What is life like in the biggest Chinatown of Italy?
Prato, a small town in Tuscany, has achieved worldwide fame for two reasons: its declining textile industry and its massive Chinese community. In a city of 192,000 inhabitants, about 27,000 residential permits have been handed to Chinese residents.
Prato's Chinese community has picked a very specific area to call home: a territory just out of the Medieval city walls, enclosed between two parallel streets, Via Pistoiese and Via Fabio Filzi. The area, traditionally occupied by Italian family-run textile businesses which once made Prato wealthy and famous across the world, has gradually developed over 25 years into Prato’s very own Chinatown, much to the dismay of the original Italian residents.
It is said locally that the clash of these two cultures is yet to produce a positive coexistence. Chinatown is unkempt, degraded, abandoned, and populated by workshops manufacturing fake “Made in Italy” goods, the Italians say.
Is this true? Since 2015, local associations have worked to rethink Chinatown. Developing contemporary art projects and cultural events to foster dialogue and mutual understanding, the young Italian-Chinese (the “999 generation”, as they are called in town, inspired by the fact that every person born in Prato is assigned a “999” code at the end of their codice fiscale, the national identification number) are working to breathe new life into the area, while the local council is planning a major urban redevelopment.
Could the most controversial Chinatown in Italy soon become an innovation hub and a prime example of positive integration between two very distant communities?
For me, an Italian Chinatown local, photography has always been a tool to connect with the community, especially the younger generations. This work is informed also by my everyday life in the area, the relationships and friendships I have been been able to make over the years and my sense of belonging to this usually disregarded area.