Citizenship Duel

 Riceviamo e pubblichiamo volentieri questo interessante contributo dalla collega Linda Pollack-Johnson.

Linda Pollack-Johnson is a freelance translator and interpreter working out of her home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  She is a member of the ATA, the Italian Language Division, and the Delaware Valley Translators Association.  She is currently recharging her linguistic batteries, spending six months in Genoa, Italy.  Her resumé reflects language-related jobs dating back to the early 1980's.  She got certified for Italian to English translation in 1994 and in recent years has volunteered to proctor the ATA exam.  Her interpreting is mostly for medical assignments, both face-to-face and telephonic.  She has mentored many aspiring translators and interpreters and has done countless school outreach presentations in Philadelphia and Genoa.

Citizenship Duel
Reflections on my struggle for dual U.S./Italian citizenship
            After over two years, I can say with pride that I finally succeeded in obtaining my Italian citizenship papers!  I wish I could say that this article is intended to help others who are on the same path, but I'm afraid the process has been so circuitous, and the bureaucratic waters so murky, that I dare not make any claims about clarifying it.  I can say that for me and my family, the work to be recognized as an Italian citizen has proven to be worthwhile.
            I am writing from Genoa, Italy, where I am living with my husband and younger of two sons.  We are enjoying a 6-month sabbatical away from the demands of our U.S. lives.  Theoretically, Italian citizenship implies that I can now legally work here.  However, as a freelance translator, with clients all over the world, that was already true for me.  But now I can open an Italian bank account.  This will make it easier for my European clients to pay me without incurring hefty international banking fees.  While I am here, I can be under a contract for broadband internet service rather than having to rely on the spotty and slow cell phone technology for my internet access.  I can use the shorter EU queues when passing through border checkpoints and come and go freely throughout the European Union.  Most importantly, I can stay in Italy past the 3-month time limit stipulated for a tourist visa. 
            Once more paperwork is filed and processed, our two sons will have Italian citizenship as well.  Given that there is no longer compulsory military service in Italy, I see this as purely a plus for them.  In the future, they may wish to spend an extended period of time in Europe, either for work or for study, and their citizenship status will help facilitate that.
Iure Sanguinis vs. Iure Soli
            All of this is due to a law in Italy, referred to as "iure sanguinis," which determines citizenship based on that person's blood line rather than where he or she was born.  Since my maternal grandparents were both Italian citizens when they came to the U.S. and, more importantly, had not yet become naturalized U.S. citizens when my mother was born, I qualified for Italian citizenship under this law.
I have heard murmurings that this law may soon change.  The government is considering granting citizenship to individuals who are born in Italy regardless of the nationality of their parents, also known as "iure soli."  I'm not sure whether "iure sanguinis" will be revoked once that change is made.  Perhaps, given the remarkably low birthrate in Italy, both paths toward citizenship will be honored, thus boosting the population numbers at least for a period of time.

What is involved?
            In the States, immigrants wanting to become American citizens must study English and learn enough about U.S. history to pass a written test.  My steps toward Italian citizenship did not require any such linguistic or cultural knowledge, though I wish they had.  I would have welcomed the opportunity to show off my Italian skills.  Instead, the process was a test in jumping through seemingly endless bureaucratic hoops, many of which I could not have accomplished without the help and advice of friends and friends-of-friends.  In short, I have an entire network of people to thank.  Since so many things in Italy operate on the basis of who you know, I suppose that this display of how adroitly one can cut through the red tape is indeed a sign of a true Italian citizen!
            When I began this process, I had the notion that I would calculate how much money it cost, so as to evaluate whether it had been worth my while.  But my records are a jumble: credit card charges to talk for only 3 minutes on the phone to the citizenship service at the Consulate; on-line fees to VitalChek for various birth, death, and marriage certificates; checks to various state governments to legalize my documents; money for postage, photos, train fare, parking, phone calls to various town halls in Italy; and countless Euros spent here in Italy for "bolletini" and "marche da bollo" to give the Italian government its share.
A new client: Myself!
Where I did save money was on the translation.  All the documents generated in the U.S. had to be translated into Italian.  The Italian Consulate even gave me a list of translators I could contact.  I called one or two of them since English >Italian is not my combination.  None of the names were colleagues from my local chapter, nor were they on the list of ATA translators.  The rates I was quoted were way beyond my means and when I asked politely about certification, the one response I got was an incoherent statement about being "certified for court."  Later, I was surprised to learn that there was no requirement that the translations be done by a certified English > Italian translator, so I took on the task myself.
These documents proved to be more challenging than I had originally anticipated.  I remember getting advice about the proper translation for "Orphan's Court."  Due to the idiosyncrasies of our local history, it was the Orphan's Court which administered the records of marriages in my parents’ jurisdiction.  Linguistically, the Italian equivalent would be "Tribunale di tutela dei minorenni," but I feared that this would make it appear that my parents were minors at the time of their marriage and I didn't want that confusion to slow down the citizenship process.  I was advised by Italian colleagues to leave the phrase in English and add an explanation in square brackets: [sezione del tribunale che si occupa di pratiche matrimoniali e di minori].

I smiled when reading that my father, upon applying for a marriage license back in 1952, had to sign a statement verifying, among other things, that he was "not an imbecile," "had not been held in a psychiatric hospital or a poor house," and "was physically capable of supporting a family."  The question put to the prospective bride was different.  My mother only had to state that she was not an imbecile.  Once I got over the sexism of this disparity, I marveled at the logic, or the lack thereof.  Would an imbecile be able to accurately perform a self-assessment of this kind?
A rose by any other name ...
I feel lucky that my Italian family line has displayed a noteworthy constancy in the marriage department.  My parents and, before them, my grandparents, married once and stayed married to the same person until they died.  No divorces and no remarriages, hence no name changes requiring complicated documentation.  However, my grandfather, born "Pietro" in Italy, adopted the more French name of "Pierre" upon moving to Paris, where he lived for many years before immigrating to the U.S.  The name "Pierre" endured.  I had to prove to the Italian authorities that what appeared to be two different people on paper, was actually only one person - not an easy task with the way records were kept in the early 1900's!
The language of bureaucracy
With all due respect to the hardworking staff at the Consulate, the instructions from the Citizenship office were not very helpful in steering me through this process.  Back in the spring of 2010, I got a handout with grainy, crooked type that appeared to have been printed on one of those old stencil machines from the pre-photocopy days.  It gave a very brief summary of what was involved.
For example, the instructions read, "Please make sure that all the non-Italian documents are legalized with the Apostille."  There was no further explanation as to who or what is an "Apostille[1]" or how to get the documents legalized.  It would also have been helpful to instruct us to allow 2-3 extra weeks for the apostille process, that it can only happen after the document has been obtained, and to point out that a document originating from a different state needs to be accompanied by the Apostille from that state.
What is noteworthy is what the instructions do not say.  There seems to be an absence of the words "because," "in order that," "since," "as," and "for the reason that."  I have noticed this phenomenon on many Italian forms.  Instructions are limited to the bare minimum.  If there is any ambiguity in how to interpret a certain statement, there is no explanatory phrase tacked on to clarify the question.  An Italian friend explained this terseness by saying, "Information is power.  It is not wise to give away too much of it.  Besides, the information is always subject to change so the least said the better.  That way the writer is not wrong."
To be or not to be?
        An unexpected side effect of getting my official Italian identity card is the existential dilemma I now face.   Think about all the times in the States when you are asked to show your driver's license as proof of identity and then multiply that number by ten.  That is the number of times I am asked to show "un documento" here in Italy.  Prior to obtaining my Italian "carta d'identità," I was obliged to show my U.S. passport in these situations.  This would usually elicit a surprised and unsolicited compliment like, "Lei é degli Stati Uniti?  Ma come parla bene l'italiano!"  I would pat myself on the back for my good pronunciation and grammar.  It felt great.

Last week, I went to the post office to pre-pay for my new Italian passport.  Italian post offices are like what I imagine purgatory to be - endless waiting.  Finally it was my turn.  I showed my "documento" as requested but this time I chose to show my Italian I.D. card, wanting to be more Italian.  I then proceeded to ask for a clarification on the proper way to complete the form. (I didn't know the proper format for spelling out the words of the fee seeing as how there were digits after the comma.)  The civil servant looked at me with disdain and disbelief as if to say, "What kind of idiot are you?"  It felt humbling.

However, these frustrations are minor compared to the great pleasures of living as Italians, and a more significant shift has recently occurred within our family.  As a function of our extended stay, our son now sees himself as a citizen of the world and is developing his own connections, and his own Italian identity, in this beautiful country.

Linda Pollack-Johnson
Italian > English C.T.
Newly minted citizen of Corropoli, Italy!

[1] Additional authentication required for international acceptance of notarized documents including (but not limited to) adoption papers, affidavits, birth certificates, contracts, death certificates, deeds, diplomas and degrees, divorce decrees, incorporation papers, marriage certificates, patent applications, powers of attorney, and school transcripts. Instituted by 'The Hague Convention Abolishing The Requirements Of Legalization For Foreign Public Documents' of 1961, its objective is to obviate "the requirements of diplomatic or consular legalization" and thus replace the cumbersome 'chain authentication method' that called for verification by multiple authorities. As prescribed by the convention, an apostille (French for, notation) is a preprinted small (minimum 9 x 9 centimeters) form having ten numbered items of information with blank spaces to be filled in by the designated authority in the issuing country. It is obligatory upon every signatory country to accept apostilles of the other signatory countries. (Business Dictionary)

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