TPM Reader BW shares her own citizenship story …
After reading Josh’s post “Citizenship Matters” I wanted to share my perspective as a dual citizen of the United States and Switzerland, and on the question of citizenship generally, which in my family is rather complicated.
Both my parents, my two U.S.-born brothers, and I are all Swiss citizens, but I am the only one who was actually born on Swiss soil.
My father, born in Barcelona Spain, is a Swiss citizen by virtue of both his parents being Swiss-born. My German-born mother met my father in Switzerland where she had been sent by her parents after the three of them fled East Germany in 1951. She became a Swiss citizen when she married my father. After living her childhood under the Nazis and her teen years under the Communists, my mother saw Switzerland as a beacon of freedom and hope. She also saw Swiss citizenship as a way to sever her connections to a country of which in the immediate post-war years, she had grown profoundly ashamed.
When I was three my father, who worked for a Swiss multi-national, was transferred to the U.S. I grew up with children from other Swiss families who had come to the U.S. for the same reason. Most of them went back when their assignment was completed, but my parents decided to stay. I became a U.S. citizen in 1972 at age 8 when my parents were naturalized.
Both my coming to the U.S. and becoming a dual citizen are choices someone else made for me, in which I had no say. But what I have freely chosen, is to stay in the U.S. and to keep my dual citizenship, which is actually much more a reflection of who I am rather than of transactional matters such as what passports do I hold, where am I entitled to vote, etc. I am American and I am Swiss, I am both, and frankly there are days when I feel like I am neither but rather some weird, stateless hybrid. But unlike unitary U.S. citizens, I am here entirely by choice—a choice made possible by the fact that I could leave tomorrow and live as a full citizen in another country. But I don’t. I stay here.
I agree that citizenship is more than just a passport. If I were forced choose between either my blue passport or my red one with the white cross, it wouldn’t make any difference to how I feel, or to my identity or perspective—except for one thing: how I would feel about my place in America. Forcing me to choose, would be a signal that hybrids like me, with our complicated loyalties and perspectives, are not wanted here. That for people like me, the price of being an American is to renounce a part of ourselves. I could no more do that than renounce one of my arms, and I could not remain in a place that forced me to do the impossible.
So the question that unitary U.S. citizens have to ask is whether people like me make a valued contribution to the American fabric so that accepting us as we are, with our complicated allegiances, is a compromise worth making. I think it is, because we bring a perspective informed by our “other half” that can help Americans see themselves as others in the world see them. And I think that helps strengthen what it means to hold American citizenship. I think American citizenship is made more robust by the inclusion of dual citizens. Conversely, excluding from citizenship anyone who does not see themselves as 100% American, would imply that the notion of American citizenship is somehow weakened or threatened by the inclusion of people like me. Isn’t the concept of what it means to be an American, much stronger than that? I think it is.
Btw I think it most ironic that even in light of the above, I still have more rights in the U.S. than do several of my U.S.-born friends who are constitutionally prohibited here in Louisiana from marrying their same-sex partners!
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.