Maria Luisa Lapresa (Italian Consul in Detroit)

L'Italia e Detroit, una relazione importante da sempre

Feb 12, 2014 4677 ITA ENG

Lately, Detroit has been several times in the news that describe the relations between Italy and the United States. The merger between Fiat and Chrysler, the default of the city, the feared risk of closure of the Italian Consulate have often brought in the foreground the city that once was the richest in America, while today lives a difficult moment - as indeed other places of this area, which for years have based their economy on manufacturing, and thus have particularly suffered the crisis that hit America. Today these areas are working hard, with the typical American tenacity and flexibility, to reinvent part of their business model and return to growth.

In this area, particularly in Michigan and more particularly in Detroit, Italy is present with a large community of fellow countrymen, both Italian Americans and Italians who recently moved there: where there is also a first-class Italian Consulate, which plays a fundamental role for the interests of the Italian Americans in these areas and also of our country. We are grateful to the Italian Consul in Detroit Maria Luisa Lapresa for the time that she has kindly granted us.

You are head of a Consulate that covers a vast American territory: the States you are in charge for are Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee. How would you briefly describe these areas, which are not among the most well-known by the Italian public opinion?

In a few lines: Michigan is the Great Lakes State par excellence, Tennessee is the home of country music, Kentucky is famous for its bourbon and the horse racing with the well-known Kentucky Derby (hence the nickname "blue grass state"). Also famous for racing, not horse but car racing, is Indiana. Ohio is, as we all remember, the State which was decisive in determining the outcome of the popular vote that led to the election of President Obama in the last two presidential elections.

The arrival of our fellow Italians in Michigan was greatly accelerated in the days when Detroit was the richest city in America, the center of the enormous growth in the automotive sector. But the Italian emigration goes back much earlier: the explorer Alfonso Tonti was among those who founded the city of Detroit in 1701.

What is the history of Italian emigration in the areas now under the jurisdiction of the Consulate led by you?

I think that one of the most distinctive traits of the Italian community in this Consular Jurisdiction is constituted by its large diversity in the regional origin. In Michigan, for example, the most numerous regional communities are the ones from Sicily, Abruzzo and Lazio, but there also are several compatriots from Piedmont and Lombard recently moved in the metropolitan area of Detroit to work in many Italian companies present here. Peculiar, instead, for example, the situation of Indiana, which has not a community of fellow residents numerically comparable to Michigan and Ohio, as has never been affected by a strong Italian immigration, but, rather, from the German and Irish. The majority of the "historical" immigration of Italian origin in this country is among other things focused in the Indianapolis area and Clinton, and is originally from Sicily, Calabria, Molise, Lazio and Abruzzo. In Indiana there is also an Italian community of "new immigrants", composed by professionals from many diverse Italian regions, who sometimes live in this state for only a few years.

How many Italians refer to your consulate? Who are they, and what do they do?

The AIRE members are more than 15,000, not counting the numbers of people of Italian origin not stated. As I said, these are people from many different geographical and socio-cultural origins, some of which have moved here only in recent years to work in several Italian companies.

Which are the services provided by the Consulate?

There are many services that we provide to our countrymen. Practices related to passports and the notary are certainly the most requested, but we also assist Italians resident in our district regarding school practice of their children, the important aspect of pensions and, in general, we support them for legal matters of any kind. Of primary importance is also the Consular assistance to our compatriots present here in cases of emergency such as theft and loss of identity documents, assault with intent to rob against Italian citizens non-residents, arrest and international child abduction.

We also give assistance to the Italian companies that are present in the area under our jurisdiction, or are interested in marketing their products here: this is a very important thing, of which several Italian companies benefit, especially regarding the promotion of Made in Italy.

Finally, the promotion of our language and our culture are two other cornerstones of our actions directed toward the citizenship of Italian origin but also toward the many Americans who love Italy despite not having roots in our country.

What has changed now that Fiat and Chrysler are so deeply tied? Every so often there is even talk of an alleged plan to move the headquarters of Fiat in Detroit ...

I believe that in the age of globalization, and to quote the famous French political scientist Bertrand Badie, the concept of geographical boundary should be considered now totally obsolete ...

Recently the city of Detroit has declared bankruptcy. For us Italians, the concept of a city declaring bankruptcy is ... difficult to understand in concrete terms. What happened, and with which consequences?

As you know, the city of Detroit has experienced a collapse of the population decreased from nearly two million inhabitants in 1950 to 700,000. Detroit is also characterized by extremely low per capita income (about $ 15,261 per year) generating significantly reduced tax revenue for the city, as well as a rising unemployment, with a rate that has tripled since 2000 and reached 18.6%, compared to 7.6% nationally, and one of the highest homicide rate in nearly 40 years. In contrast to this, before and after the decision to declare bankruptcy, there were encouraging signs of recovery in the city, such as the redevelopment of downtown Detroit recently launched by Dan Gilbert, chairman and founder of "Quicken Loans" and followed by other private economic operators. In fact, the well-known company from Michigan, leader in the sector of online real estate loans, has been conducting for some time now a wide-ranging project of real estate purchasing and restructuring in various buildings in downtown Detroit.

Detroit is not the only city in difficulty, among those close to you: the sector of manual labor in the United States is in crisis, and the economies of the States that are under your jurisdiction are, more or less, all based on this sector. What is the future of these areas, what are they working on to bounce back?

We are all witnessing the huge success of major global companies such as Google and Twitter, even here in Detroit: I think that technological progress and innovation are really the key to everything ...

How did the year of Italian Culture in the United States go in your Consular area?

The Year of Italian Culture went very well. Among others, two major events were organized in Detroit in 2013: the exhibition "Art and Muses: Thomas Juglaris and the Italian's Legacy at the Michigan State Capitol" and the beautiful Caravaggio exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

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