Sign in | Log in

Italian American Dual Citizenship and Voting Rights - "Forget about it"

Italian American Dual Citizenship and Voting Rights - "Forget about it"

Tom Verso (April 2, 2008)
Letizia Battaglia
One person two lands (my title)

Visa vis Italian American culture, I think dual citizenship/voting is pernicious.


From time to time, I come across references about the Italian American dual citizenship/voting issue. All four of my grandparents were Italian immigrants; ergo, prima facia, I could qualify for Italian citizenship and voting rights. Nevertheless, I paid it no mind. I even thought it was irrational to the point of silly. 


In as much as, the issue has been seriously discussed by some of my favorite and respected i-Italy bloggers, I have given it more thought and did some reading on the subject. And, having a social scientific bent, I conducted an un-scientific (i.e. not random) survey of Little Italy raised, grandchildren of pre-WWI Italian immigrants, with whom I regularly meet (childhood/high school friends). When I told them that there was a good chance that they could qualify for Italian citizenship and vote in Italian elections, they all had a good laugh and the ironic puns came hot and heavy: “Will I get a discount on olive oil”; “Gina Lollobrigida’s got my vote”; “I’ll vote for a Sicilian President – do they have Presidents in Italy?" etc. In short, no one took it seriously and found it incomprehensible that a country would allow foreigners to vote in their elections. Even less comprehensible: why they would want dual citizenship and vote in an Italian election?
I agreed with my friends. If I understand this correctly: I don’t speak or read Italian, I’ve never been to Italy, have no intentions of going, have no knowledge of Italian government or political issues, and yet I can vote! What can I say: “Forget about it!”
However, I am not simply indifferent about the dual citizenship/voting thing. On the contrary, I am very much against it and think that visa vis Italian American culture it’s pernicious. To my mind, Italian Americas are forgetting the twin roots of their culture: the peasantry and poverty “south of the Garigliano” and urban America. From those roots our culture has evolved. We are not Italians, we are Italian Americans and those who would preserve, perpetuate and evolve that culture should be promoting the history of southern Italy post-Risorgimento, the great migration that the Risorgimento gave rise to, and the Italian American culture created by those migrants and their progeny. The granting of citizenship and voting rights contributes to our cultural amnesia. 
While my Italian American friends find the idea of Italian citizenship/voting comical; nevertheless, they are proud to be of Italian descent, indeed they flaunt their Italianness, and many have been to Italy many times. They often ask me why I don’t go to Italy. I respond: why don’t you go to the city? Whereas they marvel at the restoration projects of ancient and medieval Italy; I walk the vacant lots of bulldozed “Mount Allegro” trying to reconstruct in my mind the street where Jerre Mangione lived. The church and factory buildings he refers to are still there - empty and dilapidated. Across the river from “Mount Allegro” is a baseball stadium. When I go to a ball game, I go very early so I might park on the spot where my grandfather’s house was located and I was born. As I walk (slowly) to the stadium I reconstruct in my mind the houses of his “paesans”.
When my friends go to Italy in search of their roots, they see a sanitized version of the ‘land they came from’. Campofranco Sicily, for example, is now a delightful pristine place with markets, events and tourist sites. Gone are the horrific sulfur mines were just 100 years ago enslaved Sicilian children worked. Down the road, Agrigento is a tourist delight; gone are the ships loading the sulfur from the Campofanco mines.
In short, while I have the utmost respect for the promoters of dual citizenship and voting, I genuinely believe that Americans of Italian descent should concentrate on their history in this country, the ‘reality’ of southern Italy from which their forefathers were driven or escaped, and answering the question: “where do we go from here?” Citizenship, voting and touring Italy is a distraction. Again, I say: “Forget about it.”

DISCLAIMER: Posts published in i-Italy are intended to stimulate a debate in the Italian and Italian-American Community and sometimes deal with controversial issues. The Editors are not responsible for, nor necessarily in agreement with the views presented by individual contributors.
This work may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without prior written permission.
Questo lavoro non può essere riprodotto, in tutto o in parte, senza permesso scritto.

Dual citizenship - "Forget about it"

Oh, I, too, agree with the "forget about it". I can't see why American citizens should meddle with the politics of a cxountry they know nothing about and with which "non hanno niente da spartire" (and that goes both ways...

G. Iraci

I agree with your last

I agree with your last paragraph: Italian Americans need to concentrate on their history in this country (I would add that they should actually learn it - since so many don't know beans about it) - and they should learn the reality of the situation that their forefathers left in Italy. But, I disagree with your assessment of Italian citizenship, voting, and touring... You described your own Italian American experience, which is probably representative of many Italian Americans (which is to say, not very Italian or even very Italian American); however, what about the many young Italian Americans in this country who have immigrant parents and who have family histories stretching back in this country not more than thirty or forty years? I have my own circle of large friends who fit that description and they are all applying for citizenship if they don't have it already. And as far as your question, where do we go from here... well, what if the answer for these people who claim their citizenship is: let's go back to Italy? Wasn't that the goal of so many Italian immigrants?

I/A pre WW I vs post WW II

Thank you for your comment. Regarding your point: “what about the many young Italian Americans in this country who have immigrant parents and who have family histories stretching back in this country not more than thirty or forty years?” It is very cogent and a received another comment off line to the same affect. --- First let me note that I have a blog entry “Off the boat then and now” which makes the point that Italian Americans who came after WW II and their children have a different understanding of what it means to be an Italian American than those such as myself who are the descendents of per WW I immigrants. This is why I was very specific about my generation’s point of view in the voting blog. Clearly, those who have living memory of Italy, speak and read the language, maintain family ties, visit periodically, etc. will have a different view of the citizenship/voting issue than my generation of Italian Americans. And I respect that! However, the vast vast majority of the people in this country who are in the category of Italian American are the descendents of the pre-WW I immigrants. The growth and development of Italian American culture will succeed or fail with that group. That is what I mean by understanding our history in this country; which is not to say we should be ignorant of Italian history and culture. We need to know both. Again see my blogs and see that I write about Italians on both sides of the water. ---- At the risk of sounding like I’m promoting my writing (I’m not truly; it’s just that I/A history and culture is what I write about) may I suggest that you see the blog I just posted about Don DeLillo. It will give you a feel for what Italian Americans of my generation experience. Thank you. I love dialogue. Tom Verso

Thank you for your response

Thank you for your response to my reply above. I have read your other blogs and I enjoyed them very much. I look forward to reading more. I could not agree more with the need for Italian Americans to study the history of our community in this country and move beyond family nostalgia. At the same time, I am very skeptical about the descendants of the pre-WWI immigrants (as you call them) as the group with whom the "growth and development of Italian American culture will succeed or fail." When such a large percentage of those from this group are of mixed ancestry, do not know where their ancestors even came from, do not live near other IA, do not participate in an IA lifestyle, etc. what hope do they offer? (debating whether or not they are even Italian Americans is a slippery slope). Yet, there is a sizable post-WWII group (not to mention those whose families came earlier but still maintain a real connection)... when will Italian American studies start to address their experiences and start to see them as the group, however small they may be compared to the pre-WWII, with whom the growth and development of IA culture will succeed or fail? Incidentally, regarding your blog "Off the Boat then and Now," there are in fact IA here in NYC who came during this post-war period who did experience a Little Italy and who are still living in them as they change before their eyes... So, even that sense of nostalgia is alive and well among those who have less than a half century in America.