A primer on citizenship

My inner country mouse had the upper hand yesterday evening. We took our nightly walk over a route recommended by Giorgio, our host here. It began on a classic quite lane framed by tall trees, and then hugged the forested hill for two or three kilometers, looking out over fields of freshly cut hay and little farms.

I tried to think why agricultural land is so much more attractive here than in my native country. Partially, it’s because everything is Lilliputian by comparison. Small farmers are the rule, perhaps because the land has been in the same families for generations. Looking out over the gently rolling plain, one can see quite a few yellow houses, each surrounded by a little collection of fields with various crops, and perhaps a quaint old wooden fence enclosing a donkey or some chickens.

The Italian attention to detail is very much in evidence here, just like in the city. We passed an old tool shed. It was just a plain concrete building, but they had planted flowers around it as if it had been a house. So instead of being an eyesore, it became an attractive accessory.

The road we were taking had several forks, labeled tantalizingly with the names of castles and waterfalls to be found at the end of them. It was a very agreeable walk. I’m sure we’ll take it many times in the future, and explore all the little forks.

Carla refered to the quaint little town where we live as a village, although she doesn’t now, because she asked if we would call it a village in the United States. I said no, because village would be more a section of a city, like La Jolla Village, or Greenwich Village. Or something haunted out of M. Night Shymalan. I was unaware at the time that she would take my response as a prescription.

Her father was American, but he died when she was three, and she says her accent was corrupted by her mother’s British friends. Her mother is Czech, but Carla grew up in Cannes, France. She has her American passport, but she’s only been once to visit the U.S. I guess I can see why she would want to speak like an American. I’m sure it’s weird to her to be American but not sound like it. But her accent is much more proper than mine. Her two-year-old daughter Rebecca is adorable when she speaks, because she sounds so formal.

Carla told me that she can’t pass on her citizenship to her daughter. The classes I’d attended while I worked for Kim, my immigration attorney friend, came flooding back into my mind. Nationality laws for any given country exist on a continuum ranging from pure jus sanguinis (based on blood) to jus solis (based on soil). This means that some countries insist that you be of their bloodline to be a citizen, and others will only grant citizenship to people born within their national boundaries.

Examples of the former extreme are the oil-rich Middle Eastern countries, whose citizens are all members of various established tribes. They do not even allow foreigners to acquire citizenship after extended residence. So their immigrant workers will never be able to integrate into society. In many South American countries, by contrast, anyone born within the borders is a citizen, and anyone born elsewhere (even if both parents are citizens) is not. I met a family in Chile where both parents and the oldest child were Peruvian. The second child was a citizen of the Domenican Republic, and the third was a citizen of Chile. Strange, but true.

The United States tries very hard to adhere as strictly as possible to the jus solis end of the spectrum, without disenfranchising completely children of people who have strong ties to the U.S. So if a child is born abroad to a U.S. citizen married to a non-U.S. citizen, the American parent must prove that he/she has lived in the United States for four years after the age of 14. However, a child born within U.S. territory, even if both parents snuck over the border illegally the day before, is automatically a citizen.

Italy is on the opposite side. It does not automatically grant citizenship to people born within its borders. And immigrants must maintain legal residence in Italy for ten years before they can even apply for citizenship. But descendants of Italian citizens (even to the fourth or fifth generation, like Tony) are considered to officially retain their Italian citizenship, even if they never visit Italy.

Most European countries tend toward jus sanguinis. But luckily for us, Italy is by far the most liberal at granting citizenship to returning Italians no matter how far removed. Sono Italiano. Il nonno di mi nonna e nato a Italia . . .

One thought on “A primer on citizenship

  • July 2, 2008 at 2:30 pm
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    I love reading about all of your adventrues. I also love your new photo scroll!

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