It is no secret for me. MULIGNAN is one of my favorite works to date. I work with my ancestors and I honor them as much as I can. I am not their slave, they are not my gods as I only believe and trust one God, the Creator. Yet, I have sensed them many times and they have guided me all along. I do believe that Black people from the Western sphere have a hard time speaking about their forefathers for fear of being called “demonic”. In reality, this spiritual-shame should stop. I am not ashamed to say that I am a door for my ancestors and that their presence and influence guide my own work too. Black people have been called “witches” and “demonic” by other Blacks themselves as we were conditioned in not having personal histories. We’ve been forced culturally to have a common history, yet, nobody really encouraged us to focus on the individual at all. For this reason, millions of our forefathers have passed for a new identity they were not, their Blackness allowing them not to be distinguished.
I grew up with a traumatized maternal family. Most of the members were truly pro-Black, especially my late aunt Paula to whom I dedicate all my work. We were alike I would say in terms of personality yet, there was also a spirit of victimhood there too. The people around me came from difficult social situations but had always managed to succeed and achieve social excellence. Yet, they barely faced their responsabilities and would always blame others, especially White people for their failures. I was only in my early twenties when I began to reject such manichaean vision of the world. If most of my work evolves around music, identity, Black Arab-ness, it rarely involves White people. For the most part of my life, they were made the principal culprits of my life and our demise. The Belgians were the most evil people we had ever faced, but we were also White. But not any kind of White. The lowest kind of White according to their own elevation in Whiteness.
My Sicilian heritage was always important for me and I always represented it. I can speak Italian and I am right now trying to fight to speak Sicilian regularly and even buy a house there. I felt my ancestors more than once. My mother could be mad all she wanted, could be pro-Black all she wanted, things could never be manichaean. We were made of different Black African roots, of Southern Italian, Indian and White and Black Middle Eastern. Our Blackness was the testimony of a rainbow of Blackness that had to be celebrated despite it all.
I was never the kind of Black woman to be proud of my non-Black blood, proud of the dilution I would say. I always felt the need to understand why. The duality I was raised in did not make any sense to me. On the contrary, my Whiteness made me understand more about the pain of my Blackness. Right from the core of our lineage and tree. I always believed that Blacks were the eternal oppressed individuals but my personal family said otherwise.
On the one hand, my mother was the direct great-granddaughter of a Black Arab woman victim of the Arab Slave Trade and on the other hand, her father’s paternal grandfather came form the Kasaian town of Kabeya-Kamwanga and was a Congolese slave master who sold his people to Arab traders. He committed many crimes, practiced witchcraft to kill his opponents and was an oppressor. He was eventually ambushed by the people of his village and burned alive out of vengeance. My Black African lineage was made of oppressors and oppressed individuals. There could be no duality or simplicity when some of my ancestors committed the worst kind of acts. Still, to this day the despicable attacks and crimes that my ancestor did are still diminished to the eyes of their descendants.
An author is supposed to remain neutral and there was no way for me to nurture this improbable narrative and feeling at all. Blackness could never be the symbol of victimization and innocence for ever.
The exploration of my Italian identity began when I was in high school. It became deeper by the time I was 22. I was not partially Northern Italian or else, I was Sicilian-Greek and also Sardinian. I was Sicilian. I was the descendant of oppressed “white” people who had experienced the same bullshit many of my Black ancestors had lived too. Thinking about it, the oppression my mother’s lineage experienced began a long time ago, even before Pi was born. We had been carrying a spirit of submission from a very long time and probably came from people who were treated like pieces of crap all their lives.
By 2009, few Italian friends of mine introduced me to that band Co’Sang -Luchè being one of my fav rappers as I literally love the Neapolitan scene- and started to teach me about the real history of Italy, telling me how Italy became Italy. How it was unified. They taught me, from their perspectives, how they would never wave the Italian flag they considered a symbol of oppression. Upon my first research, I read about how the Kingdom of Savoy invaded the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and how they conspired to destroy the stability of the land of my ancestors. I read about Cesare Lombroso, how he supported the dehumanization of the Southern Italian body and how, til this day, Italians consider him to be the father of modern science. How millions of Sicilians, Calabrese, Neapolitans left their lands for the United States, France, Belgium and where they were even more disrespected and abused. Their shock and trauma reflected what we had to face as Blacks in Belgium and France.
As their descendant and as an author, my duty was to be fair and honest. Yes, I am always going to be the first to defend the rights of my people, but I will also speak the truth, speak my truth and represent those who came before me. I have felt their pain, and understood them. If I told about the injustice some members faced I also had to write about them all. For this reason, speaking Sicilian would be a better way for me to connect with this side and understand it even more.
The title MULIGNAN is a racist term used by Italian-Americans to refer to Black Americans. I found it deep and powerful in a sense that it evokes the stupidity of the human race. Italian-Americans did everything they could to distance themselves from Blacks they deemed lower when they, themselves had been treated like them. Any Southerner knows how Northerners refer to their counterparts as being the “N*ggers of Europe”. Actually, to be honest, as soon as one travels south from Rome, the populations are indeed mixed with black.
MULIGNAN (both the poetry formerly known as MELANOS and the short-story) was a difficult work to put on the table. As soon as 2018, I was looking for writing about it. I had a writer’s block right away. I felt alone and did not know where to begin with in the first place when it came to the expression of many hidden pains and unresolved issues. At the time, my relationship with Italy was always complicated. Do not forget that, upon writing the poetry version, thousands of migrants were dying in the Mediterannean Sea. The issue of Lampedusa began as early as 2006-7, when I was in high school. Sharing the blood with the same people who let Blacks sink into the Sea was as improbable as knowing that one ancestor did sell his own village to Arab slave traders. I was the product of the opposition, of hateful people, slave masters, masters, slaves and oppressed individuals all along. I was not a product of color but of ideologies, thoughts, historical waves and social changes.
Mulignan was my very first attempt to repair the past of my maternal line. I believe I was always the one who needed peace. I remember having offered a large book about Italian emigration in the United States to my mother to help her take away the anger and dysfunctional feelings she had towards White people. I could still hear the sigh of my ancestors in my ear, longing for me to write their history. I did. I did write to heal.
When you come from such a tragic background and when nobody has ever written about your past, or you as an individual you understand that at some point someone has to put an end to the mess and the pain. If you keep nurturing hatred and resentment, you will curse the next generations. It is hard wanting to be the one who stops especially when everybody around you wants war.
Mulignan is one of my best writing efforts to date I would say. I love it. I love the cover. A tribute to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, to the lost, to the forgotten. Over the years I have become way more attached to the Mediterranean culture and to this lineage of mine. I was always shocked by the lack of interest some Italian-Belgians could express for their Italian roots. Some of them clearly did not care and this baffled me. I had less blood than them and felt the pain of my lineage.
Some stories in it were inspired by real events. Ciro for example was inspired by Emmett Till’s horrific story as well as the death of Italian soldiers in 1961 in the Kindu region. The story about Sylvain is half ficticious and real. Sylvain was my mother’s father and he did have Alzheimer by the end of his life. He was never there for his children and barely recognised them by the end of his life. History will always be the basis for everything in my writing.
MULIGNAN is one of my favorite books of mine. Through this composition I hope, I have managed to heal and repair something in the unknown. I hope I have. Because I feel I have healed a part of me. And I feel better.