The article presents some results from a multi-year research project on immigrant associations in the province of Milan, Italy. This subject of analysis was selected for two different reasons: firstly the conviction that immigrant associations can play a crucial role in the integration of immigrants into the host society; secondly the realization that this phenomenon has to date been little studied, at least as far as Italy is concerned. The analysis yields numerous issues for reflection and recurrent features of particular significance. The first is the fact that, for all the associations surveyed, their main goal and the essential reason for their existence was the desire to integrate their community of membership into the host society. However, such integration did not consist in a desire to be assimilated into Italian society, quite the opposite: the majority of the associations studied were wholly committed to maintaining – and sometimes rediscovering – the identity and culture of their reference community. Moreover, a very large proportion of the immigrants belonging to the associations intended to return to their homelands; and it was for the benefit of those homelands that many of the associations directed their activities. The second main feature is that immigrant associations are crucial nodes in a dense network of relations involving numerous actors of very different kinds: the immigrants themselves, other immigrant associations, third-sector organizations, and the local authorities. The third and final important issue concerns the representativeness of immigrant associations: whether, that is, they can be considered the legitimate representatives of the community of membership.
- Immigrant associations