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Credit: @jasmine_taby/Instagram

The replacement of a single letter in a name could be the difference between being racially discriminated against or being able to blend into society.

Jasmine Taby, 19, an au pair from Rome who resides in Brooklyn, said that she has witnessed first-hand the differences in racial discrimination during her time abroad in the United States.

Taby’s parents first immigrated to Italy from Morocco 25 years ago, but the translation of an Arabic character has plagued their reality. When her grandfather first came to Italy, he wrote his name in Arabic and when the Italian government translated the name, they added a “y” and Taby’s father kept the name, while her grandfather’s name is still spelled with an “i.” Taby believes if the “y” in her surname was an “i,” people would not question her authenticity as an Italian.

“If it was with an ‘i’, everyone would instantly assume I am an Italian because ‘y’ is not in the Italian alphabet,” said Taby. “No one would ask me, ‘Are you a Moroccan, are you not Italian?’ Whereas if it was spelled with an ‘i’, they would say it sounds Italian. When pronounced it does not sound ethnically specific, but when it is read with the ‘y’, they find out because the letter is not in the Italian language.”

Despite more than 90 percent of the Italian population being native to the country, tension between Italians and foreigners leads Italians to believe the immigrant population to be almost half.

An aspect of immigration that receives criticism is that natives say immigrants negatively affect the economy. Taby’s mother already had a dual degree in mathematics and physics from Morocco, and is currently a professor at an Italian university, while her father is in a management position at a business.

“Personally, I feel completely Italian because of the way I talk, my habits and I was born there so I consider myself Italian,” said Taby. “A lot of people will say, ‘You are not Italian because your parents are not Italian.’ But there are other people who were not born in Italy but are considered Italian because of their fair skin and I am darker. That is almost always the problem: people think that I am not Italian because of my skin color, or they assume I am from South Italy because of the way I talk and express myself is too proper not to be Italian.

“When comparing the American Black community to the Italian Black community, we do not even come close,” said Taby. “If you divide the American Black community into 100 parts, our Black communities do not make up one of those parts. It becomes worse because only 3 percent of Italians are not Italian.”

As is common with many North Africans nations, the predominant religion of Morocco is Islam. Taby’s family practices that faith and her mother received double the discrimination just by wearing her hijab, the typical facial garment worn by Muslim women. Taby’s mother has been constantly denied jobs and routinely yelled at by people in the middle of streets, buses and subways.

Taby’s father experienced a specific kind of racism, one in which one of his employees misunderstood his role with the company he works for. The employee went to the head boss and complained that he does not want to work with a Moroccan because he believes he does not understand Italian.

“The guy said he did not feel safe with a Moroccan Muslim as his boss,” said Taby. “One day that man waited for my dad outside of their job with a bat to hit my dad. My dad knew that the guy was waiting for him, so he showed him the pitch fork in the trunk of his car to make the guy calm down. My father sarcastically responded to him, ‘What do you want, dinner?’ The guy told him to go back to Africa and kept saying rude things.”

The protests in Rome are dormant when it comes to race, according to Taby. She noted the activism she witnesses in her short stint in America since November and has witnessed protests about health or laws but has only seen one about race. Taby likes the melting pot that is New York in comparison to the isolation she feels at times in Rome.

“The first generation of immigrants in Italy have a strong sense of nationalism for their original country, make up most of the population and do not really care about racism. But the second generation like me, who feel Italian, care about these racial issues but do not have a voice to create change. It all begins with ignorance, which has always been the problem, but those who are ignorant influence the ideas of the uninformed to cover [up] the real issues.”