February 25, 2024 | Rome, Italy

The Italia dream

By |2018-03-21T19:05:10+01:00March 29th, 2015|"In the Sticks"|
Many Italians immigrated to Australia; few went the other way.

o I’m up for parole. I’ve served my two years and now I’m owed my dues. I’m gracefully allowed to apply for Italian citizenship.

Before you start whining about my whining, let me say that I’m not complaining. I’m the spoilt offspring of immigrant parents who managed to create an upper middle class life in a country that’s experiencing its most profitable half-century ever. Our prime minister actually described being born in Australia as scoring the golden ticket, Willy Wonka style.

I have only a vague concept of what it means to immigrate for a better life. In this respect, I’m the living oxymoron — or just the moron who voluntarily moved back to the country her grandparents left hoping to get a slice of the American (insert Australian) Dream.

My family has always had an iffy relationship with citizenship applications. In the 1970s, my mother was browbeaten into renouncing her Italian citizenship by an Australian government that told her dual citizenship wasn’t an option. It was become an Aussie or become unemployed.

She’s still bitter. This from a women who spent her last Italian vacation pointing out the many ways in which we Australians are more advanced than these moustache-twiddling, pizza-loving savages.

Proving the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, I spent my “I’m-Italian-not-Australian” teen years resenting the one uncle actually eligible for Italian citizenship — he and his snot-nosed, half-Australian children. He was born in Australia when my grandparents were still Italian citizens. I, on the other hand, am the Australian-born daughter of two generations of adopted Australian citizens on both sides. In other words, the Italian government laughed at my citizenship claims.

Now they look at me with the kind of suspicious usually reserved for illegal immigrants and gold-digging third world country trophy wives with absolutely no Italian parentage.

Ten years ago, I wanted nothing less than to be considered una vera Italiana. These days, I resent the idea of applying for citizenship. I imagine that somewhere in the dark halls of a dingy government office is a state employee busy rolling his eyes and thinking: “Here’s another infatuated foreigner who wants a slice of the Italian Dream.”

Luckily I’ll have plenty of time to work through this resentment. The idea that the Italian government would send me an envelope filled with glitter and a “Congratulations you’re our 62nd-millionth citizen” letter vanished quickly. Getting citizenship means lots of forms with a waiting period that can stretch to seven years. I’m only in the first week of a likely seven-year wait and I already feel unsettled.

Years ago, my mother said she felt like a gypsy — unwanted by the country of her birth but never truly accepted by her adopted nation. She can’t relate to Italy any more than I can, but at the same time she’s also had to spend her life never really being considered a true Australian.

So where does that leave this eternal egomaniac — a first generation Australian of Italian-born parents who left home and immigrated to Italy?

DNA-wise, I am no less Italian than my Italian stallion of a husband. But if you saw my pale skin and hazel eyes you’d think I was the Anglo-Saxon poster child. I dress differently. I speak Italian like a duck. My values system is based on a vanished 1960s-style Italy preserved by a boatload of Italians who never got the chance to return to the Mother Country to see how it had changed.

My grandmother still thinks all Italians make tomato sauce and are on a first name basis with the saints. Poor thing would have a heart attack if she knew modern day Giuseppe and Maria aren’t married, let alone crowding little Mario’s room with religious charms to ward off the malocchio.

You are looking at the personification of the grass is always greener adage. Had I stayed in Australia I probably would have drifted into middle age forcing my children to learn Italian and make salami. Now, the future fruits of my Italo-Australian loins will be forced to memorize ACDC songs and every terrible slang word I can remember, including “dead horse” for tomato sauce and “Sheila” for girl.

I can imagine them begging me not to make vegemite sandwiches with the same fervor my mother begged my grandmother not to make prosciutto and provolone sandwiches after kids made fun of her at school.

But at least heritage played a huge role in my identity. I wouldn’t want my future kids to be like my students, the ones whose parents were born in India, Brazil and the Philippines but who pretend they’re 100 percent Italian, ignoring their heritage as if it’s something to be ashamed of, insisting their fathers were born in “Europe” because they’re too embarrassed to specify “Romania,” as if that might make them second-class citizens — which, in modern-day Italy, in spite of their efforts, they very much are.

About the Author:

Australian writer Elisa Scarton wrote the column "In the Sticks" from 2014 through mid-2019.