In Praise of the Italian-American Vote

Beaming Over Bombolini and More

Just about a year ago, my boyfriend of four years, Stefano Togni, became American. Many people from both his personal and professional life—even some of his closest friends—had no idea that he wasn’t an American citizen. Indeed, this Italian-born man, known to most as Steve, appears as American as my dad (who is first generation American, born of Italian parents). Although he is fluent in the Italian language and culture, his speech doesn’t reveal a hint of an Italian accent. Plus, his enthusiasm for sports—including Monday night football—rivals that of every other red-blooded American guy. Indeed, he has lived in the United States since he was a senior in high school and aside from an almost unhealthy penchant for pasta, bread, salad and San Pelligrino one would never know that his American passport is as crisp as a new billfold.

Even after so many years in the U.S., after paying into Social Security and  taxes for well more than two decades, he still had not made the step toward becoming a full-fledged American. Blame it on the paperwork, although it was more likely because he felt reticent to give up his Italian nationality, something you have to do when becoming a U.S. citizen. He just wasn’t ready to make that step. Finally over a year and a half ago, he decided it was time; he hired a lawyer and filled out reams of paperwork. About six months after that, he announced he was convened in Denver by the Department of Homeland Security where he thought (although he was not sure) he’d become an American citizen.

We left for “the big city” one day after work and drove most of the six-hour journey in the dark. Halfway into the ride, we broke out the list of one hundred questions that he would potentially be quizzed on in order to pass a key part of the examination. (Out of the one hundred questions, he was to be asked ten of which he had to answer seven correctly.) I drilled him on these as we creeped along Vail Pass in a mid-November snowstorm. Some, such as what body of water borders the east coast of the United States (the Atlantic Ocean), were easy. Others, involving the complexities of our government and the desires of our founding fathers, proved much more challenging.

Yet all our studying paid off in the end. Steve responded correctly to the first seven questions, so he was asked no more. Stefano Togni called me from the U.S. Naturalization Office mid afternoon to say, “I think I’m going to get it—today. I think I’m going to become an American.”

I met my newly naturalized American back at the hotel later that afternoon. Never did I imagine I’d find him so elated, so proud to be an American. We both waved the little American flag he was given at the swearing in process. Some seventy people from countries as far away as Australia, Pakistan and Great Britain became Americans that day in Denver, about the same number that are naturalized at that center every day (except weekends)of the year in Colorado. “After taking the oath, we recited the Pledge of Allegiance and sang the national anthem,” Steve explained.

“I’m glad they did something to mark it on an emotional level,” I said.

“Oh, they did,” he responded with what I was sure were tears in his eyes.

I arranged a wonderful evening out to celebrate this momentous event. No, it wasn’t for a meal of burgers and fries. Instead, we headed to Il Posto, one of Denver’s finest Italian restaurants. I guess it was my way of saying that he didn’t really have to renounce his Italian-ness—at least not in terms of food. Situated in an up and coming neighborhood in upper uptown just beyond City Park, Il Posto offered up one of the most authentic Italian dining experiences we had ever enjoyed on either side of the Atlantic. This trattoria-like establishment strikes the right balance between tradition and hip in both its decor and what is served on the plates. From burrata to gnocchi to risotto to bistecca, Il Posto’s menu boasts fresh, flavorful food sourced from local and organic farms as well as purveyors of Italian speciality items.

Chef Andrea Frizzi

“I used to pick arugula from my grandmother’s garden,” Chef Andrea Frizzi told Steve and me. The two conversed in their native tongue and soon learned that not only were they both born in Milan, but they also had ties to the same village in the Italian Alps. A love for the mountains and the unpretentious nature of the American West is surely what drew both of these “Italians” to Colorado.

Steve and I continued to feast on homemade dishes from a menu composed daily, according to what’s in season. He reveled in pappardelle with marjoram sausage ragu, oyster mushroom and grana (grated cheese) while I savored veal ossobuco prepared with vintage beef bone marrow, saffron risotto and gremolata (a combination of lemon zest, parsley, garlic and olive oil). Swills of Chianti helped us to finish every last forkful of this celebratory meal. Steve was thrilled to discover a dessert menu which showcased Bombolini, sugar-dusted Trentino doughnuts served with créme anglaise and dried currant jam, a Tyrolean Sud specialty that further conjured up memories of his Italian Alps roots.

Early Voting in Telluride, Colorado

“Here’s to becoming American, hun,” I toasted at the end of this superlative Italian meal. We both laughed and felt satiated beyond belief. There was no letdown about giving up his Italian nationality. No, it was clear that that part of Stefano was still fully intact. Now, however, he could feel the full breadth of what it means to be an American.

No, we are not a perfect nation but we are pretty darned wonderful. I doubt there are many people willing to renounce their American citizenship. And despite all the disagreeing and grumbling about politics these days, we are united by the sense of one-ness we feel about being American.

In less than a week Steve will vote in the U.S. for the first time. He does not take this lightly and I can feel his pride about participating in an American election beam from him every time we discuss voting. Regardless of who wins, I’m sure it will be a great day for him.

I went to Early Voting last Friday. And just like when I hear the first chords of our national anthem or even the sight of our stars and stripes, I welled up with emotion as my ballot was cast. It is such a privilege to vote in our country, so make sure you exercise it. Each vote counts—at least in your heart.

Il Posto, 2011 East 17th Avenue, 303-394-0100.

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