Posts Tagged ‘DeBella’

It never ceases to amaze me how tiny the world has become.  From my little apartment in San Francisco, I have an idea.  I sit down at my desk and pound out my thoughts onto my computer.  Because of the nature of the internet today, my viewpoints and impressions are broadcast instantaneously across an ocean where a man sitting at his computer in Italy happens to run across my article, Orvieto, Italy: A Land Where Time Stands Still.  Something moves him to send me a short note – he says he likes what I wrote about his hometown.

Just a few short months later, I find myself sitting across the dinner table from a lovely couple to whom I’d been introduced that evening.  Halfway through the supper conversation we discover the link: “So, you’re that Toni DeBella”, the husband declares to our astonishment. You could have knocked me over with a feather!

In these crazy moments, the once unthinkable becomes imaginable.  Here we all sit together in a restaurant in Orvieto, experiencing firsthand the growing obsolescence of continents and landmasses with hard-drawn borders.  Can’t you just picture it – the entire human race clustered in one big archipelago – chained loosely and floating alongside one another, just waiting to collide?  And do you know the most amazing part?  My story is becoming more and more common and every day.  Il mondo e’ piccolo (it’s a small world), and it’s getting smaller all the time.

Read another “small world” story by Lisa Chiodo at Renovating Italy here.

by Toni DeBella


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The letter from the Consolato Generale D’Italia a San Francisco arrived in the mail today. The words inside the envelope were a culmination of three long years of hard work and dogged determination: 31/08/11 Dear Ms. DeBella: “I am pleased to notify you that your Italian citizenship has been recognized and that your certificate(s) have been forwarded to the Italian municipality of CORLEONE (PA) for recording.”

Somehow I envisioned this auspicious occasion much differently. There were times when I wondered if this day would ever come. And if it did arrive, I imagined it would be filled with much fanfare, jumping up and down, and screaming. Instead it was a quiet moment. A solitary moment. A very personal moment. It was a time to reflect on what it took for me to get to this place: Patience, tenacity, belief, humor, and a clear intention. August 31, 2011 is the day I became a citizen of Italy.

Italian by Blood Jure sanguinis (“right of blood”) contrasts with jus soli (Latin: “right of soil”) in that citizenship is not determined by place of birth, but rather by having a parent (or decendent) who is a citizen of a nation. In Italy there’s no limit to the generations that can obtain citizenship via blood (except for specific constraints which did not apply to me). Furthermore, because the U.S. and Italy have a reciprocity agreement, one is allowed dual citizenship.

After tracking down my grandparents’ birth certificates (likely located in books archived in church basements of Corleone and Contessa Entellina), respectively, I gathered together some twenty other documents (i.e., birth, death, divorce) for both myself and members of my immediate family. Translations and Apostilles followed, along with a list of discrepancies and misspelled names (of which there were many). And don’t even get me started on the rabbit hole that is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security! This part  of the process took a little over a year to complete. Then there was the waiting period (one-and-a half years, to be exact) for an appointment to personally submit my application to the Italian Consulate.

The procedure was daunting, frustrating, and at times discouraging. When I felt like giving up, I thought about the finish line — life in Italy — which helped to spur me on. I suppose that if becoming a citizen of a country were easy, everyone would do it. You really have to want it!

The Gift

I Nonni DeBella, San Jose, California

Throughout these three years I’ve been fortunate to have the support and encouragement of friends and family, both in the U.S. and Italy. But it was my grandparents, Jake (Gioachino) DiBella and Emma (Ninfa) Pizzo, who deserve my utmost thanks and gratitude for without them none of this would be possible. In the late 1880s, they came to this country as young immigrants from Sicily. They married, worked hard, and raised a family of ten children. I wonder what they would have thought about their granddaughter one day returning to the land they left behind.

It appears that the DeBella family, in the not-too-distant future, is about to come full circle.

by Toni DeBella

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I Nonni DeBella

I used to make the same mistake most Italian Americans make. When someone asked my nationality I always responded “I’m Italian.”  It was when I moved to Italy and became immersed in its culture that I began to detect the distinct differences between us: Italians vs. Italian Americans.  We are cousins for sure – we share ancestors, history, traditions and certain sensibilities, but we are also completely different.  It comes down to that aged-old question: nature of nurture?  Nationality: I believe it’s in our DNA.

Sono italo americana

Many Italian Americans grow up in an environment that is quintessentially American but with undertones of Italian culture threaded through everything.  Mine, I think, is typical of a lot of first and second generation families whose descendants immigrated from Italy in the late 1800s to early 1900s.  My Sicilian grandparents, Gioachino DiBella and Nimfa Pizzo, were born in small towns near Palermo, and although they were very young children when they left their homeland, they remained “from the old country” their entire lives.  The photo at the top, for example, was taken in our backyard in San Jose, California around 1965.  At the time bell bottoms and the Beatles were in fashion, but looking at my grandparents in this photo, it could have been taken in 1865!

Born in America: Parts from Italy

My parents Luke and Nancy

I would say that Italian Americans are born with an identity crisis.  We are “hybrids” – the Prius’ of American society. We feel part of a culture and experience that is in stark contrast to the Ward and June Clever-types portrayed in TV sitcoms.  Our large, loud and chaotic families are the center of our universe.  At birthdays, Baptisms, Christmas, etc., the house is filled with people from the same gene pool.  Sunday dinner is served at 1:00 p.m. at our grandparents’ house (who live with us, next door to us, or down the street from us).  Thanksgiving dinner includes the traditional turkey, stuffing, yams and homemade ravioli.  Italian American friends never call – they just stop by after dinner, often bearing brown paper bags filled with cherries, zucchini, tomatoes…whatever they have in abundance from their trees or in their gardens.

Il Segreto: The Secret

I can’t really list for you all the differences between Italians from Italy and Italian Americans, I just know we are different.  I try to resist the urge to boil people down to stereotypes because it’s never useful and not quite that simple.  However, when I am surrounded by Italians, I can feel it.  It’s like they know something that I don’t know.  It’s in their eyes, in the way they carry themselves, a sort of special grin that says to me “I have the secret” to: 1) happiness, 2) living well, 3) the meaning of life.  Italians are a fascinating composite of intelligence, cynicism, superstition, generosity, warmth, hyper-criticism, style, emotionality and humanism. You certainly have to consider that their civilization has been in existence for thousands of years.  It’s a culture of people who have seen it all, done it all and have the T-shirt. Americans are the “teenagers” of civilizations – we have a lot to learn.  We may be the most powerful country in the free world, but we are “cultural pipsqueaks” in comparison.

“Families are like fudge – mostly sweet with a few nuts.” ~Author Unknown

A family camping trip

Despite all our differences, when it comes down to it, what makes us most alike – two separate people from two different countries – is our regard for family.  Family is the cornerstone of our lives: we hold it in highest esteem – even if we don’t understand each other, fight with one another, or at times hate each other.  We never forget that home and family is where we started. And if we are lucky to have been born into a good and loving one, we hope it is where we will be in the end.  So, here’s to the family…”Alla Famiglia”. That’s Italian and Italian American.

by Toni DeBella

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