The Year of the Paper Tiger – Leonardo Tondelli

To the surprise of absolutely no one but the shame of many, Italy’s new “Pacchetto Sicurezza” or “National Security Package” became law on July 2, 2009. The vote was 157 in favor, 124 against, and 3 abstentions. That parliament was so closely split is cold comfort.

Though its title doesn’t make this clear, the Pacchetto Sicurezza is immigration-reform legislation based on the proposition, which the Italian right has been drumming into the public’s heads for months, that immigrants (especially illegal ones) are a risk to their safety.

With this group of new laws, illegal immigration is now a specific, separate crime in Italy, punishable with fines, jail time, and deportation, as is the “aiding and abetting” of illegal immigration. People who provide housing to undocumented immigrants, for example, face prosecution as well.

The law also gives the go-ahead to posses of vigilantes citizen anti-crime patrols and triples the amount of time illegal immigrants can be detained in holding centers from two to six months.

The new laws have already generated enormous controversy—including sharp criticism from the Pope and a denunciation by Amnesty International—but sometimes irony is the only knife that’s really sharp enough.

On July 2, a friend sent me a link to this excellent satire by Leonardo (the author of the leonardo blogspot), a man who has obviously had his share of run-ins with Italian bureaucrats. I knew immediately that I had to translate it. Here, then, in VitaVagabonda’s “Cover Your Mouth When You Kafka” Department is:

The Year of the Paper Tiger
Or, Who’s Reporting Hu?

by Leonardo, the author of the leonardo blogspot
Italian version here.
Translated by Wendell Ricketts

* * * * * * *

“Good morning. May I help you?”

“Good morning. Yes, I’m here to report a crime.”

“Fine, just give me a minute to get my terminal turned on. It’s a theft, I imagine?”

“No, not really.”


“Actually, I’m here to report … what’s it called … you’ll have to forgive me, I don’t have a lot of experience in these matters, you know? An imm … an ….”

“Immorality? An immoral act?”

“No, no, an immigration.”



“Right, right, I see.”

“What I mean is, there’s this person and he’s an illegal immigrant.”

“Of course.”

“And I’m here to turn him in. Because now it’s a crime, right?”

“Do you know this person’s name?”

“I certainly do.”

“Do you know where he lives or his place of work?”

“I have all the information.”

“And you have a reasonable basis for stating that he is an illegal immigrant?”

“I have proof.”

“Fine. You tell me the whole story, and I’ll make out the report….”

“And then you’ll go arrest him!”

“If we deem it necessary.”

“What do you mean ‘necessary’? You have to do it, end of story! In Italy, you have that … what’s it called … the compulsory minister.”

“The compulsory administration of criminal penalties. You know a lot about this.”

“Thank you. I studied law, back in my country.”

“I wanted to study law, but you know … I come from a big family.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Well, let’s get down to business. Your name, sir?”

“Hu Wen. H, U, space, Wen. Just like it sounds.”

“Excellent. And the last name?”


“Hu Wen Hu?”

“No, just Hu space Wen.”

“Ah, OK. Sorry, but all these foreign names nowadays are enough to drive you crazy.”

“You have my complete sympathy.”

“All right, then. So: Hu Wen. Born on?”

“Thirteenth of September, 1974.”

“The Year of the Tiger!”

“My compliments, sir. Does that mean that you….”

“Yes, I was a 1974 baby, too, I admit it. Now then, Hu Wen, born on the thirteenth of September, 1974, and a resident of….?”

“Umm … put this: resident of Canton, China.”

“You’re not a legal resident of Italy, then?”

“No. But I can still make a police report, yes? I mean … if I were a tourist and somebody stole my wallet.…”

“Quite right. Very well, then. Hu Wen, born on the 13th day of September, 1974, and a resident of Canton, China, on the 3rd day of July of the current year did appear at the Parmeggiano Alto Division of the Italian state police, in the Province of Mussolonica, and, having so appeared, did subsequently report to the competent authorities, in the person of Gabriele Panunzio, a duly designated functionary of said division, the presence on sovereign Italian soil of an illegal immigrant, hereinafter denominated as….


“I’m asking you. Hereinafter denominated as ….?”


“This illegal immigrant … I’m saying, what’s his name?”

“Oh, him. His name is Hu Wen.”

“Last name?”


“Wen Hu Hu?”

“No, Hu space Wen.”

“Ahh. You know, I’ve heard that name before. You just wait and see. I’ll bet this isn’t his first run-in with the law.”

“Well, actually….”

“Hold on. Your name is also Hu Wen.”

“I cannot deny it.”

“One of those coincidences. I understand.”

“No, perhaps you do not. I am him. I am here to report myself. I am an illegal immigrant. Arrest me.”

“All right, all right … let’s not get ahead of ourselves, now.”

“There is that whatsit, the compulsory administration of criminal penalties.”

“Excuse me, but why are you trying so hard to get arrested?”

“Put yourself in my shoes. I work in the outdoor markets, and I travel the entire province. I get up every single morning at five o’clock. Whether it’s raining or whether it’s snowing. Five years like that. I’m not used to that kind of work. In China, I was a law student. I’m tired.”

“You might have thought about turning yourself in before.”

“Before you would have sent me back to my country as an illegal immigrant. But now you cannot do that anymore.”

“What do you mean we can’t?”

“You cannot because illegal immigration is now a crime, which means you have to try me in court.”

“Who knows if there’d ever be a trial….”

“But I want to take advantage of my automatic appeal.”

“Don’t make me laugh! I mean, if all the illegal immigrants in Italy waited for their automatic appeal to be heard….”

“Yes? Please go on.”

“It would bring the courts to a standstill!”

“This is not my problem. I am a criminal suspect, and as such I have the right to a fair trial. Ah, and since I also work, I have compounded my crime, because I am stealing a job from an Italian citizen. I think you better put me away in prison or some place like that. I know your prisons. Compared to the basement where I’ve been sleeping, they’re not so bad.”

“They’re overflowing.”

“True. You probably have no choice but to release me and find me a job while I wait to go to court. Now, it happens that I have studied the Italian justice system for quite some time. I would say I could count on a good five or six years of food and lodging plus a job, guaranteed.”

“But then they’ll send you back to China.”

“Who can say? In the meantime, the government will change and they will announce an amnesty. To tell the truth, I wouldn’t be surprised if the amnesty came along sooner rather than later, the way things are going. It’s a shame, really, because then I’ll have to go back to the outdoor markets. I really hate those markets.”

“You should have become a lawyer.”

“True. Shall we proceed, if you don’t mind?”

“All right, then. Hu Wen … did report to the competent authorities, in the person of Gabriele Panunzio, a duly designated functionary of said division, the presence on sovereign Italian soil of an illegal immigrant, hereinafter denominated as …. ”

“Hu Wen. Just do a cut-and-paste.”

… born on the 13th day of September, and so forth and so on, and domiciled at?”

“Number 3, Via Garibaldi. It’s the doorbell with the ideograms next to the buzzer. If you want, I’ll give you my cell phone number.”

“You’re making things too easy.”

“This is what we have come to! Now that you know where to find me, you have no choice but to arrest me.”

“But you might not even be a real illegal immigrant.”

“Of course I am a real illegal immigrant.”

“Aha. Easy to say. But can you prove it?”

“I certainly can. I don’t have a single document to show you.”

“That’s no proof. At most, it’s an absence of proof.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“Who’s to say, for example, that you didn’t just tear up your work visa? I mean, look at it from our point of view. Do you really expect us to arrest the first person who comes along just because he says he doesn’t have any documents on him?”

“That’s what you used to do.”

“It used to be a lot easier. Dash off a deportation order, charter a plane if absolutely necessary, and off you’d go back to wherever you came from. But if we have to arrest all of you and put you on trial…. I mean, you tell me….”

“So you’re not going to come and arrest me?”

“No, I don’t believe so.”

“Italy never changes. ‘Pass a law, find the flaw.’”

“Take it easy, okay? Or else…”

“Or else?”

“I’ll arrest you for defamation.”

“Excellent! What is defamation?”

“It’s when you offend someone.”

“I see, very good. Italy is a hundred thousand square miles of dried-up swamp weed waving in the lurid wind of stupidity.”


“It is an offense against your country. Arrest me.”

“You were just exercising poetic license. At most, it was the free expression of a personal opinion. I’m not going to arrest you for that.”

“Italy is shit. Arrest me.”

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? No, I’m not going to arrest you.”

“You have to arrest me! There’s the compulsory minister! It’s defamation!”

“No, it’s not. It’s just satire, and I’m not arresting you.”

“The President of the Republic is a Nazi invert.”

“It’s satire, political satire.”

“Oh, come on!”

“Come on nothing. Look, I’m laughing, too. Ha ha ha!”

“Italian women all whores.”

“Hee, hee, what a kidder.”

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