My Personal Quest for Italian Citizenship
Sunday, August 2nd 2009, 2:45 AM 25350 5 Category Personal
My Quest for Italian Citizenship
My quest for Italian citizenship jure sanguinis started almost obliquely, and for the oddest of reasons Ă˘â‚¬â€ś Great Britain doesnĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t like me.
In an essay that would instruct Ă˘â‚¬Ëśdescribe your life in 25 words or lessĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ I would have said Ă˘â‚¬Ëśa typical suburban life; loving husband, child, big house, great job with fantastic travel benefits. Total contentment.Ă˘â‚¬â„˘ All that changed with my husbandĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s death, when I made what family and friends perceived as a mad decision to embark on an adventure to England to mourn my husband of 32 years in my own way and in different surroundings.
I adored living in England. I made friends, discovered myself (however trite that sounds, itĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s true), began writing again after a long hiatus, and wanted desperately to stay. The British, however, had a different opinion. Various legal squabbles ensued as I sought a visa that would allow me to stay. It got ugly. I tried to reenter Britain and was detained at Heathrow and had my human rights brutally violatedĂ˘â‚¬Â¦ actually blatantly trampled on, scary stuff for an ordinary housewife from King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
But this story is not about British intransigence; itĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s about American single-mindedness and Italian obstinacy.
In a conversation with a UK Immigration Specialist about my troubles, she asked, Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“WhatĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s your ethnic heritage?Ă˘â‚¬Âť Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“IĂ˘â‚¬â„˘m ItalianĂ˘â‚¬Âť I told her. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“Well, there you goĂ˘â‚¬Âť she advised me, Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“Get your Italian citizenship and you can enter Britain freely as a citizen of an EU Country.Ă˘â‚¬Âť I thought she was being flippant. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“I was born in the States. My grandparents were born in Italy. Besides, I would never give up my US citizenship.Ă˘â‚¬Âť She explained a little bit about the process. I could have dual citizenship, the United States and Italy. If I met certain criteria, I could become an Italian citizen through jure sanguinis. She recommended some web sites for more information.
I started doing some surfing on the web, and came across ItaliamericaĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s site. I completed the questionnaire, and it appeared that I met the necessary criteria. I filled out the email request for more information, providing my maternal grandfatherĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s name and town. I was unsure of his birth year, and did not know the given names of my maternal great-grandparents. I received a friendly email back from Sandra Luciano, assuring me that they could get the information I needed.
Perhaps their success is partially due to the fact that our town, Colli a Volturno, is small (population 1377); I prefer to think it is because Italiamerica is totally committed to helping their clients realize their dream of Italian citizenship. In less than two weeks, I had my grandpopĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s official birth record.
Unfortunately, no one in my family from my momĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s generation had ever kept records or mementoes. Grandmom had died young, in childbirth, leaving ten children and a bewildered husband. They would cope with the Great Depression and then World War II. Fond reminiscing about the Ă˘â‚¬Ëśold countryĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ was a luxury they couldnĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t afford.
Our parish, Our Lady of Pompeii (naturally), had closed many years ago when urban blight encroached on the old neighborhood in Philadelphia. I discovered that the records for all parishes that had closed were stored in the Archdiocese of PhiladelphiaĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s archives in the suburbs. After many phone calls back and forth, I submitted my request for information. The archivist was wonderful, too. It took a long time, almost three months, but she was able to locate my grandparents wedding certificate. Not only was this necessary for my quest, it provided missing details, such as grandmomĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s date of birth. As a bit of serendipity, she had also located the baptismal certificates for most of my aunts and uncles. Unnecessary for my purposes, but nostalgic and the genus for the family tree I would create later on.
Two unexpected facts emerged. Grandmom had actually been born in Philadelphia. My cousins and I never knew that. And Great-grandmom Angelone (grandmomĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s mother) was married in Philadelphia -- to her second husband.
I was pleased that things were falling into place. The next step was vital records. I needed quite a few birth and death certificates. And marriage certificates from the City of Philadelphia. I must admit that I was quite relieved that my ancestors arrived in Philadelphia and all stayed put. I canĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t imagine what a nightmare it could have been dealing with several different states and local governments.
Note: Although ItaliamericaĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s instructions called for me to provided my grandmotherĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s birth and death certificates, the Italian Consulate in Philadelphia didnĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t require them as I was claiming my citizenship through my grandfather. But be advised that every Consulate has different policies and procedures.
At this point, Sandra threw me a curve. Her research had turned up information from the 1930 US Census that Grandpop had applied for US Citizenship. This would, of course, make it impossible for me to claim Italian citizenship. After more research, I learned that there was only one place where the information on grandpopĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s citizenship would be archived Ă˘â‚¬â€ś the City of Philadelphia Court Records. More telephoning, long conversations, and after a few weeks, an official form stating that grandpop was never naturalized.
After getting the necessary apostilles, Nicola in ItaliamericaĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s European office did the translations of all the records into Italian in an amazingly short amount of time. I decided to actually go to the Consulate in Philadelphia and (hopefully) begin the long process.
The Consular officer was extremely handsome; also extremely officious. He found fault with almost everything I had. Most upsetting, my momĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s birth certificate had her surname misspelled, the result, I learned later, of a harried, uneducated midwife in a hurry. The official told me this had to be corrected. He also told me that I needed a copy of my husbandĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s birth and death certificates. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“But whyĂ˘â‚¬Âť I protested. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“He doesnĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t want to become an Italian citizen.Ă˘â‚¬Âť His answer was basically Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“Because I said so.Ă˘â‚¬Âť He also told me that they only accepted letters from the Department of Homeland Security attesting to citizenship status. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“But given the timing for my grandfather, the City of Philadelphia Archives is the only place that information could beĂ˘â‚¬Âť I said. No matter. Italy only accepts the verification from Homeland Security.
Attempts to contact Homeland Security were damned frightening. These people are protecting us from whatever? When you call, the first message is a long, wandering diatribe from President Bush. IĂ˘â‚¬â„˘m not making this up; and thatĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s the best thing that happens during a call. I finally figured out, on my own, which form I needed to submit and sent it off. It disappeared into a black hole never to be seen again.
While waiting for Homeland Security to respond, I would deal with the misspelling on my momĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s birth certificate. Vital Records shockingly told me Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“no, you canĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t change a birth certificate, especially if the person is deceased.Ă˘â‚¬Âť Had I come this far only to be stopped cold by an illiterate midwife?
I called my attorney, who mentioned several times that I am crazy as I poured out the story. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“I donĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t care what it takesĂ˘â‚¬Âť I told him with Italian Ă˘â‚¬ËśostinatamenteĂ˘â‚¬â„˘, Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“I want that birth certificate amended.Ă˘â‚¬Âť Two weeks later, he called me back. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“It will require a court order.Ă˘â‚¬Âť Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“FineĂ˘â‚¬Âť I snapped. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“LetĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s go to court.Ă˘â‚¬Âť
Meanwhile, I had confided in Sandra at Italiamerica about my problems with Homeland Security. Miraculously, using her contacts, Sandra provided the official document within two weeks. Grandpop had started the citizenship process, but never followed through.
My attorney went forward and a hearing was scheduled at the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia. It took almost three months to get on the docket. I arrived on the morning of the hearing to discover that Common Pleas primarily deals with child custody and support hearings. I think the judge was so relieved not to be listening to a husband and wife who wanted to shoot each other that the matter was settled in five minutes. She ordered my momĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s birth certificate amended.
When the revised birth certificate arrived from Vital Records in New Castle, it was wrong. The clerk, apparently a descendent of the midwife, mixed up the facts and the birth certificate said Mom was born in Italy, instead of Grandpop. Although our surname was now spelled correctly, I didnĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t think the Italians would be happy. I called my attorney screaming. He called the Director of Vital Records screaming. The Director didnĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t scream. He said Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“WeĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ll fix it, as soon as you send another $10.00 for a new birth certificate.Ă˘â‚¬Âť Bennett said Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“#*&% you.Ă˘â‚¬Âť An impasse. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“Bennett, pay himĂ˘â‚¬Âť I begged. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“This is the last form. IĂ˘â‚¬â„˘m not going to
quibble over another ten dollars now.Ă˘â‚¬Âť
With the finish line now in my sights, I presented myself back at the Consulate in Philadelphia. When my number was called, the Vital Records Clerk reviewed my documents. Because GrandpopĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s death certificate lists him as Ă˘â‚¬ËśJohnĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ instead of Ă˘â‚¬ËśGiovanniĂ˘â‚¬â„˘, she requested a notorized affidavit, fortunately just from me, attesting that he was commonly called Ă˘â‚¬ËśJohnĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ as the anglicized version of Ă˘â‚¬ËśGiovanni.
But then, she found another problem. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“These birth certificates are all not acceptableĂ˘â‚¬Âť she told me, shaking her head sadly. I visualize myself, toting a really big Uzi, visiting the Vital Records bureaucrats in New Castle. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“WhatĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s wrong with them?Ă˘â‚¬Âť I asked with gritted teeth. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“They show Philadelphia as the city. They need to show Philadelphia as the county also.Ă˘â‚¬Âť
I excused myself politely, and went into the hallway to call Bennett again. He had, by now, become annoyed with me. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“IĂ˘â‚¬â„˘m drafting your affidavitĂ˘â‚¬Âť he started off. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“Forget thatĂ˘â‚¬Âť I told him, as I explained what the Signora had just said. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“Wait right thereĂ˘â‚¬Âť he said. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“IĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ll call New Castle.Ă˘â‚¬Âť
Ten long minutes later, he called back. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“We didnĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t tell New Castle the birth certificates were for the Italian Consulate. Those have to be prepared specially to show that Philly is the City and the County. Everywhere else just accepts that itĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s an official document from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.Ă˘â‚¬Âť The thought crossed my mind that maybe the Italians will want Pennsylvania to be a Ă˘â‚¬ËśstateĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ like forty-six other ones, instead of a Ă˘â‚¬ËśCommonwealthĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ like Virginia, Massachusetts and Kentucky. I firmly suppressed this thought and visions of contacting Governor Rendell to change PennsylvaniaĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s official designation.
He went on to give me a civics lesson about the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter of 1854, which made the City of Philadelphia and the County of Philadelphia coterminous. I thought, ruefully, that if Grandpop had simply traveled twelve miles up the Schuylkill Expressway, we would have all conveniently been born in Montgomery County.
Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“I donĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t careĂ˘â‚¬Âť I snapped petulantly. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“Get it fixed. Today.Ă˘â‚¬Âť
Bennett called me back to say that revised birth certificates would be ready at the State Office Building in Philadelphia for me the next morning at 8:00. I never asked, nor do I want to know, what strings he pulled or threats he had to make.
I went back into the Consulate, told the Signora that I would have everything revised the next morning, and I was given an Ă˘â‚¬ËśofficialĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ appointment, for 10:00.
After a quick stop at the State office, where they silently handed me a big envelope when I handed them my driverĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s license as proof of my identity, I walked to the Consulate, where I was, for the first time, ushered into the inner sanctum, to the ConsulĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s office. We slowly went through all of the documents again, and they passed muster. We completed a short application form, and I was given an application number. I was, finally, officially on my way to becoming an Italian citizen.
The only disquieting note was that they declined my document translations, saying that they prepared their own translations. I knew that this would add even more time to the process. I knew it would take at least several months, which they confirmed, and they said vaguely that Ă˘â‚¬Ëśthey would be in contact.Ă˘â‚¬Âť
A few months later, I received a letter from the Consulate. It was in Italian, and vaguely said that there was a problem with my documents. I panicked and dashed into the City to their office (you cannot call them; they donĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t answer the phone). The Vital Records Clerk explained to me that due to the volume of applications, the Philadelphia office was now requiring applicants to supply the translations for all documents. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“The ones I offered you when I filed?Ă˘â‚¬Âť I thought, but did not say aloud. I went home, and mailed the translations.
Things were all quiet on the Italian front for a few months, and then, out of the blue, the Vital Records Clerk called me. She explained that I needed to complete another form, an AIRE. She graciously waited while I went on line, located the form on their website and downloaded it. She explained which sections of the Ă˘â‚¬ËśAggiornamento AIRE unitamente ai familiari elencatiĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ I needed to complete for my registry as an Italian national residing abroad. Suddenly, after all the research and frustration, it had become very real.
A few weeks later, I popped into the Consulate while I was in Philadelphia just to see if anything was new. The Vital Records clerk assured me my application was Ă˘â‚¬Ëśin processĂ˘â‚¬â„˘, a placating phrase I was beginning to dislike intensely. She did warn me, however, that all the Consulates in the States were overwhelmed with applications, and that Rome had set a limit on how many could be handled each month. She urged me to be patient, and I assured her that I would be, even though my personal goal of receiving my citizenship by the end of 2007 looked unachievable.
When an envelope arrived from the Consulate over Thanksgiving weekend, my first thought was Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“Maddone! What now?Ă˘â‚¬Âť I opened the envelope to discover my Italian citizenship papers. Yes, I am now an official citizen of Italy, with all the rights and responsibilities that entails. I did start to cry as I read the papers. It had been a long struggle, almost insurmountable, and many people, including my attorney, had seriously advised me to give up at various times. I am proud of my determination to see it through to a successful conclusion. I did it.
I am sure that many Italian Americans will take the same steps as I did to become a dual citizen. And I am sure that they will do so for a variety of reasons, reasons that are important to them. The point of this article is to illustrate that it can be accomplished. It is a lot of work, and there are certainly many pitfalls along the way, but those can be surmounted with perseverance. I am proof of that. Granted, I am fortunate to live in suburban Philadelphia, which allowed me to file at a smaller consulate. That was certainly an advantage and much less complicated than the process in cities such as San Francisco, New York or Miami.
If you are contemplating taking this step, I would be happy to answer any specific questions you might have if I can. Feel free to email me at email@example.com.