Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Path to Dual Citizenship - An Update

I had a fantastic time with my mom yesterday, one that brought up a lot of memories for her and a lot of new ones for me.

It has been a little over five years since I began the quest to gather all of the documents I would need to official become a dual citizen in Italy. I have had mixed results over the years and honestly, haven't gotten very far. To apply for citizenship I essentially need every document that connects me to my great-grandfather who came here from Italy just after the turn of the 20th Century.  I've learned a lot along the way about my ancestors. I have had varied emotions about my pursuit and wondered often if this would have been something he wanted his descendants to do some day down the road.

I came through these thoughts coming to the conclusion two years ago that YES, he would appreciate my efforts to regain the attachment to his homeland. The main persuasion came in the mail, via a copy of his naturalization record. He showed that he was naturalized just months after the birth of my grandfather, his youngest child. I think deep down he knew that he wanted to have all of his children, American born, before he himself became a citizen. Whether or not he knew that waiting until after they were all born would mean I had full access to obtaining citizenship is up for debate. (If he had been naturalized prior to my grandfather's birth, I couldn't gain citizenship). I think he waited on purpose. To think he had signed up for the US Military during WWI and waited all that time to officially gain American citizenship is amazing.

I found a great blog recently that expresses how these questions can be difficult for descendants. The woman who wrote this post lays it all out in the second half of this website.

My own grandfather died when I was in junior high school. I can remember him speaking a word of Italian now and then. He would raise his hands after he was done eating to signal he was finished. I always wondered if that was an Italian thing or just his thing. I didn't know many of my Italian relatives. I have met a few since I was a kid and it seems they are scattered around the country. I do know a lot of my Grandma's relatives (not Italians), since they were always living near each other in Florida or close by my immediate family in Illinois. But the Italian side was a pretty big mystery.

I've since learned that my Mom spend Sundays with her Italian relatives. She has told stories about the black pepper tortellini (or was it a ravioli?) that one lucky person would get on their plate. I've seen pictures of their gatherings. They all look happy. I think all of the pictures of my mom with her family on both sides always looked like a big group of happy people.

That is why yesterday was so special. We spent an hour or so before lunch calling to get marriage and birth certificates. We pinned down places where we might get an official naturalization record. I'm tasked with writing a church to get some sort of birth notice for my great-grandmother. We then went to lunch at a new spot (Tom & Eddies) and enjoyed conversation and specialty Cokes from the fancy coke machine (yes I had cherry sprite zero!).

We then drove to a nearby cemetery to visit the graves of my great-aunt and great-uncle who passed away in recent years. She had not visited their graves yet. At least, I thought that is what we were doing. Turns out, my great-grandfather who came here from Italy and great-grandmother are also buried in the same cemetery. Somehow I had missed that tidbit when we planned out the day a few weeks ago!

In the cemetery, once we headed towards my great-grandparents' grave, my mom started remembering details on where it was located. She came a lot as a child with my grandpa. She remembered the corner, the shrubs, the tree and a well where she could get water to water plants that were left there. I was impressed as it all flooded back. We stood at their grave and she introduced me to them (it was beyond touching - if cemeteries didn't creep me out so much I'd have cried!). I said a silent thank-you and hello.

We noticed some new things. My great-grandmother's middle initial is L. My great-grandfather's birth year is listed as 1892. Everything I have says 1893. (I've suspected he lied about his age when he arrived at immigration for some time now. He was 15 and 1 month from turning 16 so much have had some reason to claim he was 16 upon arrival). I expect there was some sort of child law that prevented those under 16 from traveling alone. Two of his older brothers had come over years earlier. You can read more about the immigration experience at Ellis Island here.

I still have a long way to go before I accomplish my goal of dual citizen. I need my great-grandfather's birth certificate, which seems to be non-existent in the place where his brothers' birth records are kept. I did attempt to research when I was in Italy three years ago but the records office was on strike. Poor timing!

I also need apostille on each document and translations into Italian for all records that are not from Italy - which is most of them. It will probably be another five years before my quest is complete, but it is so worth it!

So why the desire for citizenship? One, because it is possible and it is my heritage. I want to preserve it. I am the furthest generation allowed to earn it. If I don't do it, my descendants will never have the chance and may lose the connection to Italy which I think is so special. Secondly, having an EU passport makes travel in Europe much simpler. Have you ever been in a line waiting to get through Immigration at a major Euro airport? The EU lines entering the country are so short!

I'll update on this project as I progress. It may be few and far between though. We shall see!


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Travel Bingo

This post has been in the works for years, and I'm finally getting around to writing it. It makes sense, really. Last weekend I made one of my final trips between Champaign and Chicagoland - twice. I came up to Chicago to see Sister Hazel, my favorite live band on Saturday night and then moved in Monday. With that much driving through almost nothing but farmland and an occasional town or wind turbine, you need something to keep yourself occupied. The radio doesn't always cut it. I've listened to Italian language programs, audiobooks and news radio. You need something to look for. A game of sorts. It helps on long drives.

As a kid, we had little red plastic boards that had pull tabs, almost like a bingo board with different objects under the tabs. As you saw them on your roadtrip, you pulled the tab across.  They looked something like these:
We had a roadtrip every year growing up. We travelled with three other families (the fathers had all been college roomates) who by the time I was a teen lived across the USA. Each year one family picked the destination. We did everything from Colorado, Virginia, Tennessee & New York. We did family trips, too, to see my grandparents and family in Florida and Virginia. In addition to the bingo games we did license plate searches, seeing who could get the most on a trip or even which color car we saw the most.

Weirdly, the license plate thing stuck with me even into adulthood. I tended to keep my eyes peeled for plates on my walk to work when I lived in the city. On an average day I saw six state plates. If I didn't see six on my way in I superstitiously believed it would be a rough day. I don't know if that was ever true, although I had my share of difficult days! There weren't many days I saw less than six. (You can see my previous post about this obsession here).

Moving on to my last four years living in Central Illinois, I needed a new thing to occupy my two and a half hour drive north (for the record, my best time was exactly two hours door to door). What I discovered was that early on in those first few drives the same trucks tended to pop up in my view. The one I recognized most often was the Sherwin Williams paint truck. It has a vibrant red and blue coloring on the back and sides and is hard to miss. Only once, in my many drives north and south did I not see one of these trucks. And last weekend I even saw one being hauled by a yellow cab, adding to the color mix. Here is a picture of one I took earlier this year:

In fact, on that Saturday drive before I moved, I saw a record 11 Sherwin Williams trucks going north and seven coming back. I'd never seen that many. Apparently they are really on the move during the weekends!

So there you go. I'll probably come up with something new as I drive north to school and back each day. It will probably be license plates for a while. (I have just three left to find this year - Alaska, Delaware and Rhode Island - two of which I hope to see when I head to New York sometime later this year. And yes, I did see Hawaii. It was just north of Rantoul on I-57 about two months ago!)

What do you do to occupy yourself on your travels? I'd love to know. Leave a comment and share your travel tales!