ROME (AP) — The king of TikTok, Khaby Lame, finally has another title: Italian.
The 22-year-old influencer, who ranks as the most popular TikToker with 148 million followers, took his oath of citizenship Wednesday in Chiavasso, a municipality outside Turin, according to the local government.
Lame moved to Italy from his native Senegal when he was an infant but only was granted citizenship now because of strict Italian citizenship laws.
His situation - and those of thousands of other young people who were born in Italy or raised there by non-Italians- made headlines after Lame became the most-followed TikTok creator in June. The attention being paid to “Italy’s TikTok king” highlighted that he wasn’t actually Italian.
In response, Italy’s deputy interior minister, Carlo Sibilia, tweeted June 24 that Lame’s citizenship application recently was approved.
“Dear @KhabyLame, I wanted to let you know that the decree granting you #Italiancitizenship was issued in early June by the Interior Ministry. Soon you will be contacted by the local office notifying you about your oath. Good luck,” Sibilia tweeted.
The assurances suggested that Lame’s application had worked its way through the pipeline under normal procedures and didn’t receive any special treatment because of his newfound TikTok fame.
Under Italian law, children born to non-Italians and raised in Italy can apply for citizenship in their 18th year, a regulation that critics say discriminates against thousands of children who are culturally Italian but are denied citizenship.
Critics say the law inhibits integration and leaves some children stateless.
Center-left lawmakers in Italy routinely try to change the regulations to grant citizenship earlier. In the United States, for example, children born on U.S. soil get American citizenship regardless of their parents’ nationalities.
But Italy's right-wing has long insisted citizenship should only pass through Italian blood lines. The most recent proposal has called for letting children of immigrants who were born in Italy or arrived before they turned 12 to apply after they completed at least five years of schooling in Italy.
The Chiavasso city hall filmed the short ceremony in which Lame became an Italian and asked him what had changed.
“It is not that before, before signing, I didn’t feel Italian, so very little has changed,” Lame said. “But now I am officially Italian, on paper.”
Lame rose to TikTok fame with charming videos of his reactions to everyday life in which he never says a word. His following surged during the pandemic, when he was fired from his factory job and used the extra time on his hands to make and upload more videos.
Asked how his life had changed from growing up poor to finding global fame, Lame said his family was poor but happy during his childhood and nowadays, "It’s another reality, it’s completely another world.
"Which I am still not used to, but I am gradually adapting,” he said.
Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press