My Journey to Obtain Dual Citizenship

By Mimi Torchia Boothby
      As a youth, I read that the Italian government welcomed Americans of Italian heritage that could speak Italian. I didn't think too much about it. I was taking Italian, but had no pressing plans to move to Italy. Gradually through the years, I had found myself leaning further and further towards Italian citizenship, but with two children and a full time job, I didn't have much time for it.

      Enter the internet… fast easy access to information on how to get dual citizenship for Americans with Italian heritage. I sent away for information, after reading confusing accounts of what you needed and how to do it. I read this stuff over and over and over again, even up to the very end, trying to figure out whether or not I even qualified.

      After my father's home was ransacked by family members the day after my stepmother died, there was very little left of any value. Of any value to anyone except me, that is. I was given, out of everything that had been in that house, two things. My own daily Missal from my youth, and a little black steel box. Inside of it were absolute treasures for me but of no use to anyone else. I have no idea why they weren't tossed as trash.

      Inside the box: my grandfather's birth certificate, two certificates of matrimony for my grandparents (one for the church and one for the city of Newark) and three certificates of Naturalization. My grandfather's, my grandmother's and my great grandfather's.

      Meanwhile, in 1998 I went to the County deeds department in Newark, and got copies of my grandfather's declaration of intent. Since I had just gotten his Naturalization certificate, with all the dates and numbers on it, it was easy to get those papers. I still had no idea how important this stuff was, I was just doing it for genealogy, family history, hoping to glean a few facts from papers that my grandfather filled out nearly 100 years before. Sometime in 1999 I contacted the consulate's office and got their official directions for how to obtain Italian Citizenship. It explained who could get their citizenship recognized, and which documents were needed to prove your line of descent from an Italian family.

      I discovered that I had almost everything. What I needed: needed: Birth certificate for my father and mother, birth certificate for my grandfather, my birth certificate, a marriage certificate for my grandparents and for my parents and my own marriage certificate, which had a little name problem... So I sent away for the ones I didn't have. Got them. That vitalchek website was very convenient for this, you can get certificates ordered from most states instantly, and they come quickly.

      Then the Apostille. An Apostille is a specific authenticating certificate that is required by certain countries, including Italia. Each state has a different price. The only thing that is the same, is that you have to send your newly acquired certificates AWAY in the mail to the Secretary of State of whichever state that the birth or marriage certificate was issued in.

      For me, that was, one in Idaho, and 4 or 5 in New Jersey. At that time, New Jersey charged $25.00 for EACH ONE. When I was calling around trying to find out how to get an Apostille, I was told that they would only accept certificates with the current county assessor's seal on them or if they less than 2 years old! Oh no. My grandparent's certificate was over 80 years old! So then I had to write and get all those certificates again. That is, new ones.

      I still wasn't certain whether or not I needed an Apostille for the certificate of naturalization. Some people said yes, some said no. So I investigated. I finally sent that precious document to some office in Washington DC with a check, certified overnight air; terrified of losing it in a federal vault somewhere. It came back. Quickly in fact. I was told it had to go somewhere else.

      Then I decided to visit the Naturalization department right here in Seattle and ask someone in person. THAT was an experience. I had to stand outside in a line for an hour. It was 45 degrees out and but fortunately sunny. The people around me were a veritable rainbow. All different faces, languages, dress.

      My turn finally came up, and I explained my problem. I needed documentation, I needed an Apostille. Was this the correct document? I handed the leather bound certificate to the guy, and he cradled it in his hands. Oh, he said, "this is ours. I've never seen one this old! This is wonderful" he asked how I got it, and enjoyed my story. He assured me it was the right document, and that it was all I needed and sent me on my way.

      Time passes. I called Dr Luciani in San Francisco, because I thought I was ready to submit all my documents to her and she said, "By the way, we want birth certificates for your mother, your grandmother, and your husband too. but lucky you, they don't need Apostilles!" How nice! And neither does that naturalization certificate of your grandfather's and by the way, everything needs to be translated by an OFFICIAL translator." The translation only cost $52.00, they charged me by the word.

      I went to Italy in September, 2001. I strolled into the Comune office in my grandfather's home town and got a brand new copy of his birth certificate. It cost nothing and they were very kind and pleasant. I wished I had more time there.

      Finally I flew to San Francisco. I sat before Dr Luciani. She looked at the papers, writing down dates, names, numbers. She got to the certificate of naturalization, which had more than 1 typo on it, including my grandfather's name, and the date of naturalization. She crossed her arms, took a deep breath, and said, "I'm afraid we have a problem.....". what's that?

      "This name and date, they're not right, they could be anyone" So I pulled out the declaration of intent that I had obtained just for fun in Newark. Filled out by my grandfather. The name spelled right, the right dates. "ah," cried Dr Luciani "This is very good! it's a good thing you have this."

      That was in October 2001. She called me the following January to tell me I needed my grandfather's birth certificate. "WHAT! I cried, you have that already!" I could hear papers shuffling. "Oh, here it is"

      Next thing, February, she lets me know that all my stuff was going to the consulate in New Jersey because most of my documents originated there, and they needed to do some checking. So more anxiety. Now I am dealing with TWO consulates!! Imagine the possible amount of damage that could occur with two of them!

      I waited until June and finally called New Jersey. Paper shuffling. Ah, yes, we have your application, no we haven't done anything with it, but we will soon!

      Then finally, in July, comes a fat envelope. For my son Tom, who had applied with me. Where was mine? Almost 3 weeks later, mine showed up. They had had the address wrong!

      In this packet were several forms. I had to fill out 3 separate applications. One for my town in Italy; Sersale, the town where my grandfather was born, is where my birth certificate will be kept. One for passport, and one to be an Italian citizen abroad. I thought I would be getting something else official, besides the passport, but I was told that the Identity card that all Italians have is only issued to Italians living in Italy.

My reason for obtaining dual citizenship

      I received my official recognition as an Italian citizen today (August 2, 2002); and wanted to tell you all why I did it.

      My grandparents came to this country when they were very young. They came to a place that treated them as less than equal. They were considered dirty and stupid, even "colored". They learned to adapt, to fit in, to try and hide their "otherness", their foreign-ness. But they were still proud of where they came from and of what they were. The mainstream of society humbled them, but they did not forget. They learned a second language, found jobs, voted, joined unions, bought homes.

      They learned how to succeed in this unwelcoming place. After all, there was opportunity, you just had to work hard to find it. They found edible wild plants in the fields around their houses even as they grew lush wonderful gardens.

      Their children were born, American children, and they encouraged them to be American. Their children learned to speak English without an accent, they dressed fashionably, went to school, became "modern". Many of them scorned the old country ways which didn't seem to have value in this new country. They adopted American customs and holidays. The traditions were slipping, and so was the language.

      Then my generation was born. We were lucky to learn a handful of Italian words. Most of us didn't even know where in Italy our grandparents were born, when they got here or why they left. The Italian traditions we knew about were usually centered around food, like how to make pizza or maybe a grandmother's favorite cookie recipe. I promised my grandfather I'd never forget him. I meant I would never forget the things he told me, the things he was proud of, his history, my history. As soon as I could, I started to learn his language, or at least what I thought was his language. What my grandparents did by leaving their home, they did for us. They wanted a better place for us. And I think they were very successful in that way. But we lost a lot too.

      I have been able to reclaim my citizenship to the country they were born in. It was a special unknowing gift of my grandfather's to me, only available to me because my own father was born before my grandfather gave up his Italian citizenship, long before I even existed.

      When I was very young, I read that it was possible to get an Italian citizenship if you were of Italian blood, and it had always been a distant dream of mine. Now I see it as a way to make up for the many losses of my grandparents. They gave up their citizenship to come here. They left loved ones, comfort, and security. Because of their sacrifices I am here, where I raised my own, thoroughly American children. But we did not forget. My children have a strong idea of their heritage, and know that there is much much more there, they only need to ask.

      My reasons for reclaiming my Italian citizenship are firmly tied to the memories, pride, and heritage of my grandparents. It is important that all that they had is not lost. The things that they held dear and feared losing are also important to me, and I strive to preserve them. Their memories and the memories of them are precious, and I have done my best to celebrate them.

      I also sought my Italian citizenship because of all my teachers, associates and fellow children who corrected me when I said I was Italian so long ago, (no you're not, you're American) until I just gave up saying it. I became tired of my heritage being taken away from me by people who did not know or understand.

      I always was Italian. I just finally got the paperwork.

      Mimi received her Italian passport August 31, 2002

      If you need help or have questions about getting your own Italian citizenship re-established, please send me an email at the address below. I am not a lawyer or a legal expert, but I can answer some of your questions.

      To find your ancestor's naturalization records, go here - the US Citizenship and Immigration records department

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