My mother is not a citizen and has no desire to be one despite having lived here for two-thirds of her life. By default, I have dual citizenship (when I get around to claiming it). Half her brothers were born here. Half were born there. I think. I don’t really know. From what I can tell, they moved back and forth a lot. I honestly don’t know if my uncles claim citizenship or not. It doesn’t matter. I doubt their citizenship has ever inconvenienced them in the slightest. On the contrary, it has probably been the cool fact that got one or more of them laid at some point.
I was in my twenties the first time I saw my mother’s green card. I didn’t quite believe she wasn’t a citizen until then. It was surreal. Everyone always said I looked like my father, but hoo boy they were wrong. My mother’s green card had a photo of me with a strange haircut. The eye color was different. That was the extent of our differences. A haircut and darker eyes. And, you know, the citizenship thing.
My senior year of high school, my brother and I contacted the embassy in San Francisco and asked for paperwork to claim our non-American citizenship. It was the beginning of the war in Iraq and we were certain a draft would include women. We wanted to make sure that theoretical draft didn’t include us. Patriotism had never been our thing. Hell, in elementary school, I was the only kid who didn’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance (granted, that was partially because I found the inclusion of God disturbing. Why were we united under a fictional character? It made no sense) (I was a willful child).
These days we hear a lot of terminology. Alien. Citizen. Naturalized. Green card. Illegal. Humans aren’t illegal, but they can stay in a location and, as a result, violate the law. They can cross a border without proper identification, rendering their actions illegal. Like when my mother’s first marriage ended and she came back to the States to live with her parents. She’d been gone long enough to invalidate her residency and ability to work. So she went to college. Her initial reentry likely wasn’t illegal, but I doubt she told them she was staying indefinitely.
During my childhood we went to both Mexico and Canada fairly often. We were middle class people in California. Of course we vacationed in Mexico and Canada. For most of those trips we had proper identification? I don’t know. I never had a passport. We just used our birth certificates. Or cheap faxed copies of copies of our birth certificates (when we forgot proper paperwork). Or, on one occasion, just the promise that I belonged. One time we walked across the border at Tijuana and they asked if we were all citizens. When Mom answered honestly and told them she didn’t have her green card, they wouldn’t let her cross. We were baffled. Sure it was post 9/11 so the borders were “strict,” but we’d never seen any actual evidence of it. She sent me and my brother across the border with instructions to go back to our hotel in San Diego. We ordered room service and overpriced movies. Mom took a cab to a different border crossing, gave them her driver’s license, and told them she was American. They told her to have a nice day. She got back to the hotel in time for dessert.
No one is suggesting my mother doesn’t belong here. No one is suggesting I don’t belong. Same goes for my brother and uncles and cousins. Why would they? We’re white. Like really white. Our ancestry has a clear line to England. For diversity we have Irish and Scottish blood. Does it matter that we have all crossed the border “illegally”? Does it matter that my mother took advantage of a public university system that wasn’t built for her? Does it matter that I was born in Palo Alto and have refused to honor the flag since I was old enough to say no? Of course it doesn’t matter.
At best, I am a first generation reluctant American. My father is also a first generation reluctant American. My mother finds the idea of citizenship distasteful. But no one has ever asked us to leave. And we all know why.