Since it seems that our first two months in Puglia were primarily spent jumping over hurdles, navigating (sometimes even successfully!) Italian bureaucracy, and getting increasingly frustrated, we had to remind ourselves just why we were here in the first place.
And that was so I could get recognized as an Italian citizen. Yup, we were doing all this for dual Italian citizenship. But that answer begs the question ‘why’.
I grew up on a diet of Italian food, Italian music (think Puccini opera, Sergio Franchi, and Mantovani), family get-togethers (forty of us on a Sunday), and Italian language (my mother was a perennial 1st semester Italian language student, although I never got past learning a few choice curse words).
But I remember most of all not quite fitting in with friends and neighbors. I talked too much and too loud. I laughed too loud. I gestured too wildly and knocked things over. I tried to strike up conversations with strangers who would silently and cautiously edge away from me. I was just ‘too much’.
And then in my 40s, I decided to travel. To Italy of course. From the first ‘Benvenuto’ sign at the airport jetway, I truly felt welcomed. I heard other loud people talking and laughing, waving hands, willing–eager!!– to talk to me, a stranger. I was not ‘too much’ for them. In fact, I was one of them. These were my people. This is where I belong. This is home.
I contented myself with making as many trips to Italy as my meager budget would allow. I traveled up and down the country, and as a travel agent, became expert at designing vacations for other people to experience Italy. My passion for all things Italian was contagious.
And then a decade ago, I became curious about when my grandparents emigrated to the US. I dabbled in perusing Ellis Island records and genealogy websites. Any older relatives who might have known something were either dead or had lost their memories. So I couldn’t count on any relatives to supply missing information.
And since my grandfathers were illiterate, I wasn’t sure of correct name spellings, or for that matter, even birthdates and birth towns! Definitely an obstacle to research.
So I dabbled. Which vowels were used in his name? Was there a space or not in his name? When did they come over? All I had was a possible timeframe of about fifteen years. So I put this aside and took it out every so many months to tackle again.
But what started as a curiosity became an obsession. Not only did I feel Italian, but I realized I am Italian! I read an article on qualifying for Italian citizenship, and that’s all it took. I was pretty sure I qualified because I was certain that neither grandfather ever became US citizens. Being ‘pretty sure’ you qualify and getting qualified are two different things.
I printed out volumes of information from the San Francisco Italian Consulate on how to qualify and what documents are needed to request recognition of Italian citizenship based on unbroken blood line (called juris sanguines)
TV shows about moving to Italy permanently sound romantic and easy. A couple has an idea about moving to Italy, then click their heels three times, and next episode, they’re enjoying la dolce vita, sipping a glass of vino on their balcony overlooking the sea.
Hogwash. Frankly, it is not easy at all. It is not for the fainthearted or impatient or disorganized. But is it worth it? We think so. And the prize at the end of this saga is what keeps us going when the frustrations mount, and we’re ready to throw in the towel and admit defeat.
When I first announced to friends, family, and acquaintances that I was going to get my Italian citizenship, the first question was always ‘why?’
Are you going to buy property in Italy? Probably not.
Do you have family in Italy? Not that I know of.
Do you speak the language? Not yet.
When I mention I love the prospect of traveling throughout Europe on an Italian passport, people’s eyes just glaze over and dismiss me as a crazy old woman. But in my heart I know that this will open the world to me.
As I said, I was stuck on finding my father’s father’s birthplace, birthdate, and when he arrived in the US. It took a couple of years before I could even narrow the field down to about five men who could possibly be my grandfather, based on the Ellis Island records.
One issue that I encountered with Ellis Island records is that the port of departure might not necessarily have been the port closest to his birthplace. Eventually, working backwards from my father’s birthdate, I was able to at least get a window for my grandfather’s birthdate.
I tried this website and that one on genealogy research Not one gave me the answer but offered more tips on how to research. If I only knew his birthplace, then I would know where to search for his birth records. If only…
I am almost too embarrassed to share my epiphany that would be the key to unlocking the whole puzzle and getting me on the straight road to dual Italian citizenship (that is, as straight as Italian bureaucracy allows).