When Francesco Genuardi arrived in New York in March 2016 to hold the position of Consul General of Italy, we imagined that he would be a diplomat up to the task. Observing him in his first assignments, he possesses an imposing physical presence, yet he demonstrates to have understood and accepted the course without question: the diplomatic seat on Park Avenue was not going to be a place where he could leisurely enjoy the honors of his prestigious office, rather there he would have the great responsibility of daily duties. The double-breasted suit he wears does not stop him from rolling up his sleeves and working, running, working and running!
The Consul General in New York must first and foremost perform a miracle: be at five different events that he cannot miss that are all at the same time in the greater NYC area. How can he do it? Precisely by running! And since the Consul General of Italy does not have a helicopter at his disposal, he must “time” his entrance and exit perfectly, and the next one, and so on, without stop, for five or six consecutive evenings in a week. And naturally appear, at each and every event at which he’s expected, sharp and cool, battling Manhattan traffic, and repeating the miracle of ubiquity for the umpteenth evening.
Born in Brussels 50 years ago of Italian parents of Venetian and Sicilian origins (his father an official of the European Community), after completing his law degree in Milan, in 1993 Genuardi was awarded a post to begin his diplomatic career. Following a few years at the Dictorate General for Economic Affairs, where he was responsible for issues relating to protection of the environment and press service and information of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he was invited to serve as Deputy Consul in Buenos Aires from 1998 to 2002, an important step not only for his career. Actually, Genuardi’s wife is Argentinian and they have two children. He returned home to his native Brussels as First Secretary at the Permanent Representation of the North Atlantic Council (NATO, from 2002-2005). Subsequently he returned to Rome, to serve as Cabinet Minister for Foreign Affairs (Liaison Officer for Parliament), where in 2008, he assumed the rank as Embassy Advisor. From November 2014, he was the Executive Liaison Officer with the Chamber of the Cabinet of the then Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Paolo Gentiloni, current Italian Prime Minister.
Consul General Francesco Genuardi arrived a year ago to New York with a diplomatic degree of Minister Plenipotentiary, assisted by Deputy Consul General Robert Frangione, Deputy Consul Isabella Periotto, Deputy Consul Chiara Saulle and a team of 36 people.
At the end of April, we were received at the Consulate offices on Park Avenue, where Genuardi welcomed us “sharp and cool” to grant us this interview.
After your first year, is it what you expected or not?
“My work is even more fascinating than that which I expected and is an even more intense and engaging challenge. Even the physical energy expended is even more than I expected. So my answer is twofold: it is more exciting, nicer, than I imagined but the level of challenge is greater than I could have foreseen.”
Was there a challenge that was faced that ended well?
“As I said at the beginning of my mandate, the priority was and will continue to be the distribution of consular services. With the responsibilities I have as Consul General, I am well aware of the obligations of this role, the load of which is not only physically heavy, rather more importantly they are obligations to always give more and improve existing consular services. I was fortunate to arrive in a Consulate that was wonderfully directed by my colleague Natalia Quintavalle, who did comprehensive work on reform, fine-tuning and improving the distribution of services for its clients. One success that comes to mind in the past few months is the activation in New Jersey of an Italian passport station at the Honorary Consulate, to absorb all this new transition.”
The challenge about which we spoke with the previous Consul General Natalia Quintavalle: the computerization of the Consulate, in anticipation of the Italian elections…
“If we’ve made advance, there is more to do. It’s a journey that is endless. I believe we need to continue on this path and that the unfolding of two referenda in a few months as had transpired last year was for us an important and delicate testing ground and we demonstrated that, despite the countless difficulties and the great budgetary constraints, we were able to hold our own.”
Did the referendum test give you confidence from the organizational point of view for voting abroad? From Parliament, there were objections, protests…
“The Consulate is committed to applying laws, laws that exist and not to comment on them.”
Are you continuing to make progress on computerization?
“The upgrading of ballots, addresses, I found out and saw with my own eyes by visiting with Italians and associations everywhere in the months the ballots arrived. So I have feedback that makes me hope about that we are making progress on the computerization, in the sense that there is cooperation with the municipalities, the Ministry of the Interior, of Foreign Affairs.”
Have you noticed that here in New York there isn’t only one Italian community but rather many?
“Absolutely so. Let’s say that one of the characteristics of Italy is that there are so many Italies, many Italians. New York is no exception. I have found richness again greater than I had expected, I wish to make it clear, and have found many articulations, layers, diverse groups of Italians. If I were to summarize in an extreme and perhaps not so scientific way, I would say that there is a part of the Italian American world of a few generations ago that represent an Italian that settled here and came to the Tristate and is an irreplaceable pillar, endless energy and bridges with the United States. It’s represented by a myriad of associations that are still active with a solid generational turnover, a desire and a knowledge of how to equip itself for years to come, for an era that is different than the one in which they were founded, and also with mutual objectives to aid, noble goals, that continue to be important – because aid is still important for the weak and disadvantaged, for the study of Italy’s cultural heritage. This part that I define as Italian American is a vital part, irreplaceable.”
Do you have any advice for the large Italian American associations, like NIAF, the Columbus Citizen Foundation, the Sons of Italy, UNICO, etc.?
“I would say to continue with the efforts they are making, some ahead, some a tad behind, with greater links with a contemporary Italy. Obviously it’s a bidirectional effort, an effort that we cannot just ask from the associations; we too can, as the Consulate, help to find solutions. Together with the consular team, we can help to facilitate contacts with Italian realities and to increase opportunities to meet. There is awareness and desire to take courses in Italy, to understand that Italy in 2017 is clearly different from the context in which the associations were founded at that time.”
The mayor of New York, Bill De Blasio, is Italo-American as is governor Andrew Cuomo. Does this facilitate things?
“Yes, I do think this an advantage, an additional asset.”
The duality of Cuomo and De Blasio has at times sparked. Is it advantageous to have a relationship with these two heavyweights?
“Very position, from what I learned from books about the political history of NY and from what I’m told, I know that relationships between mayor and governor are physiologically e generally complex. The fact that both are of Italian origin is very positive for us.”
The other type of community, the more recent Italian immigrants. They are many who have arrived to New York in the last few years. Some have never approached the Consulate…
“We know we are available also to Italians who don’t make themselves known to us. We are ready to spring and take action in emergency situations so it is our duty to prepare the consular machine, oil it, improve it even more, and put it at the service of all, as an institution.
You continue to organize the series of encounters for young professionals…
“The cycle of encounters that I should make clear was not established by me, and I like to remind everyone, is the fruit of the work of the extraordinary crew Deputy Consul General Roberto Frangione e Deputy Consuls Isabella Periotto e Chiara Saulle, who passionately serve the State in their roles and who initiated this series of encounters called “Meet the New Italians.” These meetings are aligned with the strategy of our Embassy in Washington, join together the youngest Italians and seeks to illustrate that institutions can also be a meeting place and a useful discussion for the new, young Italian diaspora, of students above all to offer a series of practical information that can also give professional direction, also a legal one for visas, and for life in New York.”
What suggestions do you have for young or not so young Italians who dream of coming to NY?
“I would suggest first of all that they inform themselves as much as possible with respect to documents required, entry documents, because it is of course that must be understood in great detail. I would encourage them to have maximum information and details, and once here, I would encourage them to come to the Consulate.”
Is there an information service to assist them?
“There is an ongoing misunderstanding even on American visas on the on the information they request form us: we have to date, like physiological fact, a very high number of requests about information on American visas from Italians. This could be an opportune moment to clarify this, that we are available to give information if they ask it of us, but clearly we have no jurisdiction over American visas. The Consulate is also here to help tourists. We have an assistance office that does commendable work, in terms of tourists’ emergency assistance, assistance to Italians, and those Italian-Americans that may have problems. Another concept that I would like address, that I would like to continue to give about Italy through this Consulate General is that of Italy as a great country of solidarity, inclusiveness and dialogue. I believe that as a Consulate we have the duty to strengthen this type of projection of Italy. The Consulate does so because we have responsibility to give assistance and protection to our fellow countryman. For example, at the end of April, we dedicated a special focus on disability at the Scuola d’Italia, where we highlighted before an international audience (United Nations, students, the Disabilities Commissioner for New York City) Italy’s great tradition of solidarity, it’s in our DNA, of dialogue, of listening, of inclusion. It is a very important aspect that we must never forget.
To come full circle on the concept of computerization, as I stated at the start, computerization is decisive, essential, crucial and must be pursued here, day after day, without ever deflecting. Yet I don’t ever wish that one day this will be transformed into a Consulate solely of machines and of distribution of documents. We must never lose sight of the Italian humanist side.”
The Consul General of Italy in New York also has the duty of representing Italy. Do you sense the amount admiration there is for Italy in New York?
“I feel what is directed toward Italy, that is a quantity of admiration, love and I believe that in no other city in the world is there this amount of admiration and friendship for Italy so alive and present.”
Does Italy know how to capitalize on its “competitive advantage”?
“There is always room for improvement and strengthening on how to transform this move and friendship in returns for Italy! I must say that for some time here, there is an always greater awareness of the type of work and use this sentiment. The Italian Ambassador in Washington, Armando Varricchio, has developed a series of strategies that reflect this. We need to continue to project and talk about an Italy that is proud and strong of its past and culture, and thanks to its past and its culture, Italy is a country that can confront the present and tomorrow with optimism and great global and international vocation.
From Italy waves of pessimism on the economic and political situation engulf us. Should we be worried or is there an opportunity for a new momentum of optimism?
“Without of course understanding the complexity of the current situation, both European and worldwide, I believe that we must also be able to, thanks to Italian humanistic know-how, see things in perspective with a certain ability to assess them, while trying to detach from the frenzy e immediacy or from the rapidity of social media reasoning. Also to see that in the end there are also pieces and elements that should lead us to optimism and greater serenity. I say this with the knowledge of privilege of being able to serve my county in a city like New York, where this amount of energy that you breath also brings New York Italians to have “a positive spirit.” A united Italy paradoxically is perceived well in New York; for example, it comes together in meetings in the Consulate to have a series of personalities, energies and forces that, perhaps, would be difficult to have gathered in the same room in Italy. Everyone with the same civil passion for Italy, with the same desire to give to Italy, to construct…”
So here Italy is at it’s best?
“New York’s Italy is certainly a beautiful Italy on which our institutions can rely.”
The study of the Italian language and culture. What’s to be done?
“The Italian language is an absolute priority!
In this respect, there is a broad community of people that greatly interests us and that is – generally speaking – the lovers of Italy. I would say there are “three categories of reference for the Consulate (n.d.r.): Italo-Americans, Italians (including the numerous tourists) and the lovers of Italy, and we must bring them closer to us ever more.
They belong to a very important constituency, one to broaden the study of Italian and it is an identifying instrument to reacquire and strengthen their pride in their own identify for a people who lost their language, for many reasons. But there is also a newer sector, the lovers of Italy. We must work and monitor them too because looking ahead they to are ‘bearers of Italy,’ in their respective lives, careers, professions, and personal journeys. They are drawn to the Italian language out of love for Italian culture, music, film, and I believe that here we too are doing an important job with all the Italian institutions in NY. This concept of teamwork I hold crucial. We have the Embassy in Washington that directs the orchestra, then the various instruments who play together, we at the Consulate with the Cultural Institute, with ICE (Institute for Foreign Trade), … with the foundations, museums, universities, associations, etc. … many diverse realities. It’s comprehensive team that isn’t limited to Manhattan, as you know, but extends to other NY neighborhoods and more generally, the Tristate.”
Are you satisfied with the resources you have, those made available to the Consulate?
“I believe that to improve the quality to greater levels of consular services, we definitely request that resources be supplemented, that we call for, that we think are necessary to address the growing demand for consular services, ranging from the ever growing acquisition of Italian citizens that request consular services to the fact that there are every more Italians who live here. An adjustment of resources is always desirable.
But at the same time we are always realists about the circumstances.”
Are elected officials abroad helpful?
“There is great work on their part based on a vast awareness and knowledge of the situation. I have served in positions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the past that have allowed me to follow parliamentary activity, so…”
You’re an expert…
“… budgetary constraints and general difficulties of the foreign international part in the allocating of resources…”
Any advice for us involved in the foreign press to help the community and the Consulate?
“I would say here in New York we are privileged to have a polyphony of voices, a richness is this polyphony of Italian and Italo-American media voices in NY. You must further this commitment you have, I hear it very loud, to cover the true Italy and true Italian life in NY. To connect, even you are important and crucial bridge between these realities, and you too are a fortifying instrument of links, bridges. Each one of us must continue to work to the fullest of our own conscience and possibilities.”