Resident The Week Of April 8, 2008 • 15 Feature J essica Amato, a 30-year-old anthropology professor from San Francisco, has a name for born-and-bred Americans of Italian ancestry who apply for Italian citizenship. She calls them “sleeper citizens.” “With this Italian citizenship, you’ve had it your whole life,” said Amato, who is eligible even though both her parents and her grandparents were born in the United States. “So you’re just applying for activation.” Italian law allows foreigners of Italian descent to claim citizenship even if they have to go back four generations to link to an ancestor who was born in Italy. The concept of applying for citizenship that is technically already yours, called jure sanguinis (Latin for “by right of blood”), isn’t unique to Italy, of course. But what distinguishes Italy from other European countries is that others don’t recognize the so-called blood right in the progeny of émigrés more than two generations down the line. That means that if you’re an American who wants Italian citizenship, you can reach back to your great-great grandfather Giuseppe and make it happen — at least in theory. The Italian government doesn’t make it easy to apply (it takes an average of three years and costs about $1,000), but thousands of Americans are doing it despite the bureaucratic tangle involved. If you have any doubts about just how tangled the process can be, consider the fact that the Italian embassy wouldn’t even respond to requests for information on how many Americans have become dual Italian citizens, and calls to consulates around the country went unanswered. Dual Italian citizenship connects Americans to more than their heritage. They can freely work, retire, invest or get health care in any of the 27 member states of the European Union. The appeal of Italian citizenship comes “from the economic standpoint of somebody that is doing well,” said Giuseppina Spillane, who fields citizenship queries as a program director at the National Italian- American Foundation. Spillane compared the attitudes of North Americans with that of South Americans who fled to Northern Italy following Argentina’s economic meltdown in the early 2000s. “Argentineans were really in need of basic necessities and some sort of help by the government,” she said. Americans, by contrast, have the attitude of “I can invest by buying property over there, retire over there. I can go to school there, get a master’s.” Dona DeSanctis, the executive editor of Italian America magazine, said she’s seen “many more” applications during the last five years. Spillane confirmed that assessment, saying Italian citizenship was now “very much in demand” and that consulates and the ministry of interior were “very overwhelmed” with applications. So overwhelmed, apparently, that the Chicago consulate has stopped accepting them until 2009, according to a recorded voice mail message. If you don’t enjoy the sound of recorded messages, there’s help. Donald McLean, the owner of myitaliancitizenship.com, a six-year-old company based in Nova Scotia that helps citizens-to-be gather documents, said 100 new customers a month sign up for $55 document searches. McLean said he didn’t know why jure sanguinis citizenship has become so popular. “It’s a curiosity why so many Americans are getting it,” he said, suggesting it might have to do with increased Internet usage. Joseph Jorgensen carries both his Italian and his U.S. passport whenever he travels. He decides which one to use once he arrives at customs, based on “whichever line is shorter.” Photo by Mary Cuddehe Italian Americans want to identify with their Italian roots — dual citizenship is one way to do that.