Tuesday, September 30, 2014
A Crossing Over
"Adele, come up to the deck quickly. It is just as they said. The statue is there. I can see it! Come quickly!" Thus I imagine my grandfather calling for my grandmother to come out onto the deck as their steamship slipped into New York harbor and glided past the Statue of Liberty. As though he’d imagined America from afar, he was now experiencing it. That day in April 1906, Domenico Antonio and Adele Giacomina Zanardelli Monico were but two of the upwards of 800 third class passengers aboard the 11,600 ton steamer, USS Saint Paul.
This was the day a part of me came to America. When I think back on this event, the crossing over of the Monico family from Italy to America and consider the bravery demanded of my grandparents in a move steeped in anxiety and uncertainty, it was nothing less than a historic crossing on a celebrated ship. Launched in Philadelphia in 1895 for the International Navigation Company, the St Paul was the first American steamer to harness what was called screw express technology. Three years following its christening, now newly fitted with 5-inch guns by the US Navy, she became part of history when the Saint Paul participated in the 2nd Battle of San Juan in the Spanish-American War. Later, long after my grandparents had crossed and gone ashore at Ellis Island, it continued to perform passenger service for the American Line, running between NYC and Southampton England for years until in 1918, renamed the USS Knoxville, it served as a WWI armed transport.
In the USA my grandparents raised eight children, one of whom was my father, christened Domenic after his father. My memory of my grandparents is sketchy to say the least. I never knew my grandfather. Domenico passed away at a very young age only thirteen years after their arrival, well before I was born. A brief visit with my ailing grandmother when I was about seven, is now only a vague memory. I wish I'd been interested earlier in my family's history and the stories that revolve around the Monico clan. Now that I have acquire that interest, all my Monico aunts and uncles are deceased. There is no one to talk to about my family, to listen to their stories of shared experiences, hardships endured, and lives begun and lived-out. My Italian heritage was fading like an old Polaroid image.
While as a child French was spoken in our home, it was my Italian bloodline that appealed most to me. It really exploded after visiting Italy a number of times, including the town of our family's origin, Cadegliano-Viconago. Yes, I was a second generation Italian-American, yet I had an equal amount of French blood in me. My mother, Mercedes, was of French lineage extending back to the founding of Quebec and farther still to Paris and the countryside of Normandy, circa 1430. I felt no urge, however, to explore my French ancestry, present though it was in our home. This, even though my father knew little Italian nor did he promote his Italian heritage. Yes, there were the occasional Italian words thrown about, and yes my mom learned to cook Italian food well, but overall, my greatest exposure to things Italian occurred when I’d deliver the local newspaper every day to the “Raucci and Vasile” Italian market in my hometown! The smells, the sawdust strewn across the floor, the open barrels of olives, the mysterious cans with flamboyant labels and slabs of prosciutto and bulbous cheeses dangling from the ceiling like vigil lamps hanging in a church, were my true initiation. I guess I just loved the food and later, the wines. My gradual conversion from 'half-blood' was underway and the metamorphosis continued through a lifetime of reading, movies, travels in Italy and the eventual purchase of a home there. I was in love with my wife, my family and now Italy! I'd become a wannabe Italian yearning to return to my roots, most likely brought on by my more virulent Italian genes. For all I knew the bloodlines of the world ran through me going back well beyond 1430. I was an Italian and now I wanted to become a true Italian, passport and all. Could it be done? Was it even possible? This yearning now kindled in me, I needed to try.
It was from my father that I learned that our family roots originated in Viconago (later to merge with nearby Cadegliano to become Cadegliano-Viconago) close to Lake Lugano on Italy's northern border with Switzerland. Who knows, this accident of geography may explain why I have blue eyes! It was this information that anchored my search and was enough to get me started. It was about all I knew when I set off to become a dual citizen, the holder of both an American and Italian passport. There would be so much more to learn and even more to accomplish if it was ever to come about.
Besides fulfilling a dream, an Italian passport has its benefits. I could reside and travel freely within any of the 27 countries of the European Union (EU) without the constraint of a 90 day visa. As an Italian citizen, I'd also receive the benefits of being a citizen of the EU - comprehensive, affordable healthcare being one of them, which was of growing importance the older I got. It would also eliminate much of the bureaucracy associated with owning property in Italy, to include owning a car in Calitri, if we desired. There were also derivative perks like the ability to travel the world with greater safety and pass Italian citizenship on to my wife and children, if they were so inclined.
I learned that according to Italian Law 91, Italian citizenship is conferred by jure sanguinis (right of blood). In other words, a descendant of an Italian citizen, like myself, is already an Italian citizen through their bloodline. I liked the sound of that. I only needed to have my Italian citizenship recognized by the Italian government by producing evidence that everyone in my direct line of ascendants, without interruption, had maintained their Italian citizenship. It was easy to say, but right off, I suspected something else to prove. Additionally, some basic criteria applied to everyone seeking citizenship. My Italian ancestor (Domenico in my case) must have been alive after March 17, 1861, the date of Italy's unification (he was) and must not have become a citizen of the United States before July 1, 1912. I had my fingers crossed on that. Additionally, if my grandfather had become a US citizen, it could not have been prior to the birth of my father, the direct line through which I was eligible. At this point I wondered how to go about proving a negative, that my grandfather had never done something. Finally, neither I nor any of the ancestors in my direct line must never have renounced their Italian citizenship. At least I knew I hadn't and was pretty sure my dad hadn't since neither of us ever had official Italian citizenship to renounce. No one said it would be easy and these were only the opening qualifications. Dates aside, I had to prove that my father was born in the United States, that his father had been born in Italy and was an Italian citizen at the time of my father's birth, and neither my father or I had ever renounced your Italian citizenship. I had my work cut out for me.
I began my quest by focusing on the Italian documents I'd need. To me they represented the long poles in the tent. They amounted to four documents
· My grandfather's birth certificate
· Proof of my grandfather's Italian citizenship
· My paternal grandmother's birth certificate
· My grandparents' marriage certificate
While I knew grandfather was from Viconago and assumed he had married there, I hadn't the slightest idea where my grandmother, Adele, was from. Could I assume Viconago? The mystery surrounding her even extended to how exactly her name was spelled. Her maiden name, Zanardelli, was often misspelled, going so far as to appear incorrectly spelled on her headstone (photo above). I asked my best friend in Calitri, Antonio, if he could give the consolidated Cadegliano-Viconago commune a call to see what he could learn. Sure enough, he reported that in his conversation with a town official, he’d confirmed they had my grandfather's birth and marriage records. Unfortunately, my grandmother was not from there. Interestingly, in the margin of the ledger, where a birth was recorded, they'd later record a future marriage, if any. So the birth certificate would also provide the record of his marriage to Adele. As for proof he was an Italian citizen, things are different then you might imagine. Just because you are born in Italy, doesn't ipso facto mean you are an Italian! It would require a separate certified document from Italy to say so.
My grandmother remained a mystery. Although today it remains an atrophied memory, I still can't recall how it came about and how I learned of Collio. Collio, where I discovered my grandmother was born, is a mountainous wine country town near Lake Garda, not far from the provincial capital, Brescia. I recall my father mentioning Brescia, in turn, most likely from his mother’s tales. Surprisingly, Collio and Viconago are separated by 200 km. With such a distance between them, it's a wonder they ever met, another story I’d never learn. Using Google Earth to zoom in on Collio, I could see that its main square is named Piazza Zanardelli. Just maybe hers had been an important family in the area. Interestingly, 200 km away, a plaque on the wall of the Cadegliano-Viconago town hall contains a bust of my great grandfather, Francesco Monico (1845 - 1911) in high relief. Turns out, he was the first mayor of Cadegliano. From the grateful townspeople, this plaque commemorates his introduction of running water (aquedotto) and washing facilities (lavatoio) to the town. What exactly these wash facilities were, I've still no idea. On a visit there years earlier, we had noted a fountain in the town square with the name Monico emblazoned across its base. This may have been part of it, but for years we had associated lavatoio with lavatories, an easy enough mistake. In fact, one of our grandchildren, years ago, hearing the story, told her teacher that her family had invented the toilet! Would that it were true and might pull some weight at my upcoming citizenship application meeting! Anecdotal evidence aside, each side of my particular branch of the Monico tree had apparently been influential in their respective communities.
How long my pursuit would take I'd no idea but I sensed I'd need help before long. A friend of mine had gone through the process, so I contacted him. He'd gone all the way with little difficulty. Now in addition to himself, his wife and their two children had attained Italian citizenship, with passports to prove it. Relatives in Sicily had been instrumental in collecting all the Italian documents he needed. Would that mine would go as smoothly. Unfortunately, I had no living relatives in Cadegliano-Viconago, nor could I expect Antonio to visit my ancestral home town, the length of the country away, on my behalf. Instead I sought professional help, available I quickly learned, through what else but that fabulous invention, the Internet. Their names were Lauren and Carlo (Your Italian Passport). Lauren, a practicing attorney of Italian-American descent, had a thorough understanding of the ins and outs of the Italian dual citizenship application process. Her partner, Carlo, is a native Italian with dual citizenship. Through many years as the international liaison for a prominent Italian-American cultural organization, Carlo had developed countless personal and professional relationships with officials at the Italian Embassy in Washington, the various Italian consulates throughout the United States, as well as with Italian officials throughout Italy. I liked the sound of that and immediately wondered if he had cultivated any with the consulate officials in Boston. I called them my Dream Team when it came to navigating the complicated process of applying for Italian dual citizenship. After supplying them everything I knew about my grandparents, I asked Your Italian Passport to cut the long tent poles down to size and acquire the four records I needed from Italy. I would concentrate on obtaining the American documents.
Beyond being officially signed and specially stapled, then stamped over the staples so as not to be able to slip some bogus page into the Italian records, there were a slew of American documents required. All told, there were eight needed in evidence - an assortment of birth, death and marriage certificates across three states. Obtaining them did not simply mean walking into a local town hall to obtain an official, raised-seal certified copy as I naively thought at first. That would have been too easy for this scavenger hunt.
Today, to put it mildly, there is little trust between individuals. We employ intermediaries in the form of lawyers, real estate agents, notary republics, even sometimes taking inanimate form in the likes of PayPal, McAfee software and lengthy ten symbol and alphanumeric passwords. Between governments there is equal mistrust. To foster some confidence in legal matters between governments, a Hague Convention instituted the apostille. Here was a word I'd never seen or heard. The convention specified the modalities by which a document issued in one of the signatory countries can be certified for legal purposes in other signatory states. The apostille (French for certification) is an authentication document provided by the Office of the Secretary of State of the state where the document was issued. This explained why a town hall document wasn't competent enough authority!
So in addition to requiring that all the American records of births, marriages and deaths be in long-form, officially signed and sealed by the appropriate Secretary of State, each additionally had to be "apostilled", if there is such a verb! Costs were mounting - apostilles from Connecticut alone were $40 each in addition to the long-form document fees. Time was also passing when it took over two months just to get the long-form certified records. God forbid if I forgot to request one and had to wait another two months. Since my entire stack of state signed and raised seal certified, long-form and apostilled documents would eventually make the reverse trip my grandparents had to Cadegliano-Viconago for their safe keeping, it was also necessary that each be accompanied by an Italian translation! Then, when I called a few months back to make my citizenship appointment with the Boston Italian Consulate, I was informed that effective July ’14, an application fee had been instituted to process citizenship claims in addition to the ultimate cost for the passport itself, which like my American passport, I had expected. It was a whopping additional 300 Euros or something in the vicinity of $400! Ouch, this was beginning to pinch.
While this was churning in all its modalities (I like this word!) at the state level, the Federal government also played a hand. To prove that grandfather hadn't applied for or ever became a U.S. citizen, I had to contact both the National Archives and Homeland Security in the form of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). Both had to cull through their databases to see if such evidence existed. Was there any hope when the news at the time announced that Homeland Security had lost track of six thousand foreign student visas? But then, since I was hoping they couldn't find anything on my grandfather, maybe this was a positive sign! Once again I turned to Lauren to intercede on my behalf. From the National Archives I eventually received a WWI Draft Registration Card indicating that on 12 Sept 1918 my grandfather had declared himself a "Non-declarant Alien" and also indicated he remained an Italian citizen. On this discovery, I could have broken into a happy dance but instead popped open the Prosecco! This was five years after my father had been born, which was just what I wanted to hear. It was also about four months before Domenico died in Feb 1919 of the Spanish flu epidemic ravaging the country at the time. I doubt that in those remaining 140 days of his life, some of which he'd been ill, he had bothered to seek US citizenship or had otherwise obtained it, since from start to finish it took years. However, this in itself was insufficient. I was apparently dealing with the Junior Varsity. The Archives informed me that though they hadn’t found any evidence of his citizenship, only USCIS had jurisdiction in this matter. Only they could certify whether citizenship had or had not occurred. I replaced the cork as best I could for the time being and waited. What I needed was a "no letter" from USCIS. I refer to it as a "no letter" because Homeland Security, speaking with the full authority of the United States Government, had to certify the non-existence of any records of grandfather's naturalization. I needed to be notified that my grandfather had never obtained U.S. citizenship. It eventually arrived to state, "That after a diligent search was performed in these database systems, no record was found to exist indicating that the subject listed below obtained naturalization as a citizen of the United States". I'd received my “no letter" and popping open a new, fresh and bubbly bottle of Prosecco, momentarily basked in the glow of modest achievement, indebted to my grandfather. Thanks pop-pop.
Now all that remains to be done, I think, is to present and explain my evidence during my upcoming appointment set for 9 Dec at the Boston Italian Consulate. That is if it happens at all on the appointed date. I was counseled that it might be postponed if the citizenship official decides to go on vacation! To get the appointment had taken many calls, and when no one answered, I'd left behind "please call me" voice messages at the prompt. If I have to, I'm more than willing to wait longer to tell my jure sanguinis story. My grandparents, Domenico and Adele, had risked all and made a perilous journey, crossing over to a new beginning in America. Now here I was taking a similar though reverse journey, albeit all on paper and void of any peril, back to Viconago to claim a birthright. If it works out, I will be a dual citizen of both my land of birth, America, and the land of my blood, Italy. I will have lost nothing yet enhanced my options greatly. With a bit of luck and a sympathetic interviewer interested in making it happen, I should do fine. Stay tuned, I just might get the Christmas present of my life!
From That Rogue Tourist,
Posted by Paolo and Maria Elena at 1:43 AM