A man with a determined look in his eye turns away from a line of other men facing the other direction. Economic hardship forced Ismael to forgo university in Benin and join his uncle in Italy, where he found agricultural work in squalid conditions. After a 2010 attack on migrants in the town of Rosarno, Ismael and other migrant workers took to the streets. Fifty-three people were injured.
Insert portrait of Ismael, determined as he changes his path. He had seen enough.
Two men in conversation standing among crates containing fresh produce with a field in the background. “Ismael relocated to an area outside Rome in 2013, where he joined Barikamà, a food cooperative run by a group of young West Africans, in 2013.”
A group of six people are working in rows of crops. Barikamà is a lifeline of fresh produce for people in Italy, who struggled with one of the worst outbreaks of COVID-19. “During the lockdown we knew we needed to help people and contribute to this country.”
Ismael waves in greeting to an older woman leaning out of a window. He is wearing a shirt with the Barikamà logo, a cow. “What keeps us going is seeing that we are making a difference, especially for old people who are not able to go out. Barikamà means ‘resistance’ in the Bambara language, spoken in the African country of Mali.”
Ismael and the Barikamá Food Collective
In 2011, Ismael witnessed tragic events in Rosarno, Italy, where attacks against migrant workers sparked an uprising among the region’s fruit pickers. The unrest helped birth the Barikamá Food Collective. Barikamá, which means ‘resilience’ in the Malian language of Bambara, was founded by African immigrants looking for an independent way to practice their skills and escape the brutal and exploitative conditions experienced by agricultural workers in the Italian countryside. The collective flourished, and when COVID-19 forced the country to lock down, Ismael and his team came to the aid of housebound Italians. His knowledge and determination had led him down a new path: that of a hero.
Ismael and the Barikamá Food Collective’s story is by artist Jenis Littles.