Italy and Eritrea share a deep and complex bond, dating back to colonialism. Content creator Winta Beyene, eritrean born in Italy, decided to talk about it on her social media, embarking on a journey to explore her own roots.
Here at INDiplomacy we often write about the stories of people who, throughout their life, have become “ambassadors of Italy” in the world. Many of them have transformed their personal story into an opportunity to become a bridge between different cultures.
This is the case of Winta Beyene. Born in Parma, Italy, to Eritrean parents, Winta worked for a long time in the fashion industry, as a sales manager first and then as a visual merchandiser. Today she works as a full-time content creator, still focusing mostly on fashion.
Instagram is the social network that Winta Beyene uses the most for her creative work. At a certain point, however, she decided to use her Instagram also in a more personal way, turning her experience as an “Eritrean girl born in Italy”, as she defines herself, into an opportunity to disseminate Eritrean culture in all its aspects.
“Many Italian-Eritreans of my generation do not have much interest in talking about Eritrea, but to me exploring my roots is a duty,” she says.
“My bond with Eritrea has a great impact on who I am, on aspects such as my aesthetic taste. Take for example my passion for art déco, a design movement that has left many traces in Eritrea, as I often show on Instagram. For this I must thank my parents, who kept alive the bond with my land, teaching me Tigrinya (the most widely spoken language in Eritrea). Talking about Eritrea for me is a constant exploration, a self-discovery. “
“The idea of taking my followers on a virtual trip to Eritrea came to me in the midst of the pandemic, during the first lockdown“, says Winta.
“I realized that Eritrea is unknown to many people: it is almost never studied in Italy, perhaps because it has only been independent for 30 years. When I say I’m Eritrean, often the answer is “where is Eritrea”? Therefore, I decided to fill this gap by talking about my country and my city, Asmara. Two years later, in March 2022, I finally returned to Eritrea, and I was able to show my followers a lot of the things that I had told them about.“
The trip to Eritrea allowed Winta to develop a personal and highly visual narrative, through photographs and videos that capture the architectural and artistic beauties and the daily life of Asmara.
At the same time, the images that Winta posted on Instagram recalled a part of Italian history that we know little about, and that we often try to forget, but whose traces are still evident in Eritrea.
We are talking about Italian colonialism. In fact, Eritrea was the first country that Italy colonized, and remained under Italian domination until 1947. Italian colonialism has left traces in the architecture of the country. Walking through Asmara, Winta shows us several fascinating buildings, full of history, such as the Cinema Odeon, built in 1937 by the architects Giuseppe Zacche and Giuseppe Borziani; the Albergo Italia, which dates back to 1899; the Central Post office of Asmara; or the Fiat Tagliero, a futuristic-style gas station designed by the engineer Giuseppe Pettazzi, which is today an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In other cases, the traces left by Italian colonialism carve deeper into Eritrean culture. For example, the Italian language is still widely spoken in the country and often mixed in with local languages: it is not unusual to come across signs or indications in Italian in the streets of Asmara.
Colonialism also had an impact, in many ways, on people’s life. In some stories, we see Winta visiting Gina, a 70 years old lady who arrived in Asmara when she was 2 years old, and who still runs the hairdressing shop she opened with her husband Gianni in 1950. Winta also shares the story her own family, describing how her father Simon, a professional cyclist, decided to move to Italy to pursue his sports career.
What the Italian presence has left in Eritrea is a huge and complex legacy. Yet, our connection with this country is often ignored, and so are the violence and oppression that colonizers inflicted on the local population.
“It is a pity not to study the past that Italy and Eritrea share. It’s sad. The reaction of my followers and friends to my trip has often been one of amazement: many did not know how beautiful Eritrea is. They ignored its great architectural heritage dating back to the colonial period and the fact that still many, in Eritrea, speak Italian. Many people, even young people, have attended Italian schools there, have worked with Italians, or have family in Italy. Italy and Eritrea share a historical relationship that could be cultivated more: a heritage that today risks being neglected“, concludes Winta.
To discover more about Eritrea, follow Winta Beyene on her Instagram.