Friday, January 13, 2006

Naturalization- benefits and limitations

I think naturalization is a great thing. It is wonderful if you can go to another country, live there, learn the language and then apply for citizenship. It is refreshing to stand in front of a new flag and give an oath of allegiance. Feel something new, patriotic, and say “ Now I am ( put the new nationality here)".

However, while the official "paper" naturalization is rather simple, the social one is much harder if sometimes not downright near impossible. Take your new compatriots, the “native” people, with their natural human inquisitiveness. They will ask you the same question no matter where you go- the "Where are you from?" question. Unless you are some linguistic genius and have a good musical ear, you will have an accent. Or, if you are of a different ethnic group, you will look different from the majority of people. Your name may also stand out. So, people, I mean people everywhere, will ask you the same thing over and over again: “Where are you from?” Sure, now you can tell them about your new residence in the country, the new town where you live. They will then probably grimace un-satisfied-ly and ask you a more direct , more insightful question that you simply cannot avoid now- “Where are you from, originally?”. Now, this is a tough one. Unless you want to lie, you will have to tell them the truth. So, in social situations, you often, if not always, remain a foreigner. In spite of the oath you took.

The US- Mexican border people usually ask you "What is your citizenship" before admitting you to the US. However, once a border guard there asked me "Where were you born"? After I told him, a mini-interrogation ensued. My family and I had to pull over, pull out our US passports, he had to examine them, asking how my family and I had acquired US citizenship, how long we had been in the US, all sorts of things. I understand the security concern, but for some reason this "born" thing is somehow so important to Americans. There was once a celebration in the news of "American-born" athletes. There are a proud song- "Born in the USA", and "Hello, America, how are you, don't you know that I'm your native son?" . It all shows that the nativist sentiment is quite strong in the US. Then, they wonder why some immigrants are not as patriotic as they should be. How can you be a full patriot if you are not really and truly seen as a 100% citizen because of this "not born here" thing? Something you had no control over but which is somehow often held against you.

The drive for diversity and political correctness in the US sometimes does more harm than good as far as "becoming an American" is concerned . There was once a company in the US that had a very international staff from many different countries. The top manager was so proud of the diversity of the workplace that he had a map on the wall with pins stuck in it indicating where every employee was born. His intentions were good, but if you are a naturalized US citizen, wouldn't you rather just think of yourself as an American now and not have a pin stuck somewhere that ,even with the best of intentions, still says-" He is from another country"?

In France I have heard, the complaint of a lot of people is that even after you become a citizen, they still treat you as a non-citizen. So, I guess, in some places, one should not harbor too many illusions about now belonging there.

In the US it is illegal to ask about birth place on job applications, but in some other countries it is not. When applying for a job you end up putting it. What next? You may be rejected for that job because of that - local people come first. You are not from there, you know. Not originally. And often, people will not ask you "What is your citizenship?" except in passport offices of foreign embassies. They will simply ask you the same "dooming" questions: "Where are you from?" or "Where were you born?"

If people get angry at you for any reason, they may even tell you to “Go back to ( put the name of the country here)!”. Or, in hard economic times, they will tell you that they have to hire ( put the name of your new nationality here) and not "foreigners". If you protest and say " I am not a foreigner, I am a citizen", an answer may come your way- "I mean, a foreigner- not born here!" Such is sometimes the reality of being a naturalized citizen. You may feel like a stepson, not a real native son. Especially if you deal with uneducated "native" people.

Now, it is nice to get a new passport and proclaim with pride: “I am a citizen of ( put the country here)”. However, somehow, not even one country in the world issues a passport that does not have your birthplace written in it. So, if you travel, people that check your passport may start asking you questions, sometimes innocent, but, sometimes, suspicious ones and treat you as a person of that old country, not the new one you are a citizen of. And God forbid if that country has a bad reputation in the one you are visiting. You can be called all sorts of names. Or even refused entry.

In newspapers also, or in any media, in articles about you, they will call you a “( put the name of a country + “ese” or “ian” here) immigrant”. They will call you like that before the naturalization, and after the naturalization. Ten, twenty, thirty years from now, you will remain an "immigrant". The US TV newscasters are very fond of that, for one.

I think this is a new item in the area of political correctness that liberals should work on eliminating. In the US, for one, there has once been a positive term " New American" in the press. It should gain more popularity as I have not been hearing it too often lately. The term "first generation American" too, often means "first generation 'born' in the US". This should also change. It should include first generation naturalized citizens, as well.

In the English-language press anywhere they love using the name of the country and the word “born” after it, i.e. Polish-born, German-born., etc. Regardless of your new US-, Canadian or whatever other citizenship. Why do they do that? Is it really that important? Why can't the say a "Canadian national", for one, and a "US national"? Why is this birth thing ( a result of the parents' feelings for one another on the territory of a country that you now owe no allegiance to) so crucial that it needs to be rubbed in all the time- for decades?

Sometimes, they will use something like “Australian-turned-American“, etc. They will also talk about your “homeland” -meaning your old country, not the new one, even though you have taken an oath to reject your old country thoroughly and completely.

Then, also, you hear things like “He is a second generation Iranian”. Meaning: "he is a child of Iranians who immigrated to country X". Let's say your parents are Iranians and you were born in the US. Your parents also became US citizens. Aren't you now a second-generation 'American'? Shouldn’t a “second generation Iranian” be a child of people who became naturalized 'Iranian' citizens in Iran? Another area that the PC people haven’t gotten to yet.

Lots of countries are like that in the way they talk about naturalized citizens. To one degree or another. And few if any of such citizens became presidents or prime ministers of their new country. That is another thing that needs to be changed. Particularly in the US, there is a law that prohibits foreign-born people from becoming President. Say, if someone came from Canada at age 1 and does not know any other country except the US, he cannot become President. However, if someone was born in the US, but left at age 1, and knows very little about it( such as a son of some tourists) he is eligible to become one. I think it is unfair. You have not done anything bad but it is as if people do not fully trust you. Can you ever become a full patriot? I do not think so.

What if there is a Civics class and children are asked what they would do if they were President or Prime-minister? Some kids will feel like they are second-class. Not completely second class, but slightly below the "true citizen", the "born-and-raised-here" one. This must change one day.

Then, there is another thing. In some countries they have censuses that talk about “foreign-born population”, meaning “immigrants“. So, they will dump illegal ones, legal non-citizens, and naturalized citizens into the same category. Makes you feel like you do not fully belong. Whenever a naturalized citizen reads publications that mentions such statistics, his feeling of patriotism for his country often suffers a bit of a setback. How come one is put into the same class with people who are not citizens yet? Didn’t one go through all the requirements for the citizenship tests and all? Didn’t one swear on the Bible his new allegiance rejecting every other country? Don't they trust me?

And did you ever wonder why it is that they call it "citi-zenship"? It is another misnomer, in my view. Shouldn't it be called "countryzenship", or just "nationality"? After all, we do not became members of a "city", but a nation. "Citizenship" is just anouther carry-over from the time of city-states, a very distant period in world history. We have nation-states now.

And is "naturalization" a good term? Like you were "unnatural" before and then became "natural"? Like you were a robot before and now you are a human being? One thing I like about Argentina and Uruguay is that they do not have the term "naturalization"- they call it "nacionalizacion". Immigrants are "nationalized", not "naturalized". Maybe, that is the word that should be used in all the other countries who are generous enough to admit new people as members of their society.

However, one should not discount the positive things of naturalization. In many countries non-citizens cannot own property. This is the reason many people become citizens to begin with. If you want to own land there, become one.

Also, you are legally what your new passport says no matter what people may say. You can vote and qualify for many government jobs; you can now travel abroad on the new passport and take employment in countries whose employers prefer citizens of your new country. So, benefits abound. It is important to concentrate on those, and try and minimize the lingering “Where are you from?" reality.

Lastly, naturalized citizens in the US and everywhere else should unite and work on changing societal attitudes towards them. Black people in America rallied hard to change all sorts of nasty words applied to them to a much more pleasant “African- American”. Maybe naturalized citizens should organize and do the same? But while things have not changed, one should really try and equip oneself with skills and money to counteract the possible discrimination against one. One will need to work harder, study harder. Try and drop that accent. That's just the way it is. Some things take a long time to change.

Above all, naturalization should be seen as a practical tool, not something that can fulfill your romantic aspirations.

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