca finally what he wants to achieve from the documentary: “I think it's very hard to have a unique idea of Italians, the documentary is a coral of a lot of people, different parts of society different ages different mentalities.

“I hope that [my documentary] could be helpful in particular for young people who are thinking of leaving Italy to go to London or abroad because at the beginning it was just a documentary about our migration to this country, but it's like a self analysis of our population, and I think it's important and helpful for all Italians and all the people who have connections with Italians.”

Luca explains: “I think our generation is damaged. The family is very protective, if you don't have a job, they will send you money. In the schools we don't have good teachers, we don't study languages very well. We grew up in a place where if you respect the rules, you are stupid. We don't like bureaucracy. We don't like rules. We are anarchists. Here it is exactly the opposite. We need to work a lot to change.”

INFLUX will be released in cinemas in Italy this autumn. It was screened at the Taormina Film Fest on Saturday and the UK premiere will be at Genesis Cinema in London on June 22nd. For more information, visit 

Mauro Galluzzo is a freelance journalist and social media editor. He specialises in Italian news, culture and society.

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