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LISA MULLINS: Immigrants often have a friend, or at least an advocate, at their nearest consulate. That's where they can sort of visa problems, get legal documents, that sort of thing. The World's Alex Gallafent takes us now to the place that looks out for one immigrant community in New York.
ALEX GALLAFENT: Most consulates in New York, you get to them on the subway. You know, within Manhattan. Not the consulate of the Most Serene Republic of San Marino. Oh, no. It's subway, a train, another train, and then a ride from the suburb of Valley Stream, Long Island, to the suburb of Elmot, Long Island. An hour and a half later, I'm at the consulate, explaining why I'm a little late. â€œIt's not â€“ and I don't mean to be rude, but it's not the easiest place in the world to reach.â€
ROBERTO BALSIMELLI: You definitely took the wrong train.
GALLAFENT: That's the Consul General of San Marino in New York, Roberto Balsimelli. He's 74 years old. When he smiles, the creases in his face make his eyes almost disappear. Balsimelli recently had surgery on his spine. He uses a walking stick and moves about slowly. But as he settles down to talk, it's clear that he's the boss around here.
BALSIMELLI: Sit down. Have a chair. Get a chair.
GALLAFENT: Even if he pretends like he's not.
BALSIMELLI: It's your game, Alex. You do what you want.
GALLAFENT: So I ask Balsimelli about San Marino. He tells me how it's a tiny sovereign state within the borders of Italy, just over 60 square kilometers. That makes it bigger than the Vatican, but not even a 20th the size of Rhode Island. He tells me about the 800 or so San Marinese families that live in greater New York; about San Marino's history of neutrality, even during the Second World War. And he shows me his collection of Native American tchotchkes, dream catchers and figurines.
BALSIMELLI: I don't know why â€“ I just love it. That's it.
GALLAFENT: But we're not in an office building here. The San Marino consulate is in Balsimelli's home.
MRS. BALSIMELLI: Next to my kitchen.
GALLAFENT: That's Mrs. Balsimelli. Her husband runs the consulate from this suburban home for a good reason.
BALSIMELLI: The community is not in New York. The community of San Marino is in Long Island.
GALLAFENT: So just as San Marino itself is a little different from the norm, so too is the consulate.
BALSIMELLI: It's open all the time. You only have to call, and the Consul I'm here. So I'm open on Saturday, Sunday, and every other time.
GALLAFENT: Balsimelli may be there all the time, but it's a part-time job. There are no visas to issue â€“ San Marino shares an open border with Italy, so the Italians take care of that. It's more
like birth certificates, wedding records, the kinds of thing a city hall outpost might do. But that's not Roberto Balsimelli's real job.
LUCIANO FRANCONI: When someone needs advice, they call Bob or Roberto â€“ we don't call him Consul. He's like a father to us.
GALLAFENT: This is Luciano Franconi, the first of two friends Balsimelli has brought to meet with me. Francioni owns a local Dunkin Donuts franchise. He's a bit like a doughnut himself â€“ and I mean that as a compliment: super solid, super sweet. And he has a knack for delivering words of wisdom.
FRANCONI: When somebody tries to sell you something that sounds too good to be true, usually it is.
GALLAFENT: While we're at it, here's his advice for managing your money.
FRANCONI: It's very simple â€“ very simple mathematics. Don't spend more than what you make.
GALLAFENT: So there's Francioni the businessman, Balsimelli the Consul, and finally, Sanzio Vagnini.
SANZIO VAGNINI: And I'm the President of the Fratellanza.
GALLAFENT: That's Fratellanza as in â€œbrotherhoodâ€. The San Marinnese Fratellanza of New York is a local community group. It hosts events for local families and works to keep the old country's traditions alive.
VAGNINI: The type of history we have, you feel proud to be a San Marinnese, that's the difference.
GALLAFENT: But the Fratellanza, which is open to everyone by the way, not just men â€“ it serves another more subtle purpose. Together with the Consulate, it forms part of the community support system, a system rooted in shared experience â€“ the journey to the United States. Sanzio Vagnini was 15 when he made the trip from San Marino in 1953.
VAGNINI: When I arrived, my father was here prior to my coming, so when you come into the port, you come in on a ship, you don't know the language. So it's kind of sad. And then you fell in with the San Marino people, you right away kind of fit into it.
GALLAFENT: Luciano Francioni came later, in 1969. The community was waiting.
FRANCIONI: My father used to know his father. My grandfather used to know his grandfather.
GALLAFENT: It was a time of high unemployment in the US, but thanks to other San Marinnese in town, he quickly found work at a restaurant.
FRANCIONI: There were 7 waiters, 2 cooks and a bartender, all from San Marino.
GALLAFENT: And then there's the Robert Balsimelli himself, who came to the US in 1954. Before he was Consul General of San Marino, he was an immigrant unloading wine from trucks. Later, he found work in a machine shop, learned the trade, and started his own company.
BALSIMELLI: That was the way I lived in the United States and provided food for my family.
GALLAFENT: And with that it's time for lunch.
BALSIMELLI: Are you hungry, my friend? We're going to go to a restaurant we always go. It's an Italian restaurant, not a San Marino restaurant.
GALLAFENT: In fact, it's in Elmont, Long Island restaurant called King Umberto. Its website declares that King Umberto has ruled the red sauce kingdom since 1976. The friends sit down. Vagnini orders wine. But Balsimelli doesn't wait, making a toast with his glass of water.
BALSIMELLI: And so salute to all!
VAGNINI: You can't toast with water!
BALSIMELLI: Aqua. H2O on the rocks. We'll do a second one. We're going to do a second one.
GALLAFENT: In the restaurant, the San Marinnese experience becomes the near universal immigrant experience. Over mussels and pasta, these men talk about hard work and sacrifice.
VAGNINI: My slogan is, â€œIn the United States, the strong live, the weak ones don't. In other words, you have to be willing to work and do what you have to do.
GALLAFENT: After lunch, the men take their leave. Balsimelli returns home, to the Consulate. Luciano Francioni gives me a ride. As the car idles at the train station, he remembers 1969, his last days in San Marino.
FRANCIONI: When I left for America, they day I left my mother told me, â€œMake sure they like you. It don't matter if they don't pay you, just make sure they like you.â€ Something got into my head, â€œI'm not going to feed my family with being liked. I need the money!â€
GALLAFENT: By all accounts, Francioni is well-liked. And he's achieved the other big things on his list: you buy a house. You own a business. You raise a family.
FRANCIONI: And one day, if you're lucky, you retire. Maybe.
GALLAFENT: Maybe. For The World, I'm Alex Gallafent, Long Island, New York.