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5. Let us just think over the following words: to immigrate doesn’t it mean to migrate?

I believe the notion of “immigration” shall not be distinguished from the one of “migration”. We have an “immigrations” when some individuals (even several of them, but as many as necessary to be statistically relevant with their line) move from a country to another ( like Italians and Irish to America, or Turkish to Germany nowadays). Immigration phenomena can be politically controlled, limited, encouraged, programmed or accepted. So it is not for migrations. Whether they are violent or peaceful, as natural phenomena are, they do happen and they are not in control. On the other hand, we have a “migration” when a entire nation, little by little, sees its population moving from a territory to another. ( it does not matter how many of them are still living in there, but in which extent migrants are really changing the culture of the place they have moved to). There have been migration from east to west, during which Caucasus populations have changed their culture and the biological legacy of their natives. There have been migrations of so-called barbarian populations who invaded Rome Empire and created new kingdoms and cultures therefore called “roman-barbarian” or “roman-German”. There has been a European migration toward the American continent, from East Coasts and gradually to California on one hand, and from Caribbean islands and México to the farthest Sur Cone, on the other hand. Although this has been partially politically programmed, here I do talk about immigration because it is not that white men coming from Europe took native mores and culture: they established a new culture and society instead, which even natives (those who survived) adapted to.

There have been interrupted migrations, like the one led by Arab peoples to Iberian Peninsula. There have been forms of programmed or partial migration, but not less important, for such a reason. One of these was led by European going from east to south ( from which the birth of nations called “post-colonial” ) where migrants changed however the culture of native peoples. It seems to me, anyway, that a phenomenology of the different migration types hasn’t been picture yet. But migrations, for sure, are different from immigrations. We do have an “immigration” only when immigrates (admitted thanks to political decisions) partially accept habits and mores of the country they immigrate to, and we have, in the other hand, a “migration” when migrants (who cannot be arrested at the national boundaries) radically transform culture and territory of the place they move to.

Nowadays , after a Nineteenth Century full of immigrates, we are to face a set of uncertain phenomena: today – in a grate mobility atmosphere – it is very hard to tell whether they are migration or immigration. There certainly is an unstoppable population wave from south to north (Africans or Middle-Easters go toward Europe) Indians have invaded Africa and Pacific islands, Chinese are everywhere, Japanese are very present with their industrial and economic companies even when they are not massively moving to some place.

Is it still possible distinguishing immigration from migration when the entire planet is turning into a territory of a cross displacement? I believe this is possible: like I have told before, immigrations can be politically controlled, while migrations are not, like natural phenomena are not. Until there are immigrations, peoples can hope to keep immigrates in some sort o ghettos so they do not mingle with natives. Whenever we have a migration there are ghettos anymore and metizos are out of control. However there are phenomena of migration which Europe is still trying to face as they were immigration. The Third World is knocking at Europe doors and entering even though Europe does not agree. The question is not anymore about deciding (like politicians want us to believe) whether student wearing chador will be admitted in Paris or not or how many Mosques will be built in Rome. The question is that in the next millennium (and since I am not a prophet I cannot exactly predict when) Europe will become a multi-racial continent or “colourful”, if you like it more.

Whether you like it or not, so it will be.

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Source: U. ECO, Migrazioni, tolleranza e intollerabile, in U. ECO, Cinque scritti morali, Bompiani, Milano 1977, pp. 97-99.


Looking up in the dictionary the words “migration – immigration” we find the following meanings:

  • MIGRATION = a considerable displacement of individuals from a site to another, furthermore a usual or necessary phenomenon.
  • IMMIGRATION = temporary or permanent settlement and permanence of people looking for a job and coming from abroad or from other national areas in a specific place.

The excerpt by Umberto Eco, instead, argues about these two words, distinguishing not only between two different points of view of the same phenomenon (migration, when observed from the outside and immigration, when observed from the inside), but also between different effects caused in the destination territories.


  1. According to you, what is the difference between migration and immigration?
  2. Is that possible to keep immigrations in control?
  3. Are Migration phenomena significantly changing the situation of the destination countries, during the last decades?
  4. Are today’s migrations toward Europe immigration or migration phenomena?

Display teacher's view to find the answers.

Description and Analysis

Professor of Semiotics at Bologna University, Umberto Eco is also a worldwide known Italian fiction and nonfiction author. The book Cinque scritti morali (1977), from which this excerpt was taken, is a short essays collection on actuality themes and subject matters warmly felt within the public debate.

As Eco recalls, words have are very important for a communication and for their shared meaning. Words shape ideas, concepts and feelings and allow to exchange information and different points of view. If we get deeper into this subject, it is possible to establish several links with Italian as a subject, with particular reference to the “communication system”.

If we consider standard definitions (taken from G. Devoto – G.C. Oli, dictionary : Vocabolario della lingua italiana, Le Monnier, 2009), we have:

  • MIGRATIONE = a considerable displacement of individuals from a site to another, furthermore a usual or necessary phenomenon.
  • IMIGRAZIONE = i temporary or permanent settlement and permanence of people looking for a job and coming from abroad or from other national areas in a specific place.

The dictionary puts the attention to length, movement direction and reasons (cfr. Content 2 ), while Eco works more on concepts. He empathises, indeed, an analysis of what consequences a continuous and consistent migrations may cause (when a large amount of population moves), and how that may determine a profound change in the local culture.

This is basically an argumentative text, other words, it is an article where the author gives his own opinion (or thesis) and he claims it through some proofs (arguments) in order to persuade the reader. Eco’s thesis is that the two concepts – migration and immigration- have to be distinguished, on the basis of several reasons. Thanks to the thesis it suggests, to the arguments it uses and to the inference it procatively draws, the excerpt by Eco lend itself to become a useful discussion tool, in order to discuss this subject in class or to write response essays to it. (with argumentative nature or in order to arguo or to agree on it)