TikTok star Khaby Lame, center, is congratulated by city officials in Chivasso, the northern Italian city where his family settled after leaving Senegal when he was just a year old, after he was granted Italian citizenship on August 17, 2022. Facebook/City of Chivasso
Rome — Khaby Lame, the 22-year-old TikTok star whose ironic, speechless clips have earned him more followers than anyone else in the world, has become a citizen of Italy.
“I swear to be faithful to the Republic and to observe the Constitution and the laws of the State,” Lame declared this week to officials in Chivasso, the city near Turin were he and his family settled after leaving Senegal when he was just a year old.
Lame — whose full name is Khabane Serigne Lame — began his TikTok career during Italy’s 2020 coronavirus lockdown after losing his job in a factory. His rise to digital stardom in the two years since has been meteoric, quickly catapulting him to 148 million followers and first-place in the world of TikTok creators.
“It’s my face and my expressions which make people laugh,” Lame told The New York Times last year, saying his reactions speak “a global language.”
“I am very proud,” he said after the citizenship ceremony this week. “I felt Italian even before today, because I’ve always lived here. I feel a great sense of responsibility for the oath I took. These are not just words.” (You can watch video of his ceremony and him speaking about it in the video below, from Chivasso city’s Facebook page.)
Lame’s case has highlighted the complicated road to citizenship for immigrants in Italy. Italian citizenship can be acquired by children of non-Italians once they turn 18, if they were born in Italy and have lived in the country continuously since then.
Khaby Lame è cittadino italiano. Ha prestato giuramento al Comune di #Chivasso
Posted by Città di Chivasso on Wednesday, August 17, 2022
But for people like Lame, born elsewhere, the process is more complex and can be difficult to navigate.
“It’s not right that a person who lives and grows up with the Italian culture for so many years, and who is clean, still doesn’t have the right to citizenship,” he recently told the Italian daily La Repubblica. “I’m not just speaking for myself.”
The issue is a political hot potato in Italy. Attempts to pass laws granting every child citizenship at birth in the country, regardless of their parents’ citizenship, have floundered repeatedly.
Lame has said fame has made his life “completely different” from the one he previously knew.
“I always lived in popular [low-income] housing and even though we had very little, we were still happy, content, playing in the yard,” he said this week after his citizenship ceremony
He’s said he’s still not quite used to the stardom, but he’s getting there, bit by bit.
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