Thursday, September 1, 2011

Today I'm Becoming a U.S. Citizen

I'm becoming a U.S. citizen just a few weeks before we begin to travel-- just enough time to get the blue passport.

I remain South African as I get U.S. citizenship; there's a tinge of sadness and resignation before the practical part of me takes over. Practical not only for the perks of the passport but because I would be essentially unable to return to the U.S.-- to Eugene's family-- if I gave up my permanent residency without first getting citizenship. I see issues of passports and borders as a kind of international apartheid, our governments are insisting that our citizens are more important than others, because they don't vote or pay taxes alongside us. While I have no practical solution to offer, I just wanted to name the problem.

The shape of international borders are shaping South African identity, too. Many South Africans-- particularly white South Africans-- of my generation have left South Africa for the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand. We're displaced, because we're not sure how to value our South African identity, because job opportunities are limited, or crime is a concern, educational opportunities come up overseas, we're sick of South African bureaucracy, or it is just really interesting to explore the world.

Twelve years ago, our high-school in Wales would heatedly discuss the U.S: It was too big, too self-centered, too consumerist, and seemed to believe that Might Makes Right. Yet many of us also came over to the U.S. after high school because it also has arguably the best tertiary institutions in the world. As I get the privileges of being a U.S. citizen, I want to engage criticism as a citizen, not just as an observer.

I've been here about nine years, all spent in the Boston area. And I've been hugely blessed. I have gone from a teenager to a wife and mom [and professional?]. But I didn't know to weigh my education against the value of fundamentally changing my identity. I am, and have been for a while, in a grey-zone. I think I'm super South Africa, yet people at home usually ask where I'm from. As do Bostonians.

Noah is the first person in 4 generations in our family to be born in the U.S.. Eug's mom is from Korea, and received U.S. citizenship in Hawaii after marrying Eug's dad. Eugene, Eug's dad, and grandfather were "Americans" born and raised in Korea. I find it remarkable that, after a few years of being married to a U.S. citizen-- who lived the first eighteen years of his life outside the U.S.-- I am allowed to "Be American". I can actually participate in civil society [and be heard?] despite being a vocal critic, not paying much tax, and not living a very typically American life.

As I think back on the biggest things that have been great about my time in the U.S., I realize they're not location-specific-- they are things I have experienced in many places I have been, and hopefully will experience in many places I have not yet seen. Caring people, ideas, and a spirit of innovation. Here's to citizenship!

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