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Between Football and Citizenship: The Strange Case of the Oriundi

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In the tradition of oriundi of the Italian national football team is almost a century old, but not without controversy. However, there are 'B league' oriundi, the foreign-born children of Italian immigrants who share the culture and identity of the country of their parents but have forever lost the right to Italian citizenship.

The Brazil­ian World Cup will be re­mem­bered as the tour­na­ment of dou­ble na­tion­al­ity. In a com­pe­ti­tion where there are at least 274 play­ers with two pass­ports, the foot­ball mar­ket vir­tu­ally de­pends on the trans­fer of play­ers from one team to an­other, within the no longer clearly de­fined bor­ders be­tween jus solis, place of birth, or jus san­gui­nis, blood line. In Eu­rope, it is often the case of foot­ballers, chil­dren of sec­ond or third gen­er­a­tion im­mi­grants; con­sider the na­tional teams of Switzer­land, France (Black, White and North African), Ger­many, Hol­land and Bel­gium.

How­ever, Italy is dif­fer­ent. In this case, the con­cept of ori­undi comes into play. The term is de­rived from Latin and refers to for­eign-born play­ers who are given Ital­ian na­tion­al­ity through an of­ten-dis­tant Ital­ian an­ces­tor. Today, Pran­delli said that the ori­undi are the new Ital­ians, men­tion­ing Gabriel Paletta and Thi­ago Motta as ex­am­ples. How­ever, over their his­tory, the Az­zurri have in­cluded at least 42 of these play­ers on their ros­ter, half of whom were Ar­gen­tinean: be­gin­ning in the 30s with the quar­tet of At­tilio De­maria, En­rique Guaita, Luis Monti and Raimundo Orsi to Juan Al­berto Schi­affino, Omar Sivori, José Altafini and fi­nally with Mauro Ger­man Camoranesi, part of the team who won the World Cup in 2006.

As Paolo Conte sings about South Amer­ica: “the man who has come from far away has the ge­nius of  Schi­affino but re­li­giously touches bread and watches his Uruguayan stars. Ah, South Amer­ica ...” But what if the per­son doesn’t have the foot­ball ge­nius of Schi­affino? The ques­tion arises be­cause there are cases that are di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed to the Uruguayan cham­pion, where the rules sim­ply do not allow the na­tion­al­ity, once lost, to be re­cov­ered, re­gard­less of how close the Ital­ian an­ces­tor is. In other words, if you can’t pro­vide a stel­lar per­for­mance in foot­ball, any re­quest for the na­tion­al­ity will be re­jected.  A na­tion­al­ist slo­gan reads: “Na­tion­al­ity – if you don’t in­herit it, you have to merit it, but can’t be given it.” Is play­ing good foot­ball the true marker of merit? What about the other po­ten­tial Ital­ians who aren’t lucky enough to be su­per­stars?

A five year win­dow to re­claim your na­tion­al­ity

While the decades old ori­undi tra­di­tion con­tin­ues to serve Italy well dur­ing in­ter­na­tional foot­ball com­pe­ti­tions, it has be­come the bane of ex­is­tence for the de­scen­dants of more re­cent Ital­ian im­mi­grants. Some­how, it is eas­ier for a foot­ball player with a great-great grand­fa­ther from Italy to be­come a cit­i­zen than it is for the chil­dren of thou­sands of Ital­ians who mi­grated after World War II.

After 1945, as im­mi­gra­tion laws hard­ened, many mi­grants were en­cour­aged or forced to nat­u­ralise in their adopted coun­try to re­main there with­out a visa. Many of those who mi­grated be­fore weren’t under such an oblig­a­tion. Be­fore 1992, dual cit­i­zen­ship was not recog­nised in Italy, mean­ing that any mi­grant who nat­u­ralised au­to­mat­i­cally lost their cit­i­zen­ship.

When the law changed, there was a five-year win­dow to re­gain cit­i­zen­ship – but the gov­ern­ment didn’t bother to tell any of its ex-cit­i­zens. No phone calls, let­ters, telegrams. In the pre­his­toric age with­out In­ter­net, this meant that most weren’t aware that they could even get their cit­i­zen­ship back. In­stead of retroac­tively de­cree­ing that all for­mer Ital­ians could stop by the em­bassy to pick up their pass­ports at their con­ve­nience in the fu­ture, i.e. no time limit, which would have saved a lot of has­sle and heart­break, the gov­ern­ment de­cided that this limit was ample time to find out about the repa­tri­a­tion pro­ject.

This strat­egy back­fired and has left the chil­dren of Ital­ians, who often speak the lan­guage and share the cul­ture of their par­ents, with­out any recog­ni­tion of their Ital­ian-ness. Laura D’Ame­lio, an Ital­ian-Cana­dian, shares her ex­pe­ri­ence on hav­ing her ap­pli­ca­tion for Ital­ian cit­i­zen­ship re­jected de­spite her strong fam­ily, cul­tural and lin­guis­tic ties to Italy.

No of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion from Italy

“For the longest time, I as­sumed I was Ital­ian. All four of my grand­par­ents were born there, my par­ents were born there and every ex­tended rel­a­tive I know was pretty much born there. Ex­cept for me,” she writes. “When I went to claim my Ital­ian cit­i­zen­ship a few years ago though, I was de­nied. Ap­par­ently there was this five-year win­dow when Ital­ian-Cana­di­ans could claim dual cit­i­zen­ship that I missed when I was young. I was, and am, upset.”

The only path for cit­i­zen­ship for D’Ame­lio now is to re­side in Italy for 10 years which would mean nav­i­gat­ing a bu­reau­cratic night­mare, mar­ry­ing a cur­rent Ital­ian cit­i­zen for 2 or 3 years, or work for the Ital­ian gov­ern­ment, such as in the armed forces, for five years.  D’Ame­lio de­cided that she didn’t need the pa­pers to prove she was Ital­ian.

“To be told you aren’t Ital­ian, when you al­ways thought you were, is strange and con­fus­ing. It led me to the thought of who de­cides your cul­ture or how your life is to be led? Those who issue pass­ports or those who live it. I may not be able to live there freely, or be a “card-car­ry­ing” Ital­ian. But I am Ital­ian. I’m here to ex­plore what my Ital­ian life is – how I live it and who I am.”

The con­cerns and wor­ries of peo­ple like Laura D'Ame­lio re­main. If to­mor­row you would like to pre­vent a tragedy like this from hap­pen­ing to your child, it may be a good idea to en­roll him or her in an ex­cel­lent foot­ball school and hope that he be­comes a cham­pion. Only then will they have a pass­port em­bla­zoned with the words Ital­ian Re­pub­lic.

Translated from Lo strano caso degli oriundi, tra calcio e cittadinanza