Between Football and Citizenship: The Strange Case of the Oriundi

Article published on June 24, 2014
Article published on June 24, 2014

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.