Piano ac­cor­dion just not my forte

The Sunday Times - - OPINION - Joe Spagnolo

ALAS, Matt Cana­van might be Ital­iano, but it seems I am not. In­trigued by the fact that cit­i­zen­ship of another coun­try can seem­ingly be eas­ily ob­tained through an­ces­try, I this week made my own in­quiries as to whether the fact that my par­ents, grand­par­ents and great-grand­par­ents were born and bred in Italy meant that I, too, was an Ital­ian cit­i­zen.

In my eyes, it was a fore­gone con­clu­sion and I be­gan dream­ing of warm sum­mer nights in Cal­abria with Donna singing and danc­ing the nights away, play­ing my piano ac­cor­dion, as a newly crowned Ital­ian cit­i­zen.

And so I rang my 89-year-old fa­ther, Francesco, who mi­grated from Italy to Aus­tralia in the late 1950s.

I be­gan by telling him that even though I was born in Aus­tralia, I be­lieved I was an Ital­ian cit­i­zen be­cause of a won­der­ful group of Aus­tralian politi­cians who had dis­cov­ered — to their shock — that they were dual cit­i­zens be­cause of the law of the blood­line.

But un­like Lib­eral Na­tional Party se­na­tor Matt Cana­van, who doesn’t want to be Ital­iano, I ex­plained to Dad that I was ex­cited by the prospect of be­ing a dual cit­i­zen. It felt nat­u­ral, right? I was born in Aus­tralia, but spoke flu­ent Ital­ian by the time I made it to pri­mary school, took sun­dried tomato and mor­tadella sand­wiches to school with a stick of pork sausage for morn­ing re­cess, and wore an “Ital­ians Do It Bet­ter” T-shirt in my late teens.

Dad seemed con­fused by my new-found Ital­ian de­sires.

He asked me if ev­ery­thing was go­ing all right with my work.

He ex­plained that he and my mum, Carmela, had trav­elled to Har­vey on a sunny Aussie Day in the late 1950s where they proudly be­came Aus­tralian cit­i­zens af­ter hav­ing ar­rived in Brunswick Junc­tion just a few years ear­lier.

I then asked him this strate­gic ques­tion: “So Dad, are you still Ital­ian — did you re­nounce your Ital­ian cit­i­zen­ship?”

Dad paused and said some­thing like, “Non es­sere stupido”, which trans­lated to: “Don’t be stupid”.

He ex­plained that although he was now a True Blue Aussie, he also still con­sid­ered him­self Ital­ian and could not re­mem­ber re­nounc­ing his Ital­ian cit­i­zen­ship.

I sup­pose the fact that Mum and Dad named me Giuseppe Francesco when I was born in 1964, and that my first words were spaghetti bolog­nese, prob­a­bly gives a strong in­di­ca­tion that they still be­lieved they were as much Ital­ians as they were Aus­tralians, de­spite be­com­ing Aussie cit­i­zens in the 1950s.

But get this: When I fi­nally got around to mak­ing in­quiries to the Ital­ian au­thor­i­ties in Perth this week, they po­litely told me I was as Aussie as Vegemite — and ap­par­ently so were my par­ents!

Ac­cord­ing to Ital­ian law, if you be­came an Aus­tralian cit­i­zen be­fore 1992 you au­to­mat­i­cally re­nounced your Ital­ian cit­i­zen­ship.

I was told that the only way I can claim back my Ital­ian blood line was to live in Italy for three years — which right now is a touch dif­fi­cult.

Mum likes to hear bad news quickly — it’s a Cal­abrian thing.

I rang her straight af­ter the news and broke it to her that she was no longer Ital­ian.

Mum paused, and typ­i­cally blamed my fa­ther for his ap­par­ent lack of un­der­stand­ing of the cit­i­zen­ship laws of the 1950s.

But then she said this: She told me that Aus­tralia had given our fam­ily much and she was thank­ful for the life Aus­tralia had given us.

She told me that she and Dad had wanted to be­come Aus­tralian cit­i­zens be­cause they wanted their chil­dren to be­long and be Aussies too. And they had also wanted to be­long.

And so, although she found it amus­ing that at the age of 52 I had this strong de­sire to be Ital­iano, Mum coun­selled me that it was for the best that I was “Aus­traliano”. How beau­ti­ful was this? As for my Dad, I am now try­ing to pick the right time to tell him he is no longer Ital­iano.

Although I ex­pect my beau­ti­ful fa­ther quickly to re­ply: “Non es­sere stupido”.

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