Janet Napolitano may be as familiar face in Florence, Italy, as she is in Florence, Ariz.
The selection of “Janet, the Italian sheriff” – as the daily La Stampa put it – to become the nation’s next Homeland Security secretary sparked interest and excitement in the country from which Napolitano’s grandfather emigrated from in the early 1900s.
Italians are fascinated not only by Napolitano’s cultural heritage but also by what they view as her innovative strategies as a border-state governor, hence the term “sheriff,” said Maurizio Molinari, the Torino-based newspaper’s U.S. correspondent.
“The general perception . . . is that she is in the first row facing illegal immigration,” a hot-button issue here and there, Molinari said.
“Her decision to work more to prevent the illegal immigration from inside Arizona (is) a strategy that is very similar (to) the one Italy is trying to apply.”
As far as Italian-American celebrities go, the governor is as well-known in Italy as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, lagging only slightly behind former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Molinari said.
That may in part be due to her sharing the same last name with Italy’s head of state, President Giorgio Napolitano.
“It’s a kind of strange coincidence,” Molinari said, given the name is spelled in some different varieties.
Accepting and cherishing
The namesakes even got to meet when Napolitano, the president, invited Napolitano, the governor, to the presidential Palazzo del Quirinale in Rome in September 2007.
The governor cherishes her Italian heritage, said Joseph Del Raso, executive vice president of the National Italian American Foundation and a host of a 2007 reception of the foundation held in honor of the then-chair of the National Governors Association.
“The Italian-American community has been very proud of her achievements,” he said.
Knowing about the challenges Italians coming to the United States faced in past centuries may have given Napolitano a more nuanced understanding of immigration issues, Del Raso said.
The fascination with Napolitano in Italy, meanwhile, seems unique, particularly given neighboring Austrians’ apparent lack of interest in their country’s most famous emigrant, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“People didn’t take (him) seriously for a long time,” said Paul Zabloudil, foreign-policy editor of the Austria Press Agency.
If anything, Schwarzenegger sparked controversy because of his support for capital punishment and by calling Austria a “socialist” country, he said.
Italians, on the other hand, care very much about the likes of Giuliani and Napolitano because they perceive them as their countrymen, even though they live outside the borders of the Boot, La Stampa’s Molinari said.
“The issue is the definition of national identity,” he said. “For us, (it’s) ‘the people.’ ” And given that definition, Molinari predicts that while the governor’s impending promotion could further boost coverage about her, Italians’ interest in all things Napolitano will keep up no matter what.
“There is this kind of curiosity,” he said, “that goes beyond politics.”
Janet Napolitano – a new Homeland Security Secretary
When Janet Napolitano was first appointed to this function in 2009, she was in charged overseeing critical situations. Preventing terrorist attacks, securing its borders, dealing with natural disasters and building the resistance of the country. She also put a great effort in fighting a cyber-criminal, as well as creating better flight conditions, eliminating the threats before they appear.
She is the first woman and the longest serving secretary in the history of the United States.
Before joining Obama’s administration, she was the governor of Arizona. She was the first official how started new homeland strategies and implementing them. She opened the first terrorist center as well as enforcing the immigration policies and laws. Even though she has Italian origin, she was well received in the United States as Governor and as Secretary of Homeland Security.
Napolitano always had an emergency plan for every situation.