UBAX CRISTINA ALI FARAH (1973–)
Contributor: Federico Fabris (University of Bamberg)
Ubax Cristina Ali Farah was born in Verona, North-Eastern Italy, in 1973 to a Somali father and an Italian mother. In 1976, her family moved to Mogadishu, where her mother took up a job as a teacher at an Italian school. As she has repeatedly stressed in a number of interviews, Ubax Cristina Ali Farah’s mother tongue – as well as her language of literary expression – is Italian. Of her childhood days in Mogadishu she recalls: “In Mogadishu, I attended the Italian school and its surrounding milieu. We were nearly all Italian-Somali students there, and we all used Italian as the language of daily communication – albeit we could speak Somali as well. […] I felt mostly estranged from the world outside; a feeling that got stronger whenever I met Somali friends and relatives of mine, despite all my attempts to belong” (Farah in Lecomte 25). At the outbreak of the civil war, in 1991, she fled to Europe, spending a few years in Pécs (Hungary) before going back to Verona. In 1997 she moved permanently to Rome, where she has been residing ever since, together with her Italian husband and her three children – two of which were actually born there. While raising her children, she earned her Master of Arts in Italian Literature from Sapienza University of Rome. After the degree, she worked as a cultural mediator and teacher of Italian as a second language at a number of primary and secondary schools in the capital. In the meantime, she also carried out a series of interviews with migrant women as part of a project sponsored by the Department of Linguistics at “Roma Tre” University. The experience of collecting oral stories in Italian as recounted by migrant women – particularly of the Somali diaspora – influenced her deeply, stimulating reflections on the role of translation at work in the processes of recollection and storytelling.
Her earliest literary attempts coincided with the birth of the online literary magazine El Ghibli in 2003, one of the first periodical publications in Italian to be entirely focused on the so-called phenomenon of “migration literature”. Her semi-autobiographical short story “Interamente” appeared on El Ghibli in December 2003. Dealing with the topic of diasporic dispersion of family relations at the onset of Somali civil war, the story anticipates some of the characters and themes employed subsequently by Ali Farah in her first novel Madre piccola (Little Mother, 2007). Among these themes are motherhood – as a condition to be renegotiated dialogically across linguistic difference – as well as the traumas of exile and war.
In the following years, a number of short stories and poems by Ali Farah appeared in national newspapers (La Repubblica), literary magazines (Nuovi Argomenti, Quaderni del 900 and Il Caffé), as well as anthologies of Italian “migration literature” (cf. Scego 2005 and Lecomte 2006). Unlike fellow Italian-Somali writer Igiaba Scego, however, Ali Farah sees the label “migration literature” in a less suspicious way – though a critical one still. Indeed, until well into the mid-2000s, the label “migration literature” in Italy was understood as referring to migrant writers who did not have Italian as their first language. This of course does not apply to writers like Gabriella Ghermandi, Igiaba Scego, Ubax Cristina Ali Farah herself and many more who have recently made their editorial breakthrough in the Italian publishing market. On the other hand, however, as Ali Farah points out, “we should not forget that each writer emerges from a particular context. In my early days as a writer, I immediately found myself writing from within the context of migrant writers. Because of that, I had to tackle a given number of linguistic and thematic problems. All this inevitably shaped my writing style. Therefore, I do not find the label totally erroneous” (Ciampaglia 2006).
Madre piccola (Milan: Frassinelli), her first and only novel to date, appeared in print in 2007. A previous version of the same – in the form of a short story – had won the first edition of the “Lingua Madre” Literary Competition, during Turin 2006 International Book Fair. The book received also some attention from the Italian national press and was awarded the Elio Vittorini Prize in 2008. The focal point of the story is the relationship between two Somali cousins, Domenica Axad and Barni, rebuilding their relationship after years of estrangement, civil war and exile to Italy. Especially, it is Domenica´s pregnancy and childbearing that make the re-acquaintance possible. As in Italian-Somali Igiaba Scego’s novel Rhoda (2004), Ali Farah’s text aims to show readers that “the postcolonial subjectivities” thereby depicted “bear the traces of Italian colonial violence and are still daily reinscribed by the so-called Bossi-Fini Law that currently regulates the incoming migration flows to Italy” (Derobertis 271).
Although Ali Farah has not yet published other novels after her first Madre piccola, she has taken part in numerous literary and cultural festivals around Italy and Europe. At the level of social involvement, she is currently the president of Migra, an Italian association working for the right to information by and about immigrants living in Italy.
Ali Farah, Ubax Cristina. Madre piccola. Milan: Frassinelli, 2007. Print.
—. “Rapdipunt.” Italiani per vocazione. Ed. Igiaba Scego. Fiesole: Cadmo, 2005. 35-43. Print.
Lecomte, Mia. Ai confini del verso. Poesia della migrazione in italiano. Firenze: Le Lettere, 2006. Print.
Ciampaglia, Anna. “Parole di latte, parole di terra. Conversazione con Ubax Cristina Ali Farah.” Trickster. Rivista del master in studi interculturali 6 (2008). <http://www.trickster.lettere.unipd.it/doku.php?id=seconde_generazioni:ubax_parole>. Web. 17 May 2011.
Derobertis, Roberto. “‘Holding All the Pieces Together’: Colonial Legacies and Postcolonial Futures in the Writings of Igiaba Scego and Cristina Ali Farah.” Experiences of Freedom in Postcolonial Literatures and Cultures. Eds. Annalisa Oboe and Shaul Bassi. Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2011. 265-274. Print.
Di Maio, Alessandra. “A Poetics of Passage: An Interview with Ubax Cristina Ali Farah.” Trans. Lydia Miranda Oram. Metamorphoses: Journal of the Five-College Seminar on Literary Translation 14.1-2 (2006): 248-268. Print.
—. “A Poetics of Passage: The Prose of Ubax Cristina Ali Farah.” Metamorphoses: Journal of the Five-College Seminar on Literary Translation 14.1-2 (2006): 241-247. Print.