Friday, December 02, 2016

Pledging Allegiance? Bearing Arms? Conflicted feelings about (not) joining the Divided States of America

I have always had qualms about becoming a citizen anyway, always. As a self described accidental immigrant* who spent years proudly saying that I didn't like it here, that I wanted to go back to Brazil, etc., when we ended up staying and becoming residents (back in 2008) I suspected we might become citizens someday just for the convenience of it, if not by conviction.
    (big parenthetical remark:)
In fact, the main reason why we haven't done it since we became eligible in late 2012 is that we weren't willing to "pay up." K's brothers tease us mercilessly about this, but $ 1,600 makes a big difference when you have a tight budget. We kept deciding to use that money to travel (mostly to Brazil). Oh, and there's also the question of travel -- it seems you can't leave the country while applying for citizenship until it's all approved -- and we're always traveling outside the country (even if just to visit brother-in-law K4 and his family in Canada). So, in addition to the money situation, we hadn't really decided we were committed to doing it, we were not convinced we wanted to go ahead, so we kept putting it off.

We seemed to be very close to that conviction when we arrived from Brazil back in August, though (I even blogged about filling the application and What Now? congratulated us -- thanks! ;-). My husband talked about how he felt he belonged here more than he did in Brazil (it's been 20 years, after all) and he started filling out the forms and checking what we needed to do to finally become citizens. His father's sudden death meant that now his mother is very interested in becoming a resident and she cannot do that through my other two brother-in-law who are naturalized because they are living abroad now. K was also relieved that his father got sick and died here because of the good care he received, particularly the "end of life" part of it (facilitated by my mother-in-law's cousin, a nurse who specializes in this area). K thought that being in the U.S. in this heartbreaking situation made very tangible difference for his dad, his mom and him and his brothers. It would have been different in Brazil in many ways, particularly in unlimited access to the patient in the ICU, and the ability to make certain decisions to ensure a peaceful end with minimal intervention

However, while filling the forms, K came across a little box that he/we needed to check. It said that he/we would be willing to bear arms to defend this country under circumstances that would warrant it. Interestingly, if you're born here, you don't ever have to say such a thing (a friend of ours remarked that if she had to say that to be a citizen she wouldn't want to do it either). It seems that one can still become a citizen while saying it's against one's conscience to bear arms;** we think that K's uncle did that and we were planning to ask him how it went. Taking such a stance, however, would certainly delay the processing of our application and we were in a hurry, wishing to travel abroad next Summer. 

Then, we got really busy and put it off once more and then...

... the election happened. 

You know, I was upset that I couldn't vote and was looking forward to the day I would be able to, but this "creature's" election has given us fresh new reasons not to "pledge allegiance" to this nation. Being an immigrant is hard enough, but having to put up with this level of xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment is excruciating. Maybe being a citizen would be helpful, at least I wouldn't have to hear my young son ask whether I could be kicked out of the country and what would be of him if that happened. I wanted to vote to elect a different president next time, but right now, it feels really good to be able to say that this man not my president because I don't really "belong" to this country in that way. I live here, though, and we have decided to do so permanently. I have nothing to fear -- except in the case of the fear of becoming a political dissident if the threats to free speech continue -- so maybe I should just go ahead and "join" you all, but I'm just too conflicted right now to make this decision! 

I finally (only now!) got to read "Farewell America" an excellent essay by Neal Gabler from Nov. 10 and its opening lines make this decision even more complex:
America died on Nov. 8, 2016, not with a bang or a whimper, but at its own hand via electoral suicide. We the people chose a man who has shredded our values, our morals, our compassion, our tolerance, our decency, our sense of common purpose, our very identity — all the things that, however tenuously, made a nation out of a country.
If this country died, why should I join it? Is there anything left to join? And he continues:
Whatever place we now live in is not the same place it was on Nov. 7. No matter how the rest of the world looked at us on Nov. 7, they will now look at us differently. We are likely to be a pariah country. And we are lost for it.
I am looking at this country differently. Heck, I'm looking at life differently, something shattered, life is not the same. Sarah Kendzior's beautiful essay talks about how Americans elected someone bent on destroying the country and advises us, well, more like begs us, to reflect on our lives and values before it's too late. I hadn't read her essay until last night, but its title had already inspired an unwritten blog post that sits in my drafts. I'd titled it "I always try to be my own light" and I do. That's why I'm writing this post, that's why I've been blogging for 12 years. She says: "I want you to write about who you are, what you have experienced, and what you have endured." Check, I've written over 2,000 posts about this (maybe I need to back up this blog, right? So it cannot be taken away by Google). She continues:
Write down what you value; what standards you hold for yourself and for others. Write about your dreams for the future and your hopes for your children. Write about the struggle of your ancestors and how the hardship they overcame shaped the person you are today.

Write your biography, write down your memories. Because if you do not do it now, you may forget.
And this is what I have been trying to do all along and will strive to do more.

I am upset and angry, I don't know what to do next. K and I will have to talk this whole "citizenship idea" over a lot. Sigh... I know there's a lot more I wanted to say, but I've been trying to write this post for weeks and I want to "publish" it before it becomes too dated. I'm sure I'll be blogging more about this issue since life as an immigrant is one of the main topics of this blog!

(I wrote the final paragraph before writing the previous ones with the quotations, but I will leave the ending as is) 

*I'm sure I'm not the original creator of this term, but I love to use it and I have yet to do a search to see who else has been using it.

** There is a film about a man from our particular religious denomination who was a "conscientious objector" playing in theaters right now (I haven't seen it, but may see it someday).

scheduled post, finished at 1:24 am. 

1 comment:

What Now? said...

I think that many of us are struggling with what "America" is these days. Is it the government? Its ideals? The ways in which those ideals are or are not enacted? Is it the majority (who didn't vote at all), the plurality (who voted for Clinton), or the electoral college decision? These are all hard questions, but most of us don't have to wrestle with them accompanying a citizenship decision!