By Lisa DeNatale
In October 2018, I visited my cousin Anthony, who had recently relocated from the US to Avola, Sicily, on the southeastern coast of the island, not far from the exquisite Baroque city of Noto. For nearly fifty years he had harbored a dream to return to Sicily, where our grandparents had been born, and had immigrated to the US as teenagers. In his own way, Anthony was returning to our agricultural roots, minus the poverty.
During my visit, I learned of Anthony’s ongoing effort to receive recognition of his Italian citizenship. Italian citizenship by descent, Jure Sanguinis, is possible if -- and only if -- a descendent can prove that their Italian-born ascendant was an Italian citizen at the moment of their birth. Subsequently, citizenship can be passed onto their children, grandchildren, etc., barring a loss of citizenship somewhere along the line.
Anthony’s pursuit was complicated, as these things tend to be. At that time, he was mired in probate court, affidavits, and other legal wrangling that slowed his progress. He was also coming up against Sicilian inefficiency and indifference. He was met with countless shrugged shoulders.
Undaunted, I decided to pursue citizenship myself. It was nearly a year after my Sicily trip that I buckled down in earnest and dove into the process of acquiring the requisite documents. With Anthony’s help from Sicily, and guidance from VICA member Michael Giangreco, I outlined the process, created a spreadsheet and scribbled on sticky notes. I tracked down birth, death and marriage certificates with aplomb, only to discover irregularities requiring more than one visit to the Boston office of Vital Records to correct.
Early on, I learned this would not be easy. As was often the case, many children of immigrants were born at home, so there are no hospital records. Birth names written on birth certificates, I discovered, were spoken by heavily accented immigrants and recorded by English speakers. That’s why my mother’s name, Ellen, was recorded as Alan. That took a visit to the Boston office of the Registry of Vital Records with my 93-year-old mother to amend her Birth Certificate. Have you ever tried to navigate Boston City Hall with a nonagenarian?
I also learned that sometimes, the easiest steps turn out to be the hardest. Document-gathering was easy compared with scheduling an appointment on Prenota On-line, the reservation system for the Consolato Generale d’Italia in Boston. It’s about as easy as threading a needle with your eyes closed, and quite possibly the most infuriating part of the entire process. The scheduling system is limited to two appointments per day, two days per week. With July and August out of the rotation, the Boston Consulate schedules approximately 130 appointments per year. The site opens for reservations on the first Monday of the month at 8pm Roma time…more or less. I have no idea how many hundreds of people are competing for 16 appointments (scheduling is limited to a one-month period) but in less than 25 seconds, all the appointments are always filled. I cried more than once out of sheer frustration. I did eventually score an appointment, for March 2022!
Check out Vermontitalianculturalassociation.org to find a list of resources to get you started on your citizenship journey.