May 1st, 2017, 12:39 AM

Strangers in a Strange Land

By Henry Hardwick
"Outsider" Graffiti, San Francisco, California. Image Credit: Flickr/Steve Rotman
A glimpse into what citizenship defines in an age of "Us and Them"

If you happen to pick up the latest edition of the Peacock Magazine, you'll surely see Shalise Barnes' awesome Letter From the Editor front-and-center (and my "awesomer" article on page 48... Which she edited). Giving credit where credit is due (unlike Walt Whitman), I love how she explains that "As expats we are by definition outsiders to French culture... We are all outsiders to someone else." With the AUP homepage flaunting its students' 108 different nationalities, I'm happy to say that I'm a part of "the American Melting Pot of Paris."

Full disclosure: I tend to take my American (University and Church) circles for granted (i.e. not practising my French every chance I get), yet I couldn't be more blessed than to be an American in Paris (gee whiz, what a semester). Unashamed advertising aside, the point is that, despite the constant repetition of the "A" word, I'm beginning to learn just how checkered life really is. From the Privilege Walk to the World's Fair, I've come to learn about people's backgrounds and cultures. From friends, I've come to learn their stories.

Now, my native Vietnam and "winning hearts and minds" don't exactly go hand-in-hand, so I'll leave that to people like Safian Ado-Ibrahim. However, what I will do in this ten minute traffic of our page is attempt to offer a glimpse into what citizenship defines in an age of "Us and Them."

Ellis Island's Immigrant Landing Station, February 24, 1905. Image Credit: Wikimedia/A. Coeffler

Unlike most Americans, I did not gain my U.S. citizenship through jus soli (birth in a country). While I had always thought that this was how citizenship worked, it turns out that America is the exception, not the norm. In the wake of the Civil War, the 14th Amendment protected the rights of former slaves by proclaiming that "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

Having said this, naturalization, or the "legal process by which a citizen of one country becomes a citizen of another," can not only be a lengthy process, but a challenging one as well. While the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 has further allowed children adopted overseas like me to become American citizens with greater ease, this is not the usual American experience. For most, after immigration, one must be a legal permanent resident for at least 5 years, or 3 for jure matrimonii (citizenship by marriage), before applying and taking a naturalization test.

From the Native Americans to the colonists (...colonizing the colonies), there have always been people coming to America. From diaspora to the Land of Opportunity, new waves of immigrants have come and built the railways, the bridges, and the American Dream. In the song "Carry On" from the Broadway Musical Ragtime, Admiral Peary explains to Father that "They're called rag ships. Immigrants from every cesspool in Western and Eastern Europe. Most of them become very patriotic Americans. They're your future customers."

The Almight (Travel) Dollar. Image Credit: Flickr/Jpmatth

Funnily enough, being American really does grant you certain freedoms. You see, my best friend at AUP is Pakistani. His parents are Pakistani. On the surface, it's jus sanguinis (citizenship by right of blood), plain and simple. However, that doesn't account for the fact that he was English-born or American-raised. Having lived in England, Singapore, America, Pakistan, and now France, his life sounds like a Jet Setter's Passport... Ay, there's the rub; for with that passport what travels may (not) come.

Looking back, it was awkward asking "Where're you going for (February) Break?" Not the question itself, of course, but what I didn't realize was that he couldn't travel outside of France, much less the Schengen area, until after his OFII appointment. It never occurred to me, being the privileged "All-American kid" and all, but travel restrictions aren't just a matter of what you can and can't afford to do, but what you are and aren't allowed to do.

While there's not a shred of doubt that my friend is proud of his heritage and citizenship, he did confide in me that "having a Pakistani passport makes it difficult to travel. It's not one of the countries that is generally offered a visa-free transit or a short stay for a certain amount of time. It's a difficult process to get visas and it does make it a little more difficult to travel and move around with a Pakistani passport."

"Two households, both alike in dignity;" The World Flag Project. Image Credit: Wikipedia/MoeRe

Now, an American passport doesn't just magically make things easier, of course. In reality, according to Gaby Gallo, an AUP student who holds dual citizenship (American and Colombian), the opposite is sometimes true.

"When my mom got me the (Colombian) nationality, I didn't get the passport right away because it does pose problems... My mom and my dad experience a lot of issues with the dual citizenship and leaving the country, going to Colombia, and coming back in... And it's always just been a problem I never really noticed until I started growing up... And we go with frequency because it's home for my parents and it feels more like home to me than the States... I mean, America is a melting pot, so what does it really mean to be American?"

Yiddish WWI Poster from the US Library of Congress. Image Credit: Wikimedia/Durova

Well, that's hard to say, and only more so each and every day. Long gone are the days of Ellis Island, yet the process (and struggle) of citizenship remains one of the most heated debates in the States on account of the "Immigration Crisis." With propositions for "the Wall" and against jus soli, I don't see the matter as protecting American interests anymore.

Look, America's no stranger to isolationism, and that's alright with me. However, discarding what is essentially American isn't alright with me. Look, I have fond memories of singing "God Bless the USA" in elementary school, and the song still holds true as ever, but when I say I'm "proud to be an American," I mean the United States of America, not the Divided States of America.

If we're going to "Make America Great Again," then don't let it be for the Birth of a (new) Nation. Let it be for what John Winthrop, President John F. Kennedy, and President Ronald Reagan all saw: "A city on a hill." For all people, not just the nativists.

Brooklyn 2015 - Singing Scene HD (Iarla Ó Lionáird - Casadh An Tsúgáin)