Interview with Liliana Nechita
Liliana Nechita (b. Angheluță) was born in 1968 and she is currently living in Italy. Back in 2013 “Avantaje” magazine published her testimonial in their “The exodus of the mothers” project and by 2014 her book “Bitter Cherries” was printed by Humanitas.
How long have you been living in Italy and what kind of jobs did you have?
I’ve been living there for more than 9 years and I’ve worked all sorts of jobs, I didn’t pick and choose, I couldn’t afford that.
What made you to write Bitter Cherries?
I began writing Bitter Cherries the moment it got to me that those back home, our loved ones, to whom we send money on a monthly basis, know nothing of our lives here. To them it may all look effortless, as if once we reached the promised land, all doors open for us, all we have to do is pick money from trees and have a good life. People never tell their loved ones back home about the hardship and the humiliation they have to endure, how difficult it is to adapt, the dark side of their stories is never told. I wanted all to come out, the truth, I wanted to open wide all the wounds.
Bitter Cherries shows your own experiences in connection to the experiences of others you have met while working in Italy. What was the most difficult, painful thing to write?
I believe the most painful thing to reveal was the way in which men, some of them of course, try to take advantage of you being away from home, from the loved ones, being vulnerable. There is this shame we women feel that is keeping us from saying anything when someone tries to touch us etc., but in honor of the truth I let everything out. Or almost everything.
Do you believe a book with such a strong theme as work migration, analysed from a subjective point of view, has the power to help those with similar experiences to feel less alone, more visible?
Certainly. Many women wrote to me saying they relate to one thing or another from the book, women from Germany, U.K. France… The trauma of being away from your family is the same regardless of what country you emigrate to, and the pain of not being with your children is terrible for everyone. The humiliations, I assume, are similar everywhere if you have the misfortune of meeting the wrong people. Basically we arrive here somewhat innocent, emotionally unprepared for what is to come. So we are left to suffer, either from missing our loved ones or from the mistreatments we go through. In a way, I think I wanted to warn those who want to leave. “Look, the road ahead is not paved with gold. Think long and hard before you go!”
Do you wish away certain experiences, or do you consider all experiences, even the painful ones helped you tell your story better.
I believe everything I had to overcome made me a stronger woman. I’ve become more fearless. If I had to land now in any other country I would manage, I would even be more practical. If I hadn’t lived the “sour”… I wouldn’t have written it. The book is my own personal lived experience and without it the book might not have been at all.
You write about the precarious housing conditions in which people live, under plastic foils, under bridges etc. What was it that touched you most about these conditions they live in?
How fast they got accustomed to their new circumstances. How they had to learn to survive, to bear with the hardships, to suffer and yet still find the power to laugh. Life goes on even if you live in a shack.
Your book also brings a critical view towards current migration policies and analyses the ways in which migrants are represented in the public discourses of certain Romanian politicians. Why did you consider necessary to connect this perspective to the profoundly personal one?
It’s obvious the destruction of Romania’s economy impoverished many people. We had to leave because of them, those who destroyed this country. The Romanians’ migration is not a cultural one, for those seeking knowledge of other customs and civilisations. It’s a migration determined by hunger, it’s a migration of mothers desperate to feed and clothe their children. People need to be aware of this, to be more involved with the Romanian politics and social affairs, they need to take their heads out of the sand. Once the guilty parties in this whole devastating process of migration are identified, people will certainly pay more attention to the ones they are voting for.
What actions do you think are necessary for changing certain conditions migrants live and work in. Do you think it is important for them to know their rights better, to create solidarity networks?
We are responsible for how we live and work, however we need to be more knowledgeable about it. There are state institutions in every country and they are there to defend our rights, to help us with work related conflicts. In a way we are to blame for not concerning ourselves more with politics and the law. For example, I know women who put up with hunger and humiliation… unaware they could turn to trade unions, they can make complaints, they can benefit from unemployment services. Also, those who work in undocumented jobs can always make complaints against their employers for not providing a safe and legal work environment. We need to raise the awareness of all migrants, provide information relevant for each country, so everyone knows their rights. This is how solidarity would look like in our cases: knowing what can be done and who you can turn to for legal advice.
How do you see this awareness campaign for the migrants? Where should it begin? What would the priorities be?
Awareness campaign… well it depends what countries they migrate to. It would be wonderful if brochures could be printed and international bus drivers could hand them to travelers, if brochures are edited and sold at any newsstand. There are women going hungry, are being humiliated, disrespected in the house they work in, and they don’t know the law, they don’t know, as I have already mentioned, that they could go to trade unions, make complains and make use of unemployment benefits. This would allow them to search for a new job. These informations about all the different work conditions, about our rights, rights given to us by every European country, should be written and made public since most of us are unaware of them. Just think about women from rural area, and not just them, some have worked in the fields all their lives, they have emigrated in their 50’s out of poverty, they arrive in the West, look fearfully all around them and have no clue how to handle the hardship, just endure it.
What were some of your rights that were most frequently violated by your employers?
I went through mobbing for a while, then someone thought me what to do so I filed a complaint with the Italian trade union who defended my rights and did a great job in representing me, that’s when I felt protected by this country where the law is the law regardless of the origin of your passport. Often, employers treat you like garbage. I’ve met so many construction workers, electricians, but also caregivers and babysitters that put up with verbal abuse or aren’t paid on time simply because… they think we are stupid. They think we are clueless. The moment you show a back bone and you prove to them you know your way around, they change tactics. Not always, of course. They think we are alone, weak. You know, animals need to stay together, it’s a better defense. Since we are outsiders, we are also pray.
What are you aspirations now?
I wish to keep on writing. Meanwhile I’ve finished my second book, The empress in which I tell the story of my mother in law, a simple peasant woman, one of those types that is unfortunately disappearing from our world. The rural areas are being slowly abandoned, people emigrate or die, overgrown plants and empty newly built cement houses are all that is left behind. No soul. I hope Humanitas will also publish The Empress, and in the meantime I have a ton of projects. That is what I wish: to keep on following my dreams!