Few countries have such a distinct identity and culture as Italy; the food, the family, the wine, the hand gestures. Religion, history, ruins, and more create an unmistakeable image around the world.

Italy retains this cultural heritage through tradition, and this tradition comes easily to the nation whose population is more than 90% Italian, despite free borders within the EU, as well as migration from outside the EU. Immigrants that do come to Italy largely stick to one area, Lombardia, in the north; its capital city is Milan.

Italy’s ruling coalition, formed after last years elections, is primarily anti-immigration, and in this political climate, migrant laws are shifting fast in the country, and many don’t know how long they will be able to stay. Though Italy’s migrant population is low, many immigrants leaving the country would have impacts on many of Italy’s major industries, most of which are based in Milan, and staffed by immigrants.

Three immigrants living in Milan shared how their identity is shaped by being a migrant living in such an uncertain time, in a country with such a distinct culture.

When you first meet Irena Marincova, 29, the first thing you notice is her kind smile and friendly tone. She recently moved to Milan to be with her boyfriend after two years of long-distance, and you can see the hope on her face as she talks about finding film festival work, so she can stay in Italy with him. Taken at Bosco Vitale, Photo by Lilly McKenzie

Ilena says she chose the Bosco Vitale as a location because it is an iconic landmark of Milan, and there’s lots of nature around. “The environment is important to my identity,” she said. She has learned a lot about the environment and conservation through films shown at the film festivals she works at. “I met my boyfriend there, we learned a lot about conservation…after two years we thought that’s long enough, so I came here.” Photo by Lilly McKenzie

Vishvanth Raja Balu, VIsh to all who know him, orders a Piadine from his favourite shop in fluent Italian. He only came to Milan three years ago to study, wanting to travel and explore Europe, after living in India and New Zealand. After finishing his masters, he felt the call of Italy keeping him in the country. He now works in Milan, but hopes to move to Ireland, Denmark or Sweden, partly to improve his quality of life, and partly because of the large gamer communities there. Photo by Lilly McKenzie.
He says he’s used to greeting everyone on walking past on the street. “The people here are so closed, you can’t talk to them. They don’t want to talk to you if you’re not Italian,” he said. “I’m used to saying hi to everyone, giving them a smile on the street.” Photo by Lilly McKenzie
Jake Wieczorek’s open and fun personality is obvious the second you meet him.  The 29 year old is originally from the UK, despite the Polish last name courtesy of his father’s adoption. “My identity is basically a clusterf***k,” he says, “I’m a traveller, and really I’m just a city boy, I could be from any big city, it doesn’t matter where. I’m trying to be a musician, I play guitar…I went to the school of sit in your room and listen to Jimmy Hendrix for six hours a day.” Photo by Lilly McKenzie.
After living with his Milanese girlfriend in London for two years, the pair went travelling, before Jake felt it was his turn to give her home city a try. Jake hopes Milan will give him the chance to explore a music career, while continuing freelance work in communications. Photo by Lilly McKenzie