Expanding Italy's Reach

On January 22, I had the honor of participating in the 70th anniversary commemoration of the allied forces' landing on the shores of Lazio. Standing in the middle of the military cemetery in Nettuno, I felt a strong stir of emotions, reminded of the sacrifice many young American soldiers made to guarantee a better and brighter future for both Italy and America.

Every day we need to remember what these men gave us, and we must strive to improve the world around us. The six Italian senators elected abroad work tirelessly to achieve this goal for Italian citizens living outside their homeland. Two pillars we must uphold are offering services to our citizens and spreading Italian culture.

I've said before that our consular network is very important. I understand we are in a time of financial difficulties, and we need to find ways to save. However, closing offices only takes away services from citizens who still need them. Closing the Newark consulate is a prime example of this. Instead of depriving a territory of representation, we should be setting up numerous windows across the country that provide assistance with documents, passports, visas and other documents. A better way to reduce costs is by hiring local employees instead of people sent here from Italy. This would save us from paying rent in expensive neighborhoods or buildings. Furthermore, the four-year turnaround doesn't allow these individuals to perform at their best, and valuable time and resources are lost.

Another idea we have is to make consular offices financially self-sufficient. Instead of sending all money collected from passport, visa and other document fees to the ministry of economy and finance, consular offices could use that money to operate independently. That way, the offices would have more incentive to perform well and complete projects more quickly.

Spreading the Italian culture and language is very important, and we are fortunate to have many volunteer organizations across the country, as well as dedicated centers to do this. Some Italian consulates also have an Italian cultural institute, but their outreach needs significant improvement.

There's a pattern that I've noticed at some Italian cultural institutes around the world. They offer great events and present outstanding artistic initiatives, but they attract only a small crowd of regulars. Greater effort needs to be placed on including more of the Italian community. A good example is the Italian ambassador to Canada, who will celebrate the Festa della Repubblica June 2 in a large park, with more than 1,000 people in attendance. He has included vendors in this event, which has all the components needed to celebrate Italy appropriately.

It would be a pity to squander the great work done by Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero and the many consuls in our territory during the 2013 Year of Italian Culture in the U.S. initiative. That experience should be the starting point of a new way of showcasing Italy, its culture and its people.

Regarding funding, these cultural institutes could offset expenses and avoid the risk of closure by reaching out to private investors and sponsors who would be willing to support an exhibit, a film screening or any other event promoting Italy.

Ultimately, we need synergy between consular offices, Italian cultural institutes and the many Italian and Italian-American organizations and institutions across the country. This would give Italian citizens greater access to the culture and language of Italy in their cities and towns.