After taking office at the end of last summer, De Santis quickly moved to improve the Consulate’s services, with a particular focus on reducing wait and responding to queries from Italian citizens seeking assistance from the Consulate.
“Before anything else, you need to make sure the daily work here is being done right,” he says.
Sitting in his beautiful 17th floor office overlooking the bustling Seaport District at 600 Atlantic Avenue, the Salerno native recounts the first few months in office.
“I wanted to understand how things worked here, especially given that our financial resources have been cut in recent years. So we needed to figure out a way to do more with less, to be more efficient.”
He believes it is very important to know what the public thinks of the Consular services and to this end he started an ‘on line survey’. De Santis also set up an online registration form, enabling anyone in need of Consular services to make an appointment and schedule a visit.
“Coming here often requires a lot of time,” says De Santis. “We want to make sure we have all we need to get the job done as quickly as possible.”
Diplomatic challenges are nothing new for Boston’s new Consul General of Italy. After all, the 45-year-old diplomat has a long track record on the field. In 2002, just three years into his career, he was appointed Consul in Detroit, overseeing a vast geographical area that included the states of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. During his 4-year tenure in Detroit, he met his wife Elisa, a Tuscan doctor who was working at a local hospital for six months. In 2006, the couple moved to Caracas, Venezuela, where De Santis headed the Italian embassy’s commercial office.
“We dealt primarily with inter-governmental contracts between big Italian companies and the Venezuelan government,” he says.
After a three-year stint in South America, De Santis returned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rome, where he served in the Department of Human Resources and Innovation and was in charge of the ministry’s personnel. In 2014, finally, the news arrived he would be heading back to the United States.
“One of the first things I learned about our community in Boston is that there is a growing population of young, professional immigrants,” he says. De Santis doesn’t like to refer to Italy’s new immigrants as “brain drain,” but rather as people moving to places where more opportunities are granted. “It’s natural to want to come here, where some of the world’s top universities and fastest growing companies are located. We have to make sure that ties to Italy remain strong, fostering opportunities in our country that can eventually attract these talents back home.”
One such bridge that De Santis will try to build is the Italian Cultural Center envisioned by his predecessor, Giuseppe Pastorelli. For its fourth year, the Friends of the Italian Cultural Center will hold its annual fundraiser italianissimo! in October during the Italian Heritage Month. “It is a unique opportunity to get together and shine a light on our culture,” says De Santis.
The major hurdle remains the definition of a location that can host the structure, and the non-profit organization working to establish the center is currently negotiating to obtain an undisclosed building. “Whatever we do, we need the community to rally around this goal,” says De Santis. “Consul Generals change every four years, but this structure would remain. It is for the community, but it also has to come from the community.” The idea of an Italian Cultural Center was launched in 2012 by former Consul General Giuseppe Pastorelli, who was appointed Consul General in Toronto, Canada, last year. By gathering some of the biggest and most influential names in the local Italian and Italian-American communities, the project boasts a solid and credible launch pad.
Alongside the center, De Santis inherited many other initiatives that he looks forward to continuing. “We have established many partnerships with academic as well as private institutions. Initiatives such as the Salvemini Colloquium Series at Harvard, or offering quality Italian cinema at the Harvard Film Archive are just some of the important work we are carrying on.” This month, De Santis will hold an event at the Consulate celebrating June 2, Italy’s Republic Day. To underscore the date’s importance, De Santis will confer honorary awards to three Italian citizens who have distinguished themselves in the scientific and medical fields in the Boston area. The three awardees are Pier Paolo Pandolfi, director of the Cancer Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Maurizio Fava, director of the Clinical Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Department of Psychiatry, and Massimo Loda, head of the Loda Lab at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Other annual appointments with the community will take place within the Italian American Heritage Month celebrations in October, during which De Santis plans to continue the tradition of the Consulate’s Achievement Awards, and the Holocaust Remembrance Day event at Boston University in January. Recently, De Santis also launched a quarterly scientific networking event at the Consulate called “Aperitivo Scientifico”, with the intent of hosting a special guest from the local community each time. He would like this to become a regular event as well as a point of reference for all members of the significant Italian scientific community in the Boston Area.
Another important aspect — and challenge — of De Santis’s work will be spreading interest in the Italian language. “We’ve seen an encouraging growth in number of students taking Italian,” he says. “There are many consolidated local realities, such as the Pirandello Italian Language Center and C.A.S.IT., that offer Italian courses for children and adults. One of our main goals is to encourage more high school students to take the AP exam in Italian.”
When not at the office, De Santis is just as busy raising his three little children. “To be honest, I have to thank my darling wife for carrying most of the burden of transitioning to a new home and reality. She is doing an incredible job. Being a diplomat is a very demanding and time-consuming career.” Vincenzo, the couple’s oldest son, is heading into third grade next year, while Cosimo will begin kindergarten. School is still a ways off for the couple’s youngest, 2-year-old Bianca, but she seems eager to start. “She wants to imitate her older brothers, and gets upset if you tell her she can’t do certain things because she’s two.” Elisa, meanwhile, has momentarily put on hold her medical career, but is currently pursuing a Ph.D. through the Gemelli Hospital in Rome.