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.”