There are three members of the Italian Parliament elected in the foreign electoral colleges that include the United States: two members of the House deputies and a Senator. Their jurisdiction is enormous: in addition to the United States, it also includes Canada, Mexico and Central America. Campaigning in such a large territory is very difficult, just as it is complicated to divide between voting in the Parliament in Rome and listening to their constituency on such a large territory on the other side of the Atlantic.
After the first nine months of legislature we met with the three members of the Italian Parliament who represent the "American" Italy. None of the three belongs to the majority: Francesca Alderisi in the Senate and Fucsia Fitzgerald Nissoli in the Chamber were elected with Forza Italia, while Francesca La Marca was elected to the Chamber in the PD. La Marca and Fitzgerald Nissoli have been confirmed, being already members of the House in the previous legislature; Alderisi is at her first political experience. The three of them represent 362,000 Italians with the right to vote (213,000 of them are living in the United States), 102,000 of whom have expressed their vote (56,000 of them living in the USA). We thank and welcome on We the Italians Francesca Alderisi, Fucsia Fitzgerald Nissoli and Francesca La Marca.
Senator, Congresswomen: in the election campaign of March 2018 dedicated to our fellow countrymen abroad, obviously dominated by issues relating to Italian communities living outside the Italian borders, there was a complete absence of issues relating to Italy itself. Do you consider this normal?
FRANCESCA ALDERISI: In all these years in which I have been dealing with Italians abroad, the requests and problems complained of by our fellow countrymen have been the ones typical of those who live across the border; they reflect the needs of those who maintain a close bond with their country but are facing different problems from the Italians living in Italy. Sometimes, some critical issues concern only specific areas.
Obviously, the issues that are most closely related to our country are those carried out by the lists in which each elected abroad has ran.
FUCSIA FITZGERALD NISSOLI: Allow me, without in any way wanting to seem provocative, to underline what appears to be a dyscrasia in the definition of issues concerning Italian citizens. There are no different types of citizens, let alone Italians. There is only one people whose citizens live partly at home and partly abroad ... as Italians, in fact. I believe that the profound meaning of the law establishing the foreign electoral colleges is not to divide the Italian spirit into two, but to recognize its unity. It is for this reason, for example, that during the election campaign I spoke of the "Italian System" in the world and of the role of the Italian communities in North and Central America, able to provide support for an overall plan that guarantees our country a driving force in the world economy.
Of course, I am not only talking about economic issues, but also about culture and social issues. We both know, for example, that most of the legal systems applied in Western countries are based on Roman law. Every day, Italians are recognized for their creativity, art and imagination, regardless of whether these results are achieved at home or abroad. Italians are, especially abroad, inclusive - it is part of our own culture - so, while remaining Italian, they contribute to the growth and welfare of the countries that host them. In this sense, I am sure that when we talk about Italians in the election campaign, defining some of them as residents abroad, we do so to make explicit a status, sometimes temporary, not the division of a people that no one has ever managed, in fact, to separate. Many Italians living abroad would like to return to Italy. A country that is in our heart, always, of which we share, even if thousands of miles away, the problems. And don't you think that each of us wants to be able to return to a modern country, in step with the times, competitive and prosperous? I can assure you, when we talk about Italianity, in general, we are talking about a feeling that is universally shared among those who are bound to it, I dare say, by a double thread.
In my journey among the Italian communities I found many people who live, in their own context, their Italian nature. Who proudly preserve their roots and suffer from the "distance" of the Italian institutions ... as well as the citizens who live in Italy do. Together with these people I faced the problems and verified the expectations in order to translate everything into institutional and political commitment, in the broadest sense of the term. I have found a lot of Italy abroad, much more than what I encounter within national borders and this is well known in a clear and unequivocal way, because Italians abroad have Italy at heart, they love it and they would never give up this love that lasts for life.
FRANCESCA LA MARCA: No, it's not normal and it's not even right. Our communities in the world, while being well integrated into local realities, need, as the air they breathe, a good image and especially the good health of Italy.
As far as I'm concerned, I've always tried to talk about Italy and the Italians abroad in an intertwined way. I did so by honestly telling about my parliamentary experience. I joined Parliament in 2013 when the country was in full distress and all the indicators - economic, financial and social - were negative. The successive governments and the majorities that supported them have healed the country. I don't say it myself, the statistical indices and the international analysts do.
Only in the light of this difficult path has it been possible to reverse the course for the same policies of Italians abroad. As soon as the recovery began, to which our communities gave a great hand by supporting the internationalization of our production system and the success of Made in Italy, there were more resources for investment. This brought us the 150 million for the promotion of the Italian language and culture in the world, the consolidation of contributions for language courses to managing bodies, the hiring of about 300 staff for consular services after 10 years of blockade, one million more with my amendment for magazines in Italian abroad, the transfer to Consulates of about three million € per year coming from applications for citizenship, the strengthening of the contribution to the Italian Chambers of Commerce abroad, better financing of COMITES and CGIE.
On the other hand, if the two dimensions were not to be considered together, we would find it hard to understand even the things that are happening before our eyes, namely the resumption of emigration flows in many countries of Europe and the world.
Could you please list three particularly important issues that you addressed during the election campaign and that you also consider relevant in your agenda as a Member of Parliament elected by the Italians living in America?
FRANCESCA ALDERISI: Among the many requests and needs of Italians living overseas, the regaining of citizenship for those who have lost it as a result of expatriation is particularly important for me, because it is a sign of identity, of belonging. It is not a gift from Italy to its fellow countrymen who have emigrated abroad: it is a duty! Precisely for this reason, in the first session of the House available after the formation of the Government, I deposited a Bill so that those who were born in Italy and have lost their citizenship can return to being Italian citizens.
Moreover, I find it unfair to make Italians abroad pay the IMU tax on their first and only house in Italy as if it were their second one. In fact, there are many Italians in the world who still own a home in their country of origin and to whom they return as soon as they can. Those homes allow and have allowed generations of Italian descendants to learn about our culture, our traditions and our roots. They are like bridges connecting Italy with the rest of the world. In most cases, these properties have been inherited from relatives and are like trunks that contain memories of inestimable affective rather than economic value.
It is also essential to strengthen consular networks, as Consulates play a key role in assisting our compatriots abroad. They must be put in a position to work, with an adequate number of staff, according to the various needs. Unfortunately, however, they are often understaffed.
FUCSIA FITZGERALD NISSOLI: I've always worked to ensure that citizens residing abroad had the same rights as citizens residing in Italy, so that the sacrosanct constitutional rights of every Italian could be implemented regardless of their place of residence. Consequently, I think that among these topics, which are certainly not exhaustive, we can fully include the improvement of consular services, with the help of new information technologies ensuring the digitization of Consulates for the provision of services, including online; the mobility of young people, a topic that is strong to our attention for the resumption of youth emigration, especially with high know-how; and tax and social security parity.
In fact, I have been working on these issues since the last legislature and I continue to do so both with the legislative instruments of the Parliament and with the political ones, stimulating the Government to act in order to concretize the expectations of its fellow countrymen abroad.
I have asked for the revision of the Italy-US Social Security Agreement to allow Italian workers in the USA, formerly INPDAP, to benefit from the totalization of contributions paid, as well as those living in Italy and in the European Union.
I have urged the Government to start negotiations to revise this Agreement, and in recent days I have lodged a question on the subject with Ministers Di Maio and Moavero. I have worked to promote tax equality between Italians abroad and those resident in Italy.
In addition, I have fought in the bicameral Commission for the digitization so that even the Consulates could use the innovative systems that are being implemented on the national territory.
Finally, I would like to remind of the importance of activating virtuous policies for young people who go abroad, giving them the opportunity to return to their homeland with their cultural background. In the meantime I am working on the recognition of qualifications that greatly facilitates the free movement of professionals in a global society, and especially between Italy and North America.
FRANCESCA LA MARCA: First of all, I would like to point out the promotion of the Italian language and culture. It is the most prestigious international projection key that Italy has at its disposal, together with Made in Italy, and at the same time also the most effective glue between communities abroad and Italy. In North America, both in the USA and in Canada, on the other hand, some of the most interesting experiences of integrated teaching of Italian in local training systems were created in the past and continue today. In times of intercultural relations, we know how much this can be worth.
However, I also speak of it with one concern. The four-year fund for the promotion of the Italian language and culture, which has restored a series of measures cut off by previous cuts, is due to expire in 2020. The three-year budget we are examining does not provide for its extension. If it is not fixed, the whole system of cultural promotion abroad would be hit hard. That is why this is a priority commitment.
I would also like to point out the improvement of consular services. The remedies are now quite clear, it is a question of finding the resources to put them into practice: continuing to recruit permanent staff and contractors; speeding up administrative procedures with ever more up-to-date technology; supporting the work of Honorary Consuls, as I have constantly tried to do in recent years.
The solicitations of our fellow countrymen lead us, then, not to neglect the theme of the regaining of citizenship. There is a great deal of resistance, and it is feared that the new citizens will place an unbearable burden on the Consulates. But rights cannot be traded for administrative and financial constraints. Let us also take one step at a time, perhaps beginning to recognize citizenship to women who have lost it by marriage to a foreigner, and to their descendants. The essential thing is that we move forward on this issue, too.
We the Italians pays particular attention to the attacks in America that now almost permanently happen against Christopher Columbus. What is your thought on the matter, and what do you think can be done?
FRANCESCA ALDERISI: As I said a year ago during an interview in which the same question was asked, it's about the eternal conflict between memory and memories; those who want to defend them and those who see them from a modern perspective. History is full of conquerors and conquered: it is the history of the world. Winners always become heroes and the story of losers is often erased from the history of the world.
I find it pointless to fight against the brutality of one's ancestors. We are referring to events of hundreds and hundreds of years ago. However, it is not a question of a controversy against Italianity. America loves Italy and Italians.
FUCSIA FITZGERALD NISSOLI: The attack against Columbus, as if it were a "symbol" of evil, is the worst way, for some, to wash their conscience. Columbus has taken a fundamental step in the history of mankind, but he certainly cannot be made responsible for the actions that have followed his enterprise. Christopher Columbus challenged the Pillars of Hercules, alone, believing in his ideas. Nothing can be challenged to this genius; vice versa, Columbus Day is an act due to those who, for their ideas, have sacrificed everything. For us Italians it represents a strong element of cultural identity. Identity and history that have contributed to making the United States, the country that today feels proud to be.
That is why I have fought for the preservation of Columbus' memory. As the only member of parliament living in the United States for 29 years, after what happened in Los Angeles, where the City Council cancelled Columbus Day, I was concerned to act on an institutional level, presenting a motion in the Montecitorio Hall, so that the Italian Government could take political and diplomatic action to "safeguard the Italian cultural heritage in the U.S. and the figure symbolizing that heritage, embodied by Christopher Columbus.” I must say that, in the same spirit, I had already promoted, on behalf of the Italian Community in the USA, an appeal to President Trump asking him "to safeguard the figure of Christopher Columbus in the cultural and civil history of the United States of America!”
Columbus Day is the expression of a cultural heritage that is part of American history and which does not detract from the cultural heritage of other ethnic groups such as the Native Americans.
America should enhance the traditions of each one and Columbus embodies the figure of a man who binds America not only to Italy but to all of Europe and without Columbus there would be no America as it is today.
So we must defend what belongs to us but, at the same time, is a "heritage of humanity", and oppose with the force of reason all these attempts, sometimes violent, to remove the figure of Columbus from American history. In this sense, I believe that by safeguarding Columbus Day we must also support the right of indigenous peoples to have their own day of celebration; but I repeat, a day of celebration in which we can also participate and not a day that sweeps away Columbus Day! You do not build by destroying, you build by adding!
FRANCESCA LA MARCA: From the very first moment I considered unjust and in some ways aberrant the desecration campaign against Christopher Columbus, considered directly responsible for the genocide of native populations and forerunner of the most violent processes of colonization. And this not because I have the slightest doubt about the judgment to be expressed on the genocides of the natives and the profound distortions that colonization has determined on the environmental, social and ethnic balances of the Americas. There is nothing further from my liberal formation and my sympathetic nature.
I already previously said that the controversial role of Columbus as "colonizer" should be entrusted to historians who have yet to give us a documented and argued version of the events referred to. At the same time, it is necessary to reaffirm an incontrovertible truth, namely that the "myth" of Columbus is linked to the idea of discovery, evolution and affirmation of a society that has managed to act as an essential reference of the modern world. Columbus’ flag in America has also been raised by an immigrant component, the Italian one, which not only has nothing to do with colonialism, but that started from the last steps of the social ladder to climb it only thanks to work and to the contribution it has been able to give to the modernization and security of its new country.
We must not hesitate, therefore, to defend this contribution and the driving role that in this sense the "myth" of Columbus had. For the benefit of all.
What to do? To support the cultural and civil confrontation with an open face, strong of our good reasons and of the positivity of our historical presence. It's a long drawn-out battle, but we have to do it with conviction and serenity, helped by the Italian American intellectuals who have been strengthening the reasons for their and our identity for years.
There has been talk for some time of a structural reform of the entire system of the representation of Italians abroad, which today sees the overlapping of members of the Parliament elected abroad, members of the CGIE and those of the COMITES. What do you think about this?
FRANCESCA ALDERISI: I've been following for years the reality of the various institutions that represent our fellow countrymen in the world. For many years I have interviewed and listened to many of those who are part of it: people who strongly believe in their mission. These institutions play an important role, allowing us to have a complete picture of the issues of Italians in the world. Any reform must start from what already exists: to trace the future of this system of representation we must draw from the past. In the good practices of the past we can find the roots of the future.
Moreover, I think it is crucial that the younger generations, who are almost completely unaware of these institutions, intervene and are adequately involved in this debate. In fact, the numbers of Italians leaving our country show that it is mainly young people who leave: more than a third of the total, in the last year.
FUCSIA FITZGERALD NISSOLI: The law clearly entrusts different tasks to different degrees of representation, so I don't see the overlap. If anything, it would be necessary to activate good practices in order to implement more synergistic actions for the good of the Italian Community abroad.
Having said that, it is normal to reform the rules of representation to meet the changed situation of society and consequently also of the contexts of emigration. Therefore, I hope that the debate that will start will take into account the changes that have taken place, in particular the great Italian youth reality that lives abroad.
Today, the problem is how to reform voting abroad, how to better involve Italians abroad in parliamentary and non-parliamentary representation and make voting safe also by introducing new technologies. Instead, at a time when the number of Italian citizens abroad is increasing, there are those who want to reduce the number of the members of Parliament representing them, who already today are not in proportion to the large number of AIRE members. So if you don't want to increase them, don't even decrease them, otherwise you won't be able to do a minimum of parliamentary work that is an expression of the territory. The problem, therefore, today, is how to review the forms of participation in the vote of Italians abroad making sure that they participate in a widespread way. Perhaps the use of new technologies and adequate information could help to increase participation. The voting system we have used so far has been sufficiently tested to understand that there is a need to renew and innovate it, but to do this requires a deep reflection on the role and function of the Foreign Electoral Colleges in the light of the changes taking place.
FRANCESCA LA MARCA: Frankly, I do not believe that there is an overlap between the different levels of representation of Italian citizens abroad, but rather a need for increasingly clear specification of roles as a prerequisite for a more organic and consistent collaboration between them.
I would like to remind that, on the basis of our Constitution, each member of the Parliament represents the Italian people "without any mandate", even if, of course, my attention and my commitment are directed above all to the service of my fellow countrymen of the electoral college where I was elected.
The COMITES, as basic bodies for the protection and promotion of our communities, would need a priority reform: to have the resources and autonomy necessary to fully carry out the tasks assigned to them by law. That is why, last year, with our amendment, we were able to double the contributions, while this year this improvement does not appear in the budget proposal.
The CGIE, in turn, is improving its connection with the COMITES and strengthening its dialogue with the members of the Italian Parliament; it is also experiencing a phase of active dialogue with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The members of the Italian Parliament, it should be remembered, have the right to speak directly with the Government and to monitor its actions, both through questions, motions, etc.. They also have the opportunity to submit proposals for legislation on issues of primary sensitivity of Italians abroad, such as citizenship, language and culture, consular services and more.
In short, it seems to me that the field is already well covered by the existing instruments and regulations. The real problem is that the Italians abroad, if compared to the importance they have and to their potential, through their representatives still have little impact. So I would see the remedy more in a unitary commitment of these different bodies and in the elaboration of coordinated and incisive programs.
What should Italy do to better promote itself to Italian Americans and better recognize their status as important resources for our country?
FRANCESCA ALDERISI: The “return tourism” of Italian Americans must be encouraged, promoting their return to Italy in family homes. It is a resource with great value, which can draw from a pool of millions of people, not only in the United States but throughout the world: a potential audience of about eighty million Italians abroad and their descendants. The ENIT - National Tourism Agency estimates that this phenomenon, only from the American continent, could bring about six hundred and seventy thousand arrivals a year in our country, generating a turnover of around six hundred and fifty million euros. Every year many of our fellow countrymen return to Italy moved by attachment and belonging. Here they rediscover their roots and their affections. The tourism originated by Italians abroad favors possible investments in the places of origin and represents a possible solution to the problem of depopulation of small communities.
Moreover, only those who know the colorful world of the associationism of our fellow countrymen across the border, which I have often told on Rai International in the past, understand how precious this is for Italy. The reality of associationism designs like a second Italy that reproduces authentic and pure Italy; it is like a splendid postcard of our country that moves through the streets of the United States and around the world.
FUCSIA FITZGERALD NISSOLI: If for some reason they weren't anymore, we should make them fall in love again with our country and I am referring above all to the new generations. The blood of Italy, its vital organs, are and remain the immense cultural, artistic and historical heritage that Italian people have left throughout the peninsula (and, very often, not only there).
We must push our children or those who today are grandchildren, the great-grandchildren of the first migrants, to return home. To discover, thus also creating virtuous tourist flows, their origins that - visiting the country – they will see clear in front of their eyes.
Love for Italy is not lost: it can be dormant, but when even the youngest will return to the places of their fathers or their grandparents, they will know that they have been called by the "strength of the heart".
Imagine how many of those "little towns" from which hundreds of fellow citizens have left - trusting and with hope in their hearts - and which today are sometimes abandoned, could live again thanks to this love.
I think that with this certainty it is necessary to encourage these flows and build a real tourist system "of the origins" able to ensure that tourists, returning to the places of their ancestors, experience the territory and relive the moments of life of their ancestors with the traditions that animate our ancient villages.
It is a matter of giving the possibility to know also an Italy different from that of the great international tourist circuits that could help the local development avoiding, therefore, that such realities will be abandoned by the young people.
FRANCESCA LA MARCA: The Italian Americans are on the one hand the most conspicuous and economically gifted background that Italy has in the world, and on the other a laboratory of excellence expressed by the emigration of that reality and by the phenomena of new emigration that have been going on for years. Also, Italy shouldn’t neglect the opportunity to enjoy the lobbying function that they can exert on the American government towards our country. It is therefore of primary interest for Italy to relate to them with constant and innovative interventions.
I'd think of different levels of promotion:
- the promotion for the new generations of Italian descendants, linked above all to language and culture, to new forms of communication and to the proposal of a pleasant and attractive Italian way of life;
- the one for the most consolidated generations, developing with even more effective actions the return tourism;
- that for the economic, financial and professional elites, based on a high-level scouting of the possibilities of commercial and professional interrelation with Italy and on the search for possible investments in Italy;
- for cultural and scientific excellence, aimed on the one hand at making known figures and experiences that multiply and distinguish themselves in an active environment like the North American one, and on the other hand at maintaining relationships of knowledge and collaboration with Italy, so that the energies that are forced to leave our country for lack of opportunities or that choose to do so for a free decision are not definitively lost.
I believe that a different and more active relationship with the Italian American milieu can also benefit those who, especially among intellectuals and in the academic world, have been working for years to strengthen the historical and cultural identity of Italian Americans in an intercultural framework such as the one we are experiencing.
Could you please name one of the many people you met in the election campaign and during these first months of your mandate, who represents well the merits and love for Italy of our Italian-American or Italian compatriots born here and then emigrated to America?
FRANCESCA ALDERISI: The love for Italy is hidden among the common people. In recent months, my destiny has crossed with that of many people who claim and proudly show their deep and visceral bond with our country. Among these, I still remember Stephanie Longo, an Italian American writer who lives in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I met her on my recent trip to Boston on the occasion of "Idea Boston", a festival dedicated to Italian and American culture, and I had the pleasure of attending a presentation of her: a touching story about the preservation of our traditions, our history and her latest book. In her words and in her eyes I found an enthusiasm and an attachment for our country that is rarely found in those who live in Italy. Her passion for the land of her ancestors is a wave that no one can escape, it's like a hug that wraps you and transports you to our beloved Italy. In her I have seen that love for Italians in the world that I have cultivated with care over all these years.
FUCSIA FITZGERALD NISSOLI: One name? Only one? Impossible. Each person I met represents a particular aspect of Italianity and as a whole Italianity itself: from the pensioner to the researcher, from the mother to the manager. Everyone has in their history those values and human characteristics that allow us to have an extra gear. When I met many of my fellow countrymen who recently emigrated to the United States, I was particularly struck by their passion and love for everything related to Italy, from the language to the Italian flag. People proud to promote, on a daily basis, their own history and culture.
After all, we are Italian in every aspect, in every action, in every word, attitude and, above all, in every smile. Do you know how beautiful the smile of us Italians is? If you really want me to make a choice ... well, then, our smile.
FRANCESCA LA MARCA: I won't do any, not for the embarrassment of choosing or for the fear of displeasing someone, but because in the course of my activity I have really developed the conviction that the Italian community abroad is a true choral reality, an articulated and interconnected collective subject. I could not keep my relations with the electorate without the selfless help of all those who work in the territory in associationism. They do it with passion, dedication, patience, inspired by healthy values and a work ethic that has been forged in the long process of integration and inclusion in societies other than that of birth and training.
I sincerely say that without their support and also the help of the many who write to me not only to encourage me, but also to advise me, I could not do well the delicate work I do or I could not do it with the "charge" necessary to get results.
I take this opportunity to thank them and to say that their presence and their help are a guarantee for all Italians abroad.
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