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TUNISIA: “I’m still a little Tunisian”: actress Claudia Cardinale, who on Sunday inaugurated a street named after her near Tunis, underlined her attachment to her native land, whose sense of hospitality is, according to her, a model for reception of immigrants in the West.

“I feel very honored because this is where I was born and where I spent my childhood,” the 84-year-old Italian-Tunisian actress said at the start of a ceremony in her honor in La Goulette, a port town in the northern suburbs of the Tunisian capital.

Visibly delighted, the actress danced to tunes played by a traditional orchestra, then received multiple gifts, including portraits by local painters.

A mural with a giant portrait of the actress was unveiled shortly before the unveiling of a plaque bearing her name, near the small La Goulette train station.

“We love Claudia very much and she loves Tunisia. She is coming home. We wanted to pamper her with a street that will bear her name for eternity,” the mayor of La Goulette, Amel Limam, told AFP.

“I keep in me many things about Tunisia, its landscapes, its people, its sense of hospitality, its openness,” the actress confided, before these ceremonies, in an interview with AFP by email.

This descendant of Italian emigrants said she was “very grateful” to the city council and the “La Piccola Sicilia” association, co-organizer of the events in her honor. This “Little Sicily” was the neighborhood of La Goulette where thousands of Tunisian Italians, mostly Sicilians, gathered and where “la Cardinale” was born.

At the time of independence in 1956, the Italian community, including many emigrants who arrived before the French protectorate (begun in 1881), had more than 130,000 members.

“Great cultural diversity”
“It is an important past: the Tunisia of my parents, of my grandparents, was an extraordinary Tunisia. A land of sharing, of joy, of exchange”, she confesses, emphasizing having “grown up in a very great cultural miscegenation”.

Elected in July 1957, “the most beautiful Italian in Tunisia”, at only 19 years old, her prize was a trip the same year to the Venice film festival where the profession noticed her. In particular for the director Mario Monicelli that she will give her first role in “Le Pigeon” the following year.

Shortly after, her family moved with her to Rome where her career took off, with legendary roles in “The Cheetah” by Luchino Visconti or “Once Upon a Time in the West” by Sergio Leone.

The actress, who has lived in France for many years, has never stopped shooting and plays the grandmother in the latest film by Tunisian Ridha Behi, “L’île du Pardon”, currently in post-production.

Like the protagonists of the film focused on Italian immigration, her parents never recovered from their departure from Tunisia, experienced as an exile.

“It was very hard. My father never wanted to return, because he feared the pain of what for him was a true heartbreak,” he stresses.

“My mother recreated Tunisia in Italy. There she planted the species “bougainvillea, jasmine, prickly pears,” and she continued cooking “Tunisian style.

For this descendant of Sicilian immigrants who left in search of a better future in Africa, Tunisia “must be proud of its history”.

And given the migrations that often occur today from South to North, the actress considered “important to remember this common past.” “Tunisia has been a land of welcome for us, I hope that all those in the world who need to leave find the same welcome.”

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