Great Nnachi, Turin born, is one of Italy’s top athletes in pole vaulting. When she was only fourteen she broke the Italian record for her designated age category by reaching 3.70 metres. Now at sixteen, her hopes to compete for Italy on the world stage are unlikely to come to fruition due to the current Italian Citizenship law.
The Law Broken Down
To automatically acquire Italian citizenship you must be…
1. Born to an Italian parent
2. Born to stateless parents in Italy
3. Adopted by Italian parents
Unfortunately these particularities exclude individuals who were born in Italy to foreign parents. Individuals born to foreign immigrants residing in Italy, may only acquire Italian Citizenship after having resided in Italy for 18 years, meaning only after they have reached adulthood. This particularity of the law has been under scrutiny for years.
Jus Sanguinis V.S. Jus Soli
Jus Sanguinis is a principle of nationality law which translates from Latin to ‘right of blood. This principle dictates that one can acquire citizenship via the nationality of one or both of their parents. Such is the case in Italy. On the other hand Jus Soli which translates from Latin to ‘right of soil’ more commonly known as birthright citizenship. This principle dictates the right of citizenship to anyone born within the territory of a state which practices this law. For example, in the United States, even individuals born flying over the country, or in their territorial waters have a right to American citizenship. This right is lifelong, as even if an individual is born within the territory but resides in another country and never returns to the United States again, their citizenship will remain, unless they wish to revoke their citizenship.
It seems odd to most to fathom the idea that one can live their whole life, grow up essentially in a place, and not be considered a citizen. Italian may be your first language or only language, it may be the only place you have ever known, the only culture you have ever fully been immersed in, and still legally you have no right to access or acquire Italian citizenship till you turn eighteen.
Great Nnachi, born in Turin Italy, cannot claim her right to citizenship till she turns 18. Why? Because her parents are Nigerian. Because of this, she will be unable to represent Italy on the world stage till she acquires citizenship. What is truly baffling then, is that individuals such as Lamont Marcell Jacobs, who won Italy the 100m Olympic gold in Tokyo this year, is allowed to compete over individuals like Great Nnachi, despite only having citizenship because of his Italian mother.
Great Nnachi’s Struggle
Born and Raised in northern Italy, with a strong Piedmontese accent, Great has always dreamed of becoming an Olympic pole vaulter. Even breaking the pole vaulter jumping record was considered controversial as disputes suggested the jump shouldn’t be classified as an Italian record. Although with the aid of her trainer, Luciano Gemelli, she came out victorious as the Italian Athletics Federation ruled to recognize her jump as an Italian record. Despite all this, she still isn’t allowed, and will not be till she turns eighteen, to apply for Italian citizenship. She cannot legally claim Italy to be her home despite it being the only one she has ever known.
Many have argued the opposite stance, stating that citizenship should not be awarded, or be a prize that one can claim solely on the fact you were born and raised in Italy. While in between the struggle between these two sides, there are those who say you don’t need citizenship to be Italian or feel Italian. Which to that I say, as long as you don’t mind being legally restricted and ostracized for most of your life.
There is this strong notion in Italy that an immigrants’ value is dependent on their successes and achievements, this notion extends to children born in Italy to immigrant parents. Italian when they do, and immigrants when they don’t. These children who know only Italy, who were raised and born in Italy, are just as Italian as the next Italian child. Why do we deprive them of their citizenship? Why do we make them feel like they don’t belong? Why do we call them everything but Italian? Individuals like Great Nnachi are challenging the ideas around multiculturalism and immigration and generating a new wave which hopefully will keep growing and allow Italian children to be recognized as such.