Since before Britney Spears was in a conservatorship (#FreeBritney) my father has regaled me with stories that we’re Italian. As a sassy teen, my eyes would roll at this declaratory statement. Nowadays, more so than ever before, my parents are very proud that they are of that Boomer era Brooklyn. Archie Bunker once described the American dream as people free to live in their ethnically divided neighborhoods and this is how my parents lived and grew up. In their Italian American neighborhoods of Brooklyn, my mom from the ritzy (relative to my dad) area and my from the literal other side of the tracks.
My parents, especially my father, are very devoted believers in The American Dream. His belief in the power of capitalism is unshakeable. His belief that America is what made him great is equally unshakeable. But there is also a part of my dad that cannot help it: My father is very proud to be Sicilian. Not Italian. Sicilian. There’s a difference and you put some respect in your voice when you talk about that island.
My father’s father lived in Sicily until he was 35 and came to the United States. My father’s mother had an older sister born in Sicily and her parents emigrated to the US shortly before she was born. We’ll get to those stories later, but suffice it to say my dad has an attachment to the island. So when my dad would proudly proclaim us Italian I would nod and smile because he did it in that way all Americans proclaim they’re proudly _____. Yes, you are relative to other Americans but barely noticeable to people actually in ____. What does that even mean, anyway? It was the early 2000s/late 1990s so I most likely said a “whatever” at some point.
But my dad was actually on to something and as would become a hallmark of conversations with my father, he was… kind of right?
In the United States, citizenship is passed on by being born in the United States (Jus Solis). This approach to citizenship in the United States (spoiler alert) is actually based in slavery, more specifically the abolition of slavery (see the 14th amendment). We’ll talk about this more later, but Jus Solis guarantees that if you were born in the United States on US soil, you’re a citizen.
America is like Catholic baptisms: Your parents signed you up and you had no idea what was going on and now these people are claiming you for life and both of them want money.
Italy, however, passes citizenship by bloodline. It bases belonging to the country on a bloodline/biological connection to someone who already belonged there as a citizen. (See how this could be an issue if you’re born there to someone who wasn’t considered a citizen or a full person? *cough* slavery *cough*)
Why do you hear about so many people suddenly getting their Italian citizenship recognized when their Great Great Great Great Grandfather came over in 1860? Because JS citizenship as Italy has it is like herpes: it came be dormant indefinitely until you have an outbreak because there’s no generational limit on it. You learn there was a Guido in the family tree that you never knew about, for example, bingo.
The catch? The stroke of midnight for your Cinderella citizenship? If your Italian ancestor naturalized before the birth of their next child. There are a range of scenarios that could cut your golden ticket but honestly this is the most significant. Think of it like this: pre-1992 Italy was not consenting to polyamorous relationships with other countries. It was them or no one. You got a transfusion of blood when you naturalized and ceased being a citizen so you had nothing to pass along to your children.
Italy and I have this in common. You wanna go cozy up to that whore America? You think she’s so great? Guess what, you’re fucking dead to me now I hope you’re both very happy together.
So basically, on a very superficial level, JS is passing citizenship through bloodline no matter where you are physically in the world and because Italy, unlike other countries, didn’t put a generational limit on the passage it’s pretty easy to do especially if you go back further to a time when naturalization and citizenship were looser concepts and nowhere near what we have now. Guess what’s not as old as you think it is:
- Borders! Militarized, rigid borders! People used to pick up and move the rocks marking the US/Mexico border because the line just didn’t work for them.
- Commonsense Immigration Restrictions! The United States used to a free for all! There weren’t limits or requirements for immigration, you just showed up with a dream and preferably a northern European complexion.
- Italy! I know it sounds insane, but Italy as a country is younger than the United States. Unified Italy didn’t exist until 1861.
I look forward to using this space to explore family stories, genealogy, Italian American life, Italy and US history, and the JS process. It’s gonna be awesome you guys.