When my boyfriend Michael first proposed we go live in Europe for a while, he wanted to go for a year. “But there’s one thing stopping us from doing that,” he said. “What’s that?” I asked. “You like your family too much to be away from them for that long.”
I looked at him incredulously. While this very well may be true, we were just three months into our relationship and I didn’t think he knew me well enough to draw such a conclusion. But no matter. I knew another reason we couldn’t live in Europe for a year: the Schengen Agreement.
“We can only stay for 90 days,” I said to Michael. “Then, we have to be out for three months before we can go back.” He didn’t believe me. So he went home to do his research, and found I was right. I won’t get into the details, but technically, you can’t just show up in Europe and stay for longer than three months.
For most Americans, with the oh-so-generous vacation days we get, this is never a problem. But for people like me, whose only regret is not spending a year in Europe during my college days, this is a problem.
There are ways to stay longer in Europe. I could buy a place there. But readers of this blog know home ownership is not part of this American’s dream anytime soon. I could decide to study over there, and thereby get a student visa. But I already have enough degrees, thank you very much. I could marry a European. But I kind of like the boyfriend I have.
I’ve researched those and other options and determined the best way for me to make my dream of living in Europe come true is to become an Italian citizen.
Not anyone can do this. In many European countries, you only have a right to citizenship if you were born there. Or if one of your parents was born there. But in two countries (Italy and Ireland), you can go further back. What I needed was an Italian descendent (as far back as a great-grandfather) who never renounced their rights to Italian citizenship.
All of the great-grandparents on my father’s side were born in Italy. Three of them became American citizens before my grandparents were born and, in so doing, gave up their rights to Italian citizenship. But the fourth I wasn’t sure of. Luigi Gallo, my great-grandfather, and my father’s namesake, arrived in America in 1909 with twelve dollars in his pocket (about one week’s wages at that time). This isn’t family lore. It’s documented on the passenger manifest for the SS Nord America. As is the fact that he was just 4′ 11″ and had paid for his passage himself. He was headed to the home of an uncle who lived in Poughkeepsie.
Less than ten years later, he was dead. He left behind a wife, Anna, and three sons–the eldest was just three years old and would grow up to become my Grandpa Gallo. In the space of Luigi’s ten years in America, he lived at four different addresses. All within a mile of each other. I have yet to find him on any census.
I gathered up all this information and submitted it to US Citizenship and Immigration Services, who, after five months, finally sent me a letter indicating they have no record of him becoming naturalized. Which means he never denounced his rights to Italian citizenship. Which means, according to the Italian government, I am an Italian. Now I just had to prove it.
By “prove” I mean that I have to acquire certified copies of the birth, marriage, and death records of every descendent in the direct line from my great-grandfather to me. And get them all translated to Italian. And then show up at the Italian Consulate. With 300 Euros. And hope I’m approved.
Acquiring the aforementioned documents could take a while. But that’s okay. Because, in May, 2015, once I learned I qualified, I called to make an appointment with my Consulate. The next available: February 13, 2017.