I had never been to Italy. My family has no identifiable Italian traits, heart-clutching tales nor living relatives that might make the matter easier.
Not randomly, but I did choose to go to Naples, Italy in 2018 to attend a month long course in Neapolitan pizza- I am now a certified pizzaiolo. Having lived in Chicago most of my adult life, I am very comfortable with a larger city, but, between the stress of my pizza course, crippling humidity and loneliness, I was delighted to leave Naples when the course finished. Next stop, Florence, compared to Naples, Florence felt like a charm school for prepubescent girls. I spent two weeks in Tuscany and while wildly beautiful, inwardly something was amiss. Onward to Rome, Verona, Sienna,… all I craved was Naples. Naples, the city least likely to be on your twelve day itinerary, the city warned to be the most dangerous in Italy, the city tourists see from the port, barely revelling in it’s decaying beauty, the sing-song Napulitano, it’s generous people and endlessly fascinating/maddening culture.
How could I live here forever? I researched myriad ways, residency, too complicated, a freelance work permit, same, marry an Italian, nope, I’m happy without further complications, student visa, work visa…none applied to me. A cousin relayed her murky attempt to apply for citizenship in Miami and…something something, I don’t know who she consulted, nothing materialised. Also my nephew who studied Italian abroad, desirous to live in Italy was reading the same dual citizenship material as I. He’d send me passages circled in hot red… “we are not eligible, too many generations since GGF arrived”. Ever dubious, I continued to explore the possibilities.
On my second trip to Naples in January, 2019, I met a woman at an Italian-English group who has become one of my great friends, Lucia. She HAS dual citizenship. Over coffee the next day, I picked her brain. I was right!…all I had to prove was my Great Grandfather, who I knew nothing about, had not naturalised. Easy peasy. Before I left Naples I applied for his birth certificate and marriage certificate, told it would take twenty days. I would be back in the US by then and not able to pick it up.
Plan B. Coerce my new Neapolitan friend Alessio and Lucia, to pick it up for me and send it to the states. (Note: as fate would have it, my GGF was born IN Naples,1875, another reason I chose Naples- it's my home, my people.)
In Chicago via Ancestry I intensified the hunt. A pointer here, most well-meaning people have a lot of advice but little expertise, you are often better off following your own judgement and intuition, or paying a highly reputable service. Take encouragement from dual citizen groups, but take advice with a grain of salt, it’s often conflicting and misinformed-my experience.
(Also if you do choose a service, hire one that shows results, can offer verified testimonials, and most importantly choose a service that responds in a timely fashion, from inquiry to completion. Three services I approached respectively lost my emails, were snarky, or never returned correspondence. I do have two very good referrals, one for finding Italian documents, the other a very wise and sage translator who walked me through the process though I was applying on my own.)
From January to June 2019, I collected my necessary documents to apply in Italy.
Neither my grandfather nor grandmother had birth certificates. In the absence of a BC one must search out baptism records which legally stand in for the birth certificate. In this case it is very important to also create what is referred to as a Record of Non-Existence.
After obtaining the necessary papers, there were many, I had them notarized, apostilled, translated then apostilled again for the translation, Whew. That’s the process for applying in Italy, plus or minus a billion other details.
With my documents I flew to Naples the first week of July 2109, where my months long reservation was cancelled six days before my arrival. Through Airbnb I reserved a room for twelve days while scrambling to find an apartment/room/ that would give me a contract (=) address (=) residency. Although I thought I had, arrange for a secure residency prior to arrival, there's nothing quite like descending in the fever pitch of what would turn out to be a -change-your-clothes-three-times-a-day summer.
Were it not for Lucia who obtained citizenship in Naples, frankly I would have no idea where to apply. Thankfully she accompanied me, plied with espresso and pastries, to my first three visits. Two visits were a waste as my contract had been improperly worded. Make sure it’s done right the first time, and get an English translation. Once the contract had been corrected I was on my way to residency, the next step being the codice fiscale. I found the residency office nearest my new address, closing in ten minutes and because these bureaucratic offices are deadly serious about quitting time, miraculously I zipped through the process with a receipt to be retuned to HQ=citizenship office to finish the residency process. About two weeks later I received an ID number, much like a credit card, that proves residency, and later can be used for medical services, etc. Only after you are a verified resident will HQ thoroughly review your documents.
Mistake one. How I arrived in Naples without my marriage certificate can be explained, having taken advice from a dual citizenship group- my divorce papers would be sufficient, and in a logical world they might, and it also was not caught by my professional advisor.
Allora, soggy August, a week before Ferragosta- a two week festa in which the entire city empties out leaving few shops or services available. I ordered my MC online, had it sent to a Chicago friend who sent it for an Illinois apostille, then flipped to my translator who sent it for the last apostille, he then power-shipped it to me for the low, low price of three hundred dollars, mostly shipping, thank you very much. Had I got it in Chicago when I procured my divorce papers, it would have cost thirty-three dollars and saved me three precious weeks. It arrived just in time.
July was over, August a waste, September a slow crawl to productivity and me, always moments away from vomiting, my documents had not even been accepted.
Being out of my lingual depths, I hired an Italian-English-speaking teacher to attend the sessions. Between the cigarette smoke-filled office, a staff who regularly interrupted my appointments with shouting and hand wagging, then went for coffee leaving me alone in the office, or indifferently paraded past as I waited hours for an appointment, I believed forgotten that ultimately lasted less than five minutes, me, being waved in and out like a fly. I might be a better human for all this though I cannot verify a marked change. Having a translator helped.
In hopes that my documents would finally be accepted, I brought a copy of Circular No. K. 28.1 - April 8, 1991 from the Ministry of Interior, Recognition of possession of the Italian status civitatis for foreign citizens of Italian lineage, in Italian and English, that clearly states what documents ARE required for application in Italy.
Necessary documents: GGF proof of non-naturalisation, birth certificates, all parties, marriage certificates, all parties, divorce, mine.
Done, boom! Should be simple.
The nice gentleman at HQ had the very circular on his desk that although it reads the same for all it may be interpreted wily-nilly. And so it was. HQ wants death certificates, insisting it is the law, though I also provided a document that states the law had not been updated nor superseded since the 1991 circular. While I do have my father's and grandfather's, no death certificate exists for my GGF, being struck by horse and buggy in 1905, he died, merely thirty years old, or so the story goes. And it wasn't until 1906 that there was movement to federalise civil documents that before that time might be found in any number of local courthouses, or not at all.
Therefore one must create a document that states no document exists. I know.
Get it notarised, apostilled, and translated, naturally.* (Read how, below.)
Inglorious days, those.
Finally HQ decided to accept my documents, YAY, having taken only three months!
Next I sprinted to the post office- not the lowest rung of Dante's inferno but damn close—to apply for a premisso sogiorno that allows one to stay from six months to a year while awaiting a decision. The decision, after all the consulates are checked, five in my case, to be certain neither I nor my family had rejected our blood right to citizenship. Once paid, I brought the receipt to HQ and was told I had until March 2020 to expect my citizenship, if accepted. "What the what, March?", that's six months from now", I bitterly wailed, stepping into my itchiest goat hair shift and covering myself in ashes, I doused my sorrow in many cups of pistachio gelato. Only now during the season of Covid-19 can I relay the hopelessness of a situation out of my control, or conversely, while powerless, not to resign, but find redeemable moments in the unknown.
Once documents are accepted, you can expect exactly, nothing. No one calls, no one writes, you wait like a dumb girl. And if you are persnickety and anxious as I, you text the man at HQ at two and three week intervals because if I've learned one thing in Naples, do not poke the bear. Upon my virgin arrival at HQ, I was astonished and amused to discover in this six story building, overflowing shelves of binders, papers, manilla folders scattered roughshod throughout. One may literally wander floor to floor gathering material for a story such as this, a stereotypical Soviet-era bureaucratic nightmare to a self-righteous and tidied American. The only reason I had the man at HQ's phone number is before he was promoted, when Lucia applied four years ago, he was the good cop in a bad cop situation, she shared his mobile number with me. Now he's the MAN.
Here's another thing. There is no phone number at HQ, nor an email address. Believe it or Not. There is no reception desk. It's just you against whatever tigers have or have not eaten that day.
Near mid-November on a visit to the office to ascertain progress I am told three consulates had promptly responded,Chicago, Pennsylvania and California, but we were waiting on Detroit and Miami. "Could I call them" he asked. " Me?" Yes, as Naples has a fragile reputation for corruption, in the past (heh heh), the Man did not want to approach the consulates again. Let me see if I have this straight. Not only have you left me in your office for ages unattended when I could have slipped a few papers here, shifted a handful over there creating a wake of chaos that might have lasted generations, now you want ME to call the consulates? Exactly.
And because I want my goddamn citizenship I immediately emailed Detroit who responded the very next day, within twelve hours. Miami, Miami, Miami. It did take four tries and a bit of begging but they did respond within a week. Summary, neither I nor my family are traitorous villains and I am a deserving applicant, you're welcome.
Days blurred into weeks, weeks into Christmas holidays. Then late December I receive a text informing me the Mayor would sign off on my citizenship and I can expect it to be completed in January.
10 January I arrive at HQ sans translator because now I am so battle weary and tired of paying for these visits when Mr. HQ mentions my birthday, the 17th a week later, implying he's arranged for me to receive citizenship...on my birthday!! Well, blow me down!
And down and down…"come back next week," I am told. And I do. "Come back next week", and I do. "No, we are so busy", says the only lady pecking at her computer keyboard, "come back next week," and I do week after week. I had hoped to celebrate not only my birthday but citizenship on the 17th , instead I got a flu so nasty I was bedridden for two weeks and began referring to life as (BF) before the flu and (AF) after. Perhaps I have the antibodies you need?
Despairing, I texted the Man, "I am not coming out to the office unless you have news for me." A week later he replied, "it is finished", as though christ had died, risen and ascended in one fell swoop. I leapt to my feet, making haste to HQ where the Man loudly hailed, "Gagliardi" and directed me to the pecking lady, IDK why….I know I looked perplexed. Between two or three staff members, an entire sentence cobbled together in English, I understood to be instructions to apply for my carte d'identita, and after, my passport. Well, glory be, that was anti-climatic. What I did not realise until I spoke to Lucia, I also should have been given my Italian birth certificate at that time. But no one could be assed, and when I wrote back a few weeks later to inquire, Mr. HQ never replied. I imagine once washed out of his citizenship-giving hair, one is cast into outer darkness.
Let me say this. There is no ceremony, no handshake, no pat on the back, no parade, no confetti, no caffe'. It's a bit like visiting a sickly elderly relative, now dead, one still feels the pull of repetition, yet there is no reason to return. Merely phantom pains. You're on your own.
Read about applying for the carte d'identita here.
Example of a letter of NO RECORD.
“I (YOUR NAME) am applying for Italian citizenship. My grandfather/mother (NAME), did not have have a civil birth certificate, being born at home. After a thorough search, neither the state of (STATE), nor the county of (COUNTY), (STATE) has a record, and will not create a letter of “no record” for a deceased person. (if that is the case)
From the Diocese of (CITY, STATE), I have collected an official baptism certificate, a copy of the baptism from the church’s records and a letter of authenticity signed by the diocese, as materials meant to represent an assembled record of her/his birth on (day, month, year).
(Depending on your unique circumstances, you may also need to provide a census that shows DOB and city, or a social security record-that shows birthdate and county/city.)