March 23, 2023
Technically speaking, I received recognition on December 23, 2022, via an email from the cittadinanza office at the Italian Consulate in Boston. But there were a few more steps necessary before I could officially claim Italian citizenship. First, I needed to have my documents recorded in the Comune di Pietraperzia, the Sicilian town in which my grandparents, Salvatore Natale and Maria Tripi were born. Fortunately, my cousin in Sicily was able to make a personal visit to the Comune on my behalf, which often helps in these instances. Even with the immediacy of electronic communication nothing engenders a faster response than someone looming over your desk. I have no proof that this was the case in my situation, but I have to believe a current resident of Pietraperzia wields greater influence than a two-generation removed citizen’s polite email.
My citizenship journey began in October 2018 when I learned that I was eligible for Italian citizenship by descent known as Jure Sanguinis (right of blood). It 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. My father’s birth in 1924 occurred 18-months prior to my grandfather becoming an American citizen. This unbroken line meant I was by right of blood an Italian citizen. There is, however, a distinction between citizenship in theory and actual citizenship. Recognition of citizenship by the Italian authorities would require presenting a multitude of documents including birth, marriage, and death certificates that for me would span three states, three generations, and two continents. Translations, apostilles and declarations, I would learn later, would be part of the process yet this all seemed worth the investment of time and money. It would be a small price to pay to honor my Sicilian-born grandparents and their first-born son, Giuseppe Salvatore Di Natale, my father. My journey, in a small way, would commemorate the journey of my grandparents, away from Sicilian soil, only for me to find my way back.
In March 2023, after four years I found myself on the verge of being recognized as an Italian citizen and a sense of urgency set in. Even before my documents had been registered at the Comune, I wasted no time and jumped on the prenot@mi system to schedule an appointment for my passport. As has been the case throughout this journey, patience would need to be summoned as there would be another three-month wait for my appointment. It felt to me that this final act of getting my passport would be the actualization of several years of toil and tears.
The day arrived and I entered the Boston Consulate in Boston’s Federal Reserve building gripping my cashier’s check and two tiny passport photos, believing that after all this time and preparation something could still go wrong. Was the check in the right amount? Were the photos too big? Too small? What did I forget???
In the end, the appointment went smoothly. After a few fingerprints and signatures, I was left to wait for ten minutes while my passport was processed. And then I saw it. Il mio passaporto. The most beautiful shade of burgundy with the words Unione Europea Repubblica Italiana inscribed. Glorious and official. I flipped through its pages and noticed that I no longer had a place of birth but a luogo di nascita and my eyes were no longer blue but azzurri. I held it in disbelief. My work was done. There was nothing more to do. So, I hopped on the elevator and rode alone down seventeen floors, overcome with joy. I strutted out the door into Federal Reserve Plaza on a balmy March afternoon una cittadina Italiana!
How do I feel holding an Italian passport in my hand?
Proud. I am just damn proud.
Relieved. After years of gathering documents and an almost interminable length of time waiting for an appointment, I reached my goal. Covid came along and extended that wait even longer. More than once I stressed whether there would be an inaccuracy in my documents that would set me back in my pursuit. Then on the day of my initial appointment at the Consulate, March 15th, 2022 (an inauspicious date - The Ides of March), a leak in my water bottle slowly began to saturate the documents in my bag, the ones I had spent four years collecting! And so, two hours before my appointment I spent 45 minutes drying off documents with a hairdryer in my hotel room in Boston. All this and now this?
Overjoyed. I had reached a goal I’d set in October 2018, and it felt better than I could have imagined. But truthfully, I wish I had started the process sooner.
Grateful. Grateful to my grandfather, Salvatore Natale (whose name morphed from Natale to Di Natale to DeNatale over his lifetime), and my grandmother, Maria Tripi. They were proud Sicilians who frequently traveled there, maintaining ties to Pietraperzia which persist today.
And to my father, Joseph DeNatale, who instilled in me deep pride and appreciation of our Sicilian heritage. It would have been easy to forget about “the old country” when in fact, that old country is a part of me. Sadly, he died two years ago; too soon to see the fruits of my labor. Nevertheless, I shared a celebratory moment with him, graveside, holding my passport and shedding tears of joy and regret. Standing there I could hear his voice full of emotion but restrained saying “That’s just great, Lisa”.
And, because the little things matter, I am grateful too for the friendly parking attendant at the Boston Seaport who made room for my car. It’s neither easy nor inexpensive to park in downtown Boston and a smiling face can make all the difference. He was also the first person to see il mio passaporto!
When I set out in the fall of 2018, at sixty-plus years of age, I wasn’t motivated by the notion of spending my remaining years living in Italy and gallivanting across Europe as an Italian citizen. For me, honoring my grandparents and my father was at the root. Over one hundred-twenty years ago, at the age of 18, my grandfather, like so many of his generation, left his small village in Sicily desperate for a less grueling life. His future wife, my grandmother, would leave the same village, as an uneducated teenager, determined to leave behind a life of hardship that the women before her endured. For their courage, I honor Salvatore and Maria.
July 2, 1922; Maria Tripi and Salvatore Di Natale
A generation later, my father, born to Sicilian immigrants, would embrace his culture and share it proudly with his wife and children. And a generation hence, I reclaim, through blood, recognition of my Italian citizenship. For me, citizenship is more than symbolic. It’s a profound responsibility to ensure the culture and traditions I inherited are preserved well past the deaths of my ancestors.
May, 1966; My father, on his first trip to Pietraperzia with Zio Filippo and his wife, Zia Teresa.