Unlikely champion of Italy's anti-immigration party is black and half-American
A half-American black woman has become an unlikely star of Italy's Northern League, the populist anti-immigrant party which doubled its vote in this week's elections for the European Parliament.
By Nick Squires in Rome
Published: 6:30AM BST 11 Jun 2009
Sandy Cane is being hailed as “Italy's Obama” she has a mixed race heritage and at 47 is even the same age as the US president. But her politics are firmly to the Right.
The Northern League, which wants greater autonomy for Italy's affluent north and is allied to Silvio Berlusconi's government, has been the driving force behind a crackdown on illegal immigrants, including tens of thousands from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. Many Italians accuse immigrants of street crime, including several high profile rapes.
Ms Cane was elected Italy's first black mayor in local elections which coincided with the European vote. She is now in charge of the tiny town of Viggiu, near the border with Switzerland.
She insists there is no contradiction between being black and a champion of the Northern League. “People think the League is racist but now it is much stronger and more mature than it once was. It is not racist to be against illegal immigration.
“The problem is that these people don't have papers, they are very poor, so either they must steal to eat or they are exploited by employers who give them very little money and don't care if they die.”
She supports Italy's newly adopted policy of intercepting boatloads of immigrants as they try to cross the Mediterranean and forcing them back to Libya, where most of the boats originate.
“The problem is far too big for Italy to handle on its own. I think the United Nations should have a much bigger presence in countries like Libya so that they can process people there. In any case, how many are really refugees, rather than economic migrants?” said Ms Cane, who earns a living as a tourist guide and English translator.
The Northern League has been accused of whipping up racist sentiment in Italy against non-white foreigners.
One recent campaign poster shows the face of a North American Indian chief and the words: “They had immigration imposed on them and now they live in reservations.”
Another, which shows a picture of Africans packed into a crowded ship, boasts: “We stopped the invasion”.
Ms Cane's father, who was black, was born in Massachusetts and fought as a paratrooper in the Second World War. While recovering from a combat wound in France he met an 18-year-old Italian woman. They married and had two daughters, Miss Cane being the youngest. In 1971, when Ms Cane was 10, her divorced mother brought her to Viggiu.
“Since I came to Italy, I've only been racially insulted once, and that was by a guy in a disco who was drunk.”
Italians are not racist but they are afraid of the economic crisis and they are scared of losing their jobs.”
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