28 June 2016

Guess who’s coming to dinner? A cultural integration project

What is the project “Guess who’s coming to dinner?”

The project, promoted and supported by Fondazione CRT, was created by the Rete Italiana di Cultura Popolare (Italian Network of Folk Culture) together with the migrant families who felt the desire to open up themselves and their homes to meeting and sharing, offering a special family dinner, designed for those who have the “curiosity” to meet “another”. This simple intimate experience breaks down the walls of suspicion created by a lack of awareness and a fear of different cultures. Something “magical” normally happens at the table: they talk about children, school, work, cinema and music and discover that they have so many things in common; they become friends and continue to meet afterwards. With a simple dinner, you can go from Morocco to China, Romania to Argentina, from Afghanistan to Ethiopia, sharing and telling stories of journeys, places and people: this is the idea at the heart of the project.

It is not a project of gastronomy: “Guess who’s coming to dinner?” is a project for creating relationships

The project “Guess who’s coming to dinner?” was launched during the 2011 edition of the International Festival of Folk Oral Culture, with a communal dinner involving over 100 people united around one table in Piazza Carlo Alberto in the heart of Turin, the dinner itself was prepared by the migrant families who participate in the project.

As of 2012, the project has become permanent, with an annual program, diffusion and development in all of the places that participate and choose to promote it. The cities that offer “Guess who’s coming to dinner?”, aside from Turin, are Carmagnola, Alessandria, Prato, Grosseto and Gavorrano, Verona, Vicenza, and Roma.

Barcelona and other European cities are also joining “Guess who’s coming to dinner?”

How does it work?

It takes the form of a series of dinners in the private homes of migrant families, and from this year also asylum seekers. The families open their homes to host a dinner for a group of people who are interested in learning about the culture, traditions and cuisine of the host family’s country of origin. Private spaces become communal, social spaces for the occasion.

Those who express their interest can make a booking and the day before the dinner they discover who will be their host family and their country of origin. Guests cannot choose their preferred country or cuisine; they are guided for a night and meet people that are yet unknown to them. On the night of the dinner they go to the indicated address where a family opens the door to their home and introduces the guests into their world. It could be that they tell stories of the journey that they made to arrive in the country, show their wedding photos or pictures of distant families; however, guests can also find themselves talking about their children who may all go to school together, their favourite sports teams, work and plans for the future.

Each guest is welcome to contribute, at their discretion, to cover the expenses of the dinner.

There is much more at stake than just a dinner, there is the opportunity to build real cultural policy from the bottom up thanks to the meeting, the proposal, and the mutual recognition

The Italian Network of Folk Culture acts as a guarantor to the families who, with a gesture of great trust, welcome into their homes the people who want to share this idea. The network aims to create partnerships and collaborations, to communicate what is happening throughout the country, but above all, it facilitates the growth of local antennae that want to be involved in the project.

The matching grant of Fondazione CRT

Aside from supporting the initiative itself, Fondazione CRT also matches the proceeds of the “big” dinners that take place during the annual Festival of Folk Oral Culture. These resources are used to facilitate employment inclusion of migrant families and their children, future new citizens.

The resources go directly to support the families, without any mediation costs.

The consequences of connections

The event generates ideas, courage and a desire to act, so much so that a group of young people from Egypt, Albania, Cameroon, China and Afghanistan and other nationalities, who originally met through the project, have proposed an online radio program to the Italian Network of Folk Culture. This project is currently being constructed.

Website of the Italian Network of Folk Culture: http://www.reteitalianaculturapopolare.org/en/


Stefania Coni

International projects coordinator, Fondazione CRT