We landed hard. It was April of 2007 and Nick and I had returned from warm, sunny, magnificent Italy to a typical upstate NY spring snow-squall. We actually sat in our living room and cried the day after we returned. The contrast between Italy and home was so drastic. It’s not that we didn’t like our home and lives, but the trip to Italy had opened our eyes and hearts to the life we aspired to. We made a promise to each other that someday we would retire to Italy.
Not only had we fallen hard and fast for each other, we had been seriously bitten by the travel bug. We took another trip to Italy in the Spring of 2008, and honeymooned in Paris that October. Our weepy promise to retire overseas had ignited into a burning desire to retire early and travel. But we had 5 kids between us and 3 of them were in college. As a career civil servant I could retire early, but that was still almost 10 years away. And the stock market was tanking.
As life’s complications piled on, our dream to retire early and move abroad seemed unachievable. We were no longer able to take an annual trip abroad. How were we going to be able to afford our dream retirement? But neither one of us was ready to abandon the plan. In fact, the urge continued to grow.
Was this plan realistic? Could we really do it? I had so many questions and wasn’t getting the answers I needed from the internet, so I logged on to Amazon and selected 2 books that sounded like they had been written just for us: The Grown-Up’s Guide to Running Away From Home by Rosanne Knorr and Retirement Without Borders by Barry Golson.
Both of these books were chock full of information and inspiration, but it was in Retirement Without Borders that I read these life-altering lines.
“An American of Italian descent might qualify for (Italian) citizenship under any of the following circumstances: he or she (1) has an Italian grandfather and was born after 1947; (2) was born in Italy and is over age 21; (3) has Italian parents; (4) is married to an Italian citizen; or (5) has lived in Italy for more than a decade.”
Wait!! Nick and I are BOTH part Italian! More research on the internet led me to a wealth of information on Italian dual citizenship. The first critical question was whether or not our immigrant ancestors naturalized as US citizens before or after they had children. When our immigrant ancestors became naturalized United States citizens, they had to give up their Italian Citizenship. If they naturalized after they had children, then those children were born to Italian Citizens in the US, and had dual citizenship at birth. If our immigrant ancestors naturalized before they had children, then the children were born to US citizens in the US and have no claim to Italian citizenship. (Those rules were later changed, and now US citizens can have dual-citizenship.) There are other tricky rules for Italian citizenship, including some regarding citizenship passed through the maternal line versus the paternal line, but I was blissfully unaware as I excitedly told Nick that I thought we might be able to obtain Italian dual citizenship!
This should be easy! My Grandfather had been born in the US to Italian immigrants. All I need to do is get every birth, marriage and death certificate starting with my Great-Grandparents! Although my Grandfather had passed away many years ago, I was confident that my Dad would know the family history. But it is surprising how people’s knowledge and memory get murky pretty quickly when you go back more than one generation.
It took a subscription to Ancestry.com, months of research and a bit of luck for me to determine that I was indeed entitled to be recognized as an Italian citizen based on the 25% of my DNA attributable to my Italian ancestors. I enthusiastically leapt into the bureaucratic rabbit hole of documenting every birth, marriage and death in my Italian line back starting in 1871 with the birth of my Great-Grandfather, Eugenio Passarelli. In October of 2011, 3 years after I began the quest, I successfully obtained my Italian citizenship. That may sound like a long time, but believe me, it was warp speed for this process! This spring, eight years after I started our quest for Italian citizenship, Nick received his citizenship, too.
We wanted citizenship for practical reasons, so that we could more easily live in Italy or any other European Union country when we retired, but it quickly turned into so much more. It’s hard to believe how much you can learn about people from their birth, marriage and death certificates, from the manifests of the ships that they arrived on. Our lives have been enriched by learning just a little about our relatives who left everything they knew to journey to the America. There was no safety net for them. They worked hard and made a better life for themselves, for their children, and for all the children that follow. We owe them so much, the least we can do is to know something about them, even if it’s as simple as the year they were born and the town that they came from. They deserve to be remembered.
Now I finally realize that ten years ago, when I couldn’t wait for the journey to start, it had already begun.