More than a vacation

For the past year, I’ve been working with the wonderful group of people at italyMONDO to start the process of becoming a dual Italian-American citizen.

My family immigrated from Italy a few generations back. However, because they never renounced their Italian citizenship, my grandmother, mother, and I were all eligible for Italian citizenship through our bloodline. At least, that’s the very simplified way of putting it.

This past week, my mother and I traveled to Sepino (CB), Italy to establish residency while we handed over our paperwork to hopefully become Italian citizens. Nothing is set in stone, of course, but I’m so happy to be on this journey. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for ages, and am so grateful Peter and his colleagues at italyMONDO were able to help us get the ball rolling.

Now, the best way to get to Sepino is by car. A terrifying proposition, really. At first we debated on trying to learn how to drive stick within a few weeks until we quickly realized it was worth the extra cost for an automatic car. Especially since that would likely mean us either not being run down by a truck or hurtling ourselves off a cliff.

So we ended up with this.


Nice, right? I’ve never driven a luxury car before, so this was pretty much amazing. I’ll admit, I’m having a hard time handling my car at home now. I feel more like I’m driving the Flintstone’s car than a Chevy.

Nevertheless, we made it, in one piece, and in good time. Georga Costanza would be proud.

In Sepino, we stayed in what was possibly the cutest house ever. If I had to draft up a dream house, it would probably be this one. Everything was so cozy and quaint. It genuinely felt like home.

Sepino itself is a pretty small town, made up of about 2000 people. It was clear from the get go that we were visitors and everyone was really sweet about it. On the first day, when we went to buy some groceries, the cashier immediately exclaimed, “Oh no, how are we going to speak?!” as I walked up to the register. Fortunately, this American knows Italian pretty well. I even got to talk to a few folks about where we were from and what we were doing there.

I sure appreciated the practice.

Since we had a car, we took some time for a few day trips in the area. In particular, we visited Frosolone, another hill town in Molise that’s known for its artisanal goods.

Driving in Frosolone was an adventure, to say the least. At one point, I ended up on a side street that quickly turned into a pedestrian alley. I was envisioning helicopters lifting the car up and out of the city, since I wasn’t too confident in my ability to turn around without smashing into someone’s house.

I made it though, hopefully with my application for citizenship intact. (Please note: I promise I’ll never drive again if my citizenship depends on it.)

Nevertheless, Frosolone was a very, very picturesque city and is one of the borghi più belli, or the most beautiful cities, in Italy. For good reason.

Since we had a car, we decided to venture a little farther away from Molise for an extended day trip into Campania.

First, we visited Caposele to see the Basilica of St. Gerard Maiella. I’ve mentioned the Feast of St. Gerard in Newark before and its significance for me and my family. While I always add the disclaimer that I don’t align myself with any specific religion, the tradition of the Feast of St. Gerard is something that makes me feel a strong connection to my past and my family’s history.

In Caposele, we were able to walk around the sanctuary, mentally comparing it to St. Lucy’s church at home. Because St. Gerard is often worshipped by people who are looking to conceive, there was an entire room dedicated to tokens from people whose prayers had been answered.

Of course, my favorite part was meeting the local group of dogs. In Campania, there are a lot of stray dogs who hang around in various areas — our trip included meeting two who greeted us at the car door at a rest stop — and are generally very friendly. I’m sure most people ignore them, but they can tell that I will dote on them for hours.

I locked eyes with one dog in particular who proceeded to follow us around, including into the church and the doorway of the ladies’ room. It was just like being at home with my dog.

However, the highlight of our trip was visiting Teora and Manocalzati, two of the towns where my maternal family is from.

Teora is a very small town, rebuilt in the 80’s after an earthquake destroyed most of the city. Growing up, when I would ask my grandmother where her grandparents were from, she’s say, in her New Jersey accent, “They’re too-odd-aise.” To which we’d reply, “There’s no town in Italy called Tuod!”

Finally, we were able to translate the combination of an age-old Avellinese accent and the Americanization of the word into Teora.

Manocalzati, on the other hand, is the birthplace of my grandmother’s paternal grandfather. We didn’t know where he was from until recently, when italyMONDO began researching for us. My great-great-grandfather Nicola is exactly where I would get stuck. I knew where my grandmother was born, where my great-grandfather was born, but after that, there was no one in my family left to ask and we had no clues for where to look.

Until now.

It was funny going through both towns. They each had their own feel that seemed to perfectly mimic my great-grandparents’ personalities. The quiet and introspective vibe of Teora compared to the curious and outgoing characteristics of Manocalzati.

It’s hard to condense the experience in my mind. When I go to Italy, I feel like I’m home. Despite the language barrier at times, it’s a place where I feel unequivocally comfortable and at ease.

I have always been fascinated by my family’s genealogy with an urgent desire to learn more and more. In fact, I’m already wondering about the generations before my great-grandparents. What can I learn about them? What did they do? What were their lives like?

Being able to visit some of the places where my family is from, the places that comprise me, that make me who I am, is surreal. I’m so used to looking at these city names on a map, exploring them with Google Earth, that actually walking their streets doesn’t seem possible. But it is, and I did it.

So I’m grateful for the help from italyMONDO. Reaching out to them, it was like someone immediately understood this desire I’ve had all along. While I keep my fingers crossed that everything goes well, I’m looking forward to the day I get confirmation of my citizenship.

While it may be a little too easy to provoke tears in me anyway, I know it’s going to be emotional. Yes, it’s citizenship, but it’s also a connection to my family, to the community that built me that doesn’t exist any more, to my grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents, all of who will probably think it’s a little bit crazy but who are also just a little bit proud that I hope to call their birthplace home, too.


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