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Italy Invites Ethnic Italians In San Diego To ‘Come Back Home’

Aired 10/24/12 on KPBS News.

Italy is appealing to ethnic Italians in San Diego and around the world to become citizens of the old country, in hopes it will beef up their dwindling native population.

The animated sounds of Italian and American English rose and fell as I walked around the Italian Cultural Center in San Diego's "Little Italy." The mood was festive. We were waiting for the Italian General Consul of Southern California to show up. He was late of course.

The Americans, at least, were here to apply for passports. Italian passports. San Diegan Sal Gelardi had already been granted his Italian citizenship.

"A few weeks ago I received a postcard from the town where my mother was born saying I could vote there,” said Gelardi. “So that's how I found out I was an Italian citizen."

Victor Laruccia and Dennis Stewart are Italian Americans in San Diego who have become dual citizens of the U.S. and Italy.
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Above: Victor Laruccia and Dennis Stewart are Italian Americans in San Diego who have become dual citizens of the U.S. and Italy.

Americans like Gelardi had spent time digging through vital statistics and immigration records to prove their Italian heritage. That's what it takes to convince a willing Italian government that you should be made a citizen of that country.

By one count, at least 2,500 people in San Diego County are Americans who are also Italian citizens. It's a sample of what's going on with European countries, of dwindling populations, who are looking to the lost souls of their diaspora to beef up the nation with that good old native blood.

Italian Americans have variety of reasons for wanting to become Italian citizens. Victor Laruccia is director of the San Diego Italian Film Festival.

"Well, obviously the emotional connection is very important,” said Laruccia. “But I also have a grandson, and I really like the idea of having him make the decisions about where he'd like to live, work and be educated."

From the American standpoint, why not become an Italian citizen? It applies to you and your offspring. It means you (and they) can work in Italy, study there, buy property, vote and travel freely. And that’s not all. As an Italian citizen you're free to seek employment throughout the European Union.

The man at the hub of the scene in Little Italy's cultural center was a charming Neapolitan and former Italian air force colonel named Roberto Ruocco. He’s the go-to guy for San Diegans who want to apply for Italian citizenship.

Ruocco is a great salesman when it comes to encouraging Americans to apply for Italian citizenship. Upon learning my wife's great-grandparents came from Naples, he quickly emailed me a form that she could fill out to get the process started.

To the nation of Italy, according to Ruocco, this is a chance to reclaim families who left generations ago and went on to become educated professionals in the U.S. He said hard times over the years have forced so many Italians to emigrate, and it has been a huge brain drain for the country.

Roberto Ruocco is a former Italian Air Force Colonel and the man San Diegans go to if they want to become  Italian citizens.
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Above: Roberto Ruocco is a former Italian Air Force Colonel and the man San Diegans go to if they want to become Italian citizens.

"It’s been a loss of expertise, a loss of, if you will, cultural investment on these Italians,” he said. “And now, the law wants them back."

There's another reason for courting Americans: Low birth rates. And Italians don't want to rely on immigration to bolster their population because Italy is one of many countries that see blood ties as the foundation of their citizenship and national identity.

Ruocco said that's why Italy is searching the ranks of ethnic Italians in North and South America for fresh blood.

"Because right now the new births in Italy are of children born to people from African countries, or Eastern countries or the Chinese countries, so the identity of the Italians as such could be lost in the future," said Ruocco.

John Skrentny is director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at UC San Diego, and he points out that Italy is not alone. Many countries in Europe and East Asia have seen their birthrates fall dangerously low.

"They are undergoing an unprecedented demographic challenge,” said Skrentny. “The world has never seen this before, where birthrates have plummeted well below replacement level.”

It is very common for countries to found citizenship on blood or ethnic ties. That’s why so many other countries with low birth rates are similarly reluctant to view immigration as the solution.

"And so what you'll see in these places like Italy is an effort to balance this. They want to get more people to come, but they want to balance this concern with maintaining their national identity," said Skrentny.

On the other hand, Skrentny doesn’t think much of the Italian effort to lure Italian Americans back to the old country. He said it won't solve Italy's problem. It's not going to fill the future workforce or keep its welfare state solvent. In fact, Skrentny called it a pretty desperate move.

Most of the Italian Americans I spoke to expressed a true love of the Italian culture and they saw dual citizenship as an intriguing opportunity. But none of them saw Italy as the place where they would make their fortunes or raise their families.

One Italian American from Orange County, Chris Clark, told me he can't be sure what dual citizenship will mean to his future, but he plans to go to Italy and find out.

"I'm going there with no plan,” said Clark. “I'm going to eventually buy a one-way ticket and go there and see what happens."

For now, maybe that's good enough for Roberto Ruocco and the Italian nation.

Comments

Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | October 24, 2012 at 9:08 a.m. ― 1 year, 10 months ago

"Because right now the new births in Italy are of children born to people from African countries, or Eastern countries or the Chinese countries, so the identity of the Italians as such could be lost in the future," said Ruocco."

Send back Tom Tancredo and Joe Arpaio. They'll fit right in.

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Avatar for user 'Dothscribble'

Dothscribble | October 24, 2012 at 10:51 a.m. ― 1 year, 10 months ago

Chris Clark from Orange county wants to "buy a one-way ticket and see what happens"
Without sufficient CASH on person for a return flight, Deportation will be his romantic adventure in Italy. EU law operates the frontier of every EU nation,
not each sovereign. In the correct reverse of the US economic assault by Illegals,
It's critical for outsiders to blend in; Become fluent prior to leaving!

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | October 24, 2012 at 3:21 p.m. ― 1 year, 10 months ago

It is reasonable that Italians want to protect their culture in Italy and I applaud and encourage that effort.

Mission, Considering the anti-native policies you espouse, you're a modern day conquistador, not just here in California but now around the world. How shameful.

I hope Italians have the courage and fortitude to save their culture and homeland. It would be a terrible loss if it disappeared from this world.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | October 25, 2012 at 8:41 a.m. ― 1 year, 10 months ago

Anti-native? Who pray tell are the natives??? Only the indegenous people, academia would agree. Example, you will find Kikapoo on BOTH sides of the border. For them, there was NEVER any border--reinforcing Ambrose Bierce's latter day remark about borders being imaginary lines.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | October 25, 2012 at 4:01 p.m. ― 1 year, 10 months ago

Mission,

So how far back must you go to be native? One generation, two, twenty?

I'm a native Californian. My family has been here for 140 years. But time really isn't important as it is based on assimilation. Just as I could become Italian if I adopted their culture.

What you promote is the destruction of unique native cultures with open borders and population displacement. If you don't want to assimilate, then at least respect the native culture and don't try to bend it towards your own.

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Avatar for user 'mdiaz'

mdiaz | October 26, 2012 at 11:48 a.m. ― 1 year, 10 months ago

I got my Italian citizenship and I recommend Roberto Ruocco, here is your website www.italianlawservices.com

Thank's a lot
Michellee Diaz

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Avatar for user 'malcolm'

malcolm | October 29, 2012 at 8:42 a.m. ― 1 year, 10 months ago

Let me clear up some misinformation in the article:

1. No one is "becoming" an Italian citizen through this process, but rather their already existing Italian citizenship is being recognized by the Italian government. Under Italian law, many people of Italian descent living abroad are citizens from birth. (Millions probably in the US alone.) If such a person presents sufficient evidence, such as vital records, to the Italian government to prove that they are in fact citizens, the Italian government will register them as citizens in Italy. It is not naturalization. Since such a person has been a citizen from birth, any of their children previously born are citizens, too.

2. The Italian government has not been especially promoting or encouraging this process, as they've always had such provisions in their laws going back to the 19th century. There has been an explosion in interest over the past decade due to this information becoming widely available on the internet, causing Italian consulates to become inundated with applications for citizenship recognition. If anything, they have been taking steps to make the process more difficult in the past couple of years to cut down on the number of such recognitions.

3. You do not need to hire anyone to help you through this process. There's plenty of detailed free information on various websites devoted to it. For example, there is this one:
italiancitizenship.freeforums.org

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Avatar for user 'tfazzo'

tfazzo | November 8, 2012 at 4:23 a.m. ― 1 year, 9 months ago

I am an Italian citizen and I have to laugh at the Italian government. You want us back but Mafia won't let us set up shop with out coming for a cut. There are no jobs nor does Italy want to create any. The Romanian gypsies are spread through out Europe and can make your life intolerable. If Italy is loosing it's identity it is because quite simply you asked for it! If someone reading this could tell me how I can survive in Italy let me know.

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Avatar for user 'ItaliaDC'

ItaliaDC | March 7, 2013 at 2:29 p.m. ― 1 year, 5 months ago

@Malcolm

In regards to your #3 comment. We understand that there is plenty of free information and various websites that assist you in this process, but there are many people that would rather just hire someone to do it for them. Italiancitizenship.freeforums.org is an excellent website for doing it yourself and http://dualcitizenshipitalian.com is also another great website that provides free information or the option to be hired to retrieve the documents for you.

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Avatar for user 'Norditalian'

Norditalian | August 5, 2013 at 12:03 p.m. ― 1 year ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

( )

Avatar for user 'Norditalian'

Norditalian | August 5, 2013 at 12:05 p.m. ― 1 year ago

Sheriff Arpaio is my Pasano!!!!!

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Avatar for user 'Norditalian'

Norditalian | August 5, 2013 at 2:43 p.m. ― 1 year ago

Mission acomplished you are incorrect! American liberal politics have no basis in italy! The italians did not bring africans to the us and we do not owe them an apology for anglo white slavery of the past! The italians do not want a crime infested country and other problems that certain immigrants of faiths will bring in. And we italians dont give a rats azz what you have to say or think! Like who are you anyway?????

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Avatar for user 'devin858'

devin858 | January 10, 2014 at 3:06 p.m. ― 7 months, 2 weeks ago

California Defender, I'm from San Diego,CA. My family have been here since the Spanish were here, you're NO way a 'native', as I'm not a 'native' either to the soil of California. Although, I consider California where my bloodline is and where I'm from.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | January 10, 2014 at 3:15 p.m. ― 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Too bad Mexico doesn't encourage all the illegals to leave san diego and go back home.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | January 10, 2014 at 3:53 p.m. ― 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Devin,

Thanks for bringing this 2012 story back up. It's a good one and makes for interesting debate.

Why do you say I'm not native? I was born here. So to were generations of my family. I am very native.

Ultimately being part of a culture is based on assimilation not time. I would consider anyone who adopts the Californian culture to be Californian. No matter if they arrived 1 year ago or 100.

Just as I could go to Italy and become Italian with some hard work and dedication in learning the local customs, language, and way of life. That is the honorable way.

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