Across the Western world, the air is filled with talk of immigration. The changes brought by immigration have triggered a renewed fervor for isolationism able to shutter political traditions and party systems. So often absent from these conversations on migration are however the actual stories and experiences of the migrants themselves. In fact, migration does not simply transport people. It also changes them deeply. In my presentation, I will present a two-decade-long ethnographic research in the lives of women who migrated to northern Italy from several former Soviet republics.
I will detail the personal and collective changes brought about by the experience of migration for these women: from the first hours arriving in a new country with no friends, relatives, or existing support networks, to later remaking themselves for their new environment. In response to their traumatic displacement, the women—nearly all of whom found work in their new Western homes as elder caregivers—refashioned themselves in highly sexualized, materialistic, and intentionally conspicuous ways. The focus on overt sexuality and materialism is far from sensationalist, though. By zeroing in on these elements of personal identity, I reveal previously unexplored sides of the social psychology of migration, coloring our contemporary discussion with complex shades of humanity.