Giorgia Papavero: Notes from the HOMInG survey with Ecuadorian migrants in Milan (Autumn 2019)

As a part of HOMInG’s research design, a survey with Ecuadorian migrants (n=400) was implemented in Milan with a group of twelve enumerators, ten of them women and two men, recruited by ISMU Foundation (November-December 2019). They mostly had a professional background in migrant reception and integration – linguistic-cultural mediators, operators in migrants-oriented services, volunteers and members of third-sector associations – and activists from migrants’ associations. The team was composed of people from Ecuador, El Salvador, Peru, Cuba and of three Italian interviewers with excellent command of Spanish language.
The fieldwork, as per research design, was held in places of aggregation and organized within the Ecuadorian Milanese community, with the contribution of public institutions that hosted enumerators in their spaces. Among these, we highly appreciated the support from the General Consulate of Ecuador and the Registry Office of the Municipality of Milan.

Support from the Consulate of Ecuador and the Municipality of Milan
The help received from the Consulate of Ecuador in the survey implementation was important and precious, as it hosted our enumerators on a close-to-daily basis. The Consulate, moreover, is a crucial reference point for the life of the Ecuadorian community in Milan. It organizes several recreational as well as informational events for the Ecuadorian population, all of them well-attended by it. Often these events take place in a close collaboration with some public institutions of the City. Particularly striking was the response of an interviewee, that, when asked about which place she perceived as hogar (i.e. home), identified “the Consulate” as such.
The collaboration with the Municipal administration was significant as well. Thanks to the Citizen Services Direction – Civil Registry, it was possible to interview people waiting to be received in Civil Registry offices. For this purpose, the municipal sections with higher presence of Ecuadorian residents have been identified.
The headquarters of the CISL Milano Metropoli – Migration Policies Department are another important reference point for foreign-born population in Milan, and the ANOLF desk in particular. The latter, in addition, has an active informative desk at the Consulate of Ecuador headquarters.

Places and environments of aggregation of Southern American and Ecuadorian communities
The three Ecuadorian enumerators have in the first place mobilized their personal ties, through word-of-mouth among their relatives, friends, co-national acquaintances and their respective workplaces. Some contacts happened casually during initiatives and in public spaces attended by Southern American citizens. Other contacts were rather mediated by key informants, such as members of organized communities and associations, teachers and operators in migrant-oriented services that helped in contacting people from the target population.
Enumerators without direct contacts with the Milanese Ecuadorian community based their work in public places, service-providing centres, ethnic shops, places of worship with a strong Ecuadorian presence, money transfer offices, volunteering desks etc. Other useful contacts were gathered in training and educational centres, schools and classes such as the Fe y Alegria Milano school and the Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja.

A class in Fe y Alegria, at the Leone XIII Jesuit Institute in Milan.

Outdoors meeting points such as parks and playing fields – highly attended by Ecuadorian citizens and Southern Americans in general – were not used very much by enumerators as places for contacting and interviewing, due to the rainy autumn that limited the moments of outdoors aggregation.
Indoors spaces of aggregation, instead, have largely been used as fieldwork sites. This includes bars, restaurants and recreational spaces. The restaurant El Idolo has been recognized by many as a good reference point for having typical Ecuadorian meals, in addition to theme evenings with music etc.

The Ecuadorian restaurant El Idolo in Milan, much attended by Ecuadorians. On Sundays, many families gather at the restaurant to have a familial Sunday lunch

Around food, particular relations are built, made of traditions, tales and exchanges. For some women in particular, food is also an important source of income, sometimes the only one. Our fieldwork involved a meeting with two women cooking and selling Ecuadorian food, nearby a public office and a metro station respectively. Their chiringuitos have then been places where data were gathered, since their function of meeting places for people getting off work late or stepping by for some chatting and a snack.

The houses
Some of the interviews were held in interviewees’ dwellings, where it was possible, with a longer time span available, to appreciate the details of interviewees’ everyday lives and memories. The photos of objects in these houses include pictures, ornaments, clocks, keychains and photographs. These objects have strong and clear reference to the country of origin and are often placed in the house’s entrance, as a way to welcome people. Often, moreover, they reproduce houses themselves, with their typical colours and architectural forms.


One of the enumerators reported the enthusiasm of an interviewee in describing an object she cared about:

The picture of the house entrance of a lady who was particularly enthusiastic in describing a keyring with an image of her city of origin, Guayaquil, and a picture of Richard Carapaz, the Ecuadorian cyclist who won the Giro d’Italia in 2019. The lady narrated, with vivid emotion, how that victory became reason of pride and celebration for the Ecuadorian community in Italy and all of Ecuador. Hence, she decided to hang the picture on the wall, together with the article, the subtitle of which was “From the Andes to the Alps”.


When migrants work as providers of personal or household services – keepers, porters, domestic workers, assistants and babysitters – their workplace overlaps with the dwelling itself. In those cases, they get in close touch with the spaces and ways of dwelling of Italian families:

One interview was held in a private house being at the same time a workplace, since the interviewee works there as a keeper. I noticed that the house was very well-kept, despite the simple furniture. I remember objects and ornaments that recalled the two cultures of the dwellers, Ecuadorian and Italian. I also remember a photo collage made out of pictures of family parties.

The “DIABLO HUMA”, a typical character from the “PASES DE NINO”

The question about domestic objects reminding Ecuador ended up being a particularly charged one in terms of emotions. Some were eager to mention photographs with relatives, artisanal products and music, but, in the emotional flow raised by the question, good as well as painful memories emerged: “It’s impossible to remember because it hurts too much”. These open wounds after detachment led some to avoid retaining objects that might have recalled life in Ecuador. Some enumerators recorded nostalgic reactions, watery eyes and a few tears in interviewees when remembering and narrating. There were also, however, sharp statements of detachment from life in Ecuador and Ecuadorian culture. These were clear expressions of “rejection” of all that reminded them of the country of origin, manifested in houses lacking any object from Ecuador or tokens recollecting it.
When asked about a place they interpreted as hogar, i.e. home, people disclosed themselves in a flow of emotions and memories, narrations of private and familial dimensions. The most touching narratives were those about migration experiences, those about the hard life of “torn apart families”, divided between two countries. Particularly moving were, in histories of family reunifications, the bond between youngsters and their grandparents or relatives that raised them and are now gone, their feeling at home mostly in Italy but at the same time having to struggle doubly against discrimination. Among those who chose to loosen their ties with Ecuador there are often women who wanted (or had) to “move on” after negative matrimonial experiences with unhappy endings that led them to migrate.
The question regarding the enhancement of standards of living in Ecuador also raised divergent positions and elicited both favour and opposition to the Ecuadorian government: some agreed with the statement, while others were instead planning their return – also youngsters among these – because they believe there are good possibilities of building a future there.

Caterina, one of the enumerators, with a young Ecuadorian entrepreneur, showing a picture of mountain Chimborazo in Ecuador, and a young theatre actor

The fieldwork
Enumerators reported their experience on the field as a positive one: “In my experience I only met helpful and curious people, only sometimes they seemed shy or embarrassed, but almost never diffident”. The contact was surely favoured by the use of Spanish language, which allowed to establish closeness and harmony from the first moment. In some cases, interviews took the form of a “chat between friends”, despite the clear definition of roles for which interviewees have rightly perceived they were at the centre, and that enumerators’ work was that of collecting stories, needs, expectations. Last, a nice account from one of the enumerators:

I would just like to thank you for opportunity and responsibility I’ve been given. This experience even allowed me to meet people, in this city, I had never met before since I came to Italy. The work I did with you and the contact with people from my country was a useful occasion of reflection on my personal life, the place where I am and where I was born. After 10 years away from home, I decided to spend Christmas with my family, and it was beautiful: my trip to Ecuador was surrounded by a special atmosphere […]. Thank you for this gratifying experience”. (Carolina)

The city of Milan
ISMU Foundation was born and operates in Milan, a city so significant regarding foreign presence, at the core of the Italian region hosting the highest number of foreign-born people, almost ¼ of Italy’s total. The first reports held by ISMU have been done in the city of Milan in 1997, and then gradually grew, spreading to other contexts and addressing a variety of themes. Milan, counting more than 270k foreign-born residents, is the second Italian city after Rome in these terms and constitutes an important field of observation for studies on the characteristics and developments of migration and ethnic relations, both at the national and international levels. In several projects, including HOMInG, Milan is put in comparison with other important European cities. ISMU Foundation has been collaborating for years with institutions and organizations in the socially-oriented private sector. It has positive relations of mutuality with them. This allows to realize and promote research as well as educational projects, initiatives and interventions, cultural proposals etc.

The experience of ISMU Foundation in surveys on the foreign-born population
Centre sampling [1] is a well-known and consolidated method finalized at the extraction of probability samples out of the foreign-born population. The method has been employed by ISMU Foundation since 2001, in the context of the ORIM (Regional Observatory for Integration and Multiethnicity) activities, in order to conduct a yearly representative survey of the foreign-born population residing in Lombardy. The method has been proposed and employed in a number of national surveys. Among others, the most extensive was realized in 2005 commissioned by the Ministry of Work and Social Policies, with the goal of collecting 30k interviews at national scale, in order to inquire the effects of the regularization of extra-Community workers. The method was also applied in several European projects, in partnership with other institutions. Among the latter, already in 2006, a survey on immigrants’ political participation was conducted for the University of Trento, within the European project LOCALMULTIDEM – Multicultural Democracy and Immigrants Social Capital in Europe: Participation, Organisational Networks, and Public Policies at the Local Level [2].

One of the strengths of centre sampling lies in the team of enumerators and in the places of collections identified in the territory. The role of enumerators is crucial in granting the good outcome of a research and the quality of its results. As it is well-known, the interpretation of data is as valid and reliable as the method of data-collection is rigorous. This requires thorough understanding of the interview structure and questions, good relational and interviewees-approaching skills, good command in using and shifting languages, codes and styles in different contexts. It also calls for sufficient ability in managing the interview in difficult and instable contexts. Furthermore, a well-balanced team in terms of gender facilitates contact with both male and female populations, especially in settings in which gender roles are well clear-cut due to cultural traditions. A diverse team of enumerators from different nationalities grants an easier contact in terms of language, favouring an informal and colloquial conduction of the interview, while cultural proximity helps in accessing closed communities, both regarding urban “visibility” and relations with other cultural traditions. Finally, adequate training, proven interest or professional experiences in cultural-linguistic mediation, good embeddedness in local contexts and strong motivations are all factors that contribute to reliability and commitment.
In conducting surveys on the foreign-born population, another crucial element is the way in which interviewees are approached. This is critical to identify the places for data-collection, which should be significant with respect to the presence of foreign citizens and the different types of attendance/users. A good knowledge of the local context, its services, settings and places of aggregation is needed in order to grasp the complexity of migratory contexts and to “intercept” the different and diverse components of the foreign-born population. The contact with interviewees must take place in the contexts identified in the field: in formal and institutional spaces (centres providing assistance and services to foreign citizens such as informative desks in municipalities or associations, Italian language classes and educational centres in general, associations and cultural centres, reception centres, centres providing health, work and legal protection, etc.); in places of worship and of the different cultural-traditional festivities; in places of spontaneous and informal aggregation (parks, stations, places of entertainment etc.); in markets, ethnic shops, services centres and so on. Finally, it is important to be able to include the irregular component of the foreign presence, this being notoriously significant in Italy. Through the employment of such a diversity of data-collection settings it is possible to obtain a representative sample of the real population, which can hardly be described by employing data on the regular component of the foreign-born population only.

Finally, a special thank you to all the enumerators who conducted the fieldwork and have worked with professionalism, interest and curiosity:
Adolfo Rizzieri Baldo Tejada, Alessandra Barzaghi, Ana Cecilia Rivera, Carolina Diana Guerra Guanga, Cirlis Amparito Castillo Falcones, Dayneè Leal, Juan Luis Zegarra Queirolo, Katerine Alexandra Llerena Carvajal, Laura Davì, Mariagiovanna Saraceni, Marta Lilian Lopez, Wendy Karina Ortiz Portillo.

[1] Blangiardo, G.C., Baio, G., & Blangiardo, M. (2011). Centre sampling technique in foreign migration surveys: a methodological note. Journal of Official Statistics

[2] For the list of all projects and further detail please visit the ISMU Foundation website