I didn't realize how much it meant to become Italian until I received my citizenship.
My Roman husband drove me crazy the day he accompanied me to receive my Italian citizenship. Two months ago, on a sweltering hot morning in July, Last Minute Larry, as my American family nicknamed him in our first years of marriage, lived up to his name.
Punctuality has never been one of his strengths, even though his work colleagues tell me he is often early for official appointments and office meetings. I will tell you that, for family functions, he is not. But it never really matters much in Rome where time is more of a suggestion than a commitment. Being five or ten minutes late to an appointment shows you’re local in Rome. On time is for a foreigner, which I clearly still was in wanting to be punctual for the very appointment that would officially label me a local.
My appointment was scheduled for 8:30am. We had agreed the night before that we would leave home at 8am. The plan was to rent a shared, electric moped that we could download off the street to avoid the stress of parking our car in an area that favors pedestrians.
I imagined myself riding sidesaddle on a Vespa, Roman-Holiday-style, to reach the office that was steps from the Bocca della Verita’. I wondered if accessorizing with a tricolored boa was too much. In the end, I opted for all-white: a short-sleeved blouse with capped sleeves, Capri pants, and gold-strapped, platform, open-toed espadrilles. I felt like a bride heading off to her honeymoon in her going-away outfit. White seemed right for the occasion — my virgin journey to swearing into my other identity.
Our appointment was in the center of Rome at a big, bureaucratic office where lines are long and employees’ tempers are short. It was at least a 15-minute moped-ride from our home.
My husband shuffled out of our apartment at five minutes past eight o’clock, his suit finely pressed, his tie unknotted. The first moped we tried to rent refused to unlock itself. We walked three more blocks, sweat already dripping down our backs, with the hope of finding a better one. But the next one had a low battery, and needed to be charged.
I started stewing in silence. My husband told me to wait on the corner while he’d check out a potential third moped. He knew that picking me up on already-rented wheels, rather than including me in the journey of finding them, would make for a better launch.
Ten eternal minutes later, I saw him driving a moped towards me in the opposite direction on a one-way street, on the sidewalk, dodging dogs and the elderly. He parked right in front of the Carabinieri sipping their morning coffee and tilted his helmet to them, a gesture of forgiveness for his blatant traffic violation. They smirked, looked the other way, and threw their espresso back as if it were Tequila.
He passed me my helmet, and smiled with that grin that still makes me weak. As I strapped on my helmet, positioned myself behind him by clinging on to his waist, I felt as if we had time-traveled back to our twenties. As if we were headed off to a party, and it really didn’t matter what time we arrived.
We barreled over bumpy cobblestones, groaned at every ancient rivet that ricocheted pain to our middle-aged lower backs, and snaked through traffic like an electric eel. We got stuck behind a mozzarella truck, pulled over for a passing ambulance, watched red traffic lights change as quickly as rising bread, and screeched to a halt with skid marks in front of the Comune di Roma at 8:35am.
By the time I raced past an already-disgruntled state employee and hammered non-responsive buttons of a rickety elevator, I was officially ten minutes late to the appointment for which I had been waiting for years. You can take the girl out of New York but you can’t take New York out of the girl. The panic of being late was real.
In the days leading up to my citizenship ceremony, many Italian friends asked me if I was sure I still wanted to become Italian. At the time, the government had just fallen, and Prime Minister Mario Draghi had already handed in his resignation.
Years ago, I decided that in order to survive working and living within the foreign service, I had to embrace uncertainty, especially as it is often our default. If that’s part of what it also means to be Italian, then, so be it. Sign me up.
My answer to my friends’ questioning about whether or not I really wanted to become Italian was a Si’! that I wanted to yell from the gladiator pits of the Coliseum. It was the Si’ I wanted to cheer with all Italians singing the last word of their national anthem. It was a Si’ that would empower me to vote in Italian elections. It was a Si’ that would enable me to be employed within Italy (and Europe). It was a Si’ that made me feel I truly belonged. Si’, davvero, si’.
The employee who performed the swearing-in ceremony donned an enviable, tricolored sash, and explained how I should repeat after him that I would abide by the laws and values of Italy’s constitution. As I echoed his words in Italian, it felt like a wedding in which I was expressing my vows, this time not to a priest but to a country. It felt like the big deal indeed it was — swearing to patriotism of another land aside from my own.
Thoughts of gratitude raced through my head as I stared at the Italian flag serving as the backdrop of the ceremony. I almost felt like pledging the allegiance to it as the following thoughts overwhelmed me:
Italia, you raised me after I graduated from college. You took me in, employed me, inspired me to study Italian, and taught me to live on my own. You showed me how enriched a life becomes with two languages in which to read, write and communicate.
Italia, you published my first articles and made me believe in myself once I saw my name in print.
Italia, you taught me how to eat. You showed me how to use everything in the fridge, to cook creatively, to eat slowly, to skip snack-time, and to embrace a Mediterranean menu.
Italia, your hospitals and health care system nurtured me through a broken wrist, the birth of my son, and Covid.
Italia, you gifted me a wonderful Italian family that loves America as much as my American family loves Italy. You honored me with a community of extraordinary friends who encourage me to hold on to what makes me American, who always welcome me back into Roman life upon our every return from a posting in another country.
Italia, you’ve sent me to other countries to represent you overseas, and it has been an honor to share what you have taught me.
Italia, I am who I am thanks to you, and the twenty-five years we’ve been connected to each other. You have made me think about my own heritage while living overseas and appreciate being American more than when I lived in America.
This entire experience reminded me that I fell in love with Italy, and, then, I fell in love in Italy. I craved the citizenship I earned after years of working for my adopted — now acquired — country. The long wait actually brought on my deeper appreciation for what it means to become Italian.
By the time I finally earned Italian citizenship, it meant more than being married to an Italian. It was more than another passport. It was recognition of a self-transformation.
A lot of fun to read! A really vivid description of Rome’s many faces!
Beautifully written and heartfelt. Congratulations! Keep it coming!