I had been living in Switzerland for about a week when I first heard the gut-wrenching term “secondo”. Technically it refers to the children of the immigrants who moved to Switzerland in the 50ies and 60ies, who even if born here are not Swiss but “secondos”, ie, second generation immigrants.
Unlike in the US and in many countries in Europe, no “foreigner” who is born here is Swiss, they will be able to apply for passport and citizenship once they are 18, just like any foreigner who moves here later in life and can apply for citizenship after 12 years. That means you have people in their 50ies who have lived here their whole life, native speakers, people who have nowhere else to call home, who actually are not Swiss citizens nor passport holders. Some do have a passport. Many don`t and many refuse to get one because they disagree with the system. I have seen this only too often.
In practice, this term implies somehow “second best”. As if we are sitting in the center of the world here. So we have the “Swiss-Swiss” and the non Swiss, secondos, immigrants, expats & co.
Last time I had heard of a similar two-class society it was in secondary school on my history book when a certain movement born in Germany in the 30ies started to refer to a part of the “original” population as “Aryan race”. We know how far that concept went.
An episode of last week is a clear example of the status quo. We are planning the refurbishment of our house and have been talking to a few builders. One in particular, who introduces himself as a “secondo”, Italian origin - although when talking to him I have to suppress the urge to correct him - is worth mentioning. At the end of the meeting for some reason we mention that one of my cousins is a great architect. She lives and works in Italy, is a university professor, has a master degree and various post university degrees, works for beautiful projects around the globe. His reaction: “oh, I have been looking for a secretary; you can tell her if she is interested.”
So perhaps I am wrong but is he thinking that because she is A- Italian (happily) living and having a very successful career in Italy as an architect and B – a woman, she would be interested in a job as the secretary of a builder in Switzerland (who with all due respect has never seen a university classroom)? Never mind that she is the actual expert. Incredible how some secondos bring wrong concepts forward.
Probably no need to comment further on this one.
There are hundreds of studies that show how key is for companies to have a diverse workforce, not just in terms of nationality, religion and the likes, but also in terms of diversity of thought, experience and mindset. Indicators point to clear economic benefits and better environment for companies that score high on the diversity front.
If this is true for companies, I am fairly sure it applies to societies and families too.
Let us do ourselves a favour and drop this daunting and nerve-wrecking “secondo” term.
I will tell my children that the fact that they live and breathe three cultures and are native speakers in three languages is a big asset, not a liability. They are Europeans, they are world citizens, they have an international family and background, they were born here because they come from educated parents who could have lived anywhere in the world and chose to live here mostly for logistics reasons after having travelled the world and lived in different countries. I will tell my kids to think hard before ever judging people based on the place of birth and on stereotypes.
I will tell them to travel the world, to live abroad, to ask and challenge the status quo, to ask why, always. To fear, if anything, ignorance, to fight prejudice and dangerous stereotypes.
I will tell my kids to check out people's brains, not nationalities, places of birth or skin colour.