@VictoriaFerauge "On being American" http://t.co/2cadr0QECl interesting read if u feel u are forced to #expatriate by @Barackobama admin
— U.S. Citizen Abroad (@USCitizenAbroad) August 3, 2013
Very nice post from @MopsickTaxLaw http://t.co/p45vzhb7Cb "What it means to be an American" – Never forget US is more than the government.
— U.S. Citizen Abroad (@USCitizenAbroad) August 3, 2013
The posts referenced in the above tweets are interesting and are “food for thought” for those American Abroad considering renouncing U.S. citizenship.
On Being An American.” I trashed a draft blog of my own “on being an American” which I was struggling with before the Fourth of July. I was searching for words to express the feeling Victoria captured so eloquently below which I am sure has resonated with Americans abroad.
And Victoria’s post – On being an American – includes:
I had an epiphany the other day. I may have spent most of my adult life outside the U.S. but I was born and raised here in Seattle. No one can take away the first 20 years or so of my life. I am an American and will always be one even if I decide to forgo the pretty blue passport. Cutting ties by relinquishing/renouncing will mean cutting my ties to a political community but here’s the kicker: America is so much more than that.
There is a nation beyond the government and perhaps it’s time to start putting the people above the state. Yes, if I renounce I would no longer be an American citizen, but I would still be an American by culture, blood, language, and inclination. I am part of the collective memory of this country and no one on this planet (not the US Congress or the President or the homelanders) can take that away from me.
And they can’t take it away from anyone else either. To the Canadian/American reader who left a comment about how distressed she was about giving up her U.S. citizenship, I’d just like to say that as far as I’m concerned she’s an American as long as she wants to be one with or without her U.S. passport. So she won’t be able to vote anymore in US elections. Big deal. It’s not like American citizens themselves do that with any regularity.
Thinking about it this way makes me much more serene about the whole business. What do you think of this motto for those of us thinking about renouncing? “Forget the state and just be a child of the nation.”
America is clearly more than the government. That said, the question of “What is America?” is different from the question of “What is an American?”
The question is:
What does it mean to be an American? It must have some meaning if one is “an American as long as she wants to be”. This implies that “being American” is somehow different from the political community or the country as a larger entity. What exactly is “the nation beyond the government” and what does it mean to be an “American”?
Is it really true that “renouncing citizenship” means only cutting ties to the political community? Isn’t the problem that Americans abroad have no ties to the political community to begin with? There are no ties to cut.
I believe that Victoria is saying that the act of renouncing U.S. citizenship should not “diminish your personal identity”. True enough. If you want to think of yourself as an American that’s fine. Nobody can take that away from you. This is important. Why? Because the Obama “Witch Hunt” against U.S. citizens abroad has forced people to reevaluate many of their fundamental assumptions. Few Americans abroad still view the United States as “that great citadel of freedom and justice”. Few Americans abroad see themselves as “tax cheats” because they have offshore accounts. As a former professor of mine once said:
“Citizenship is part of who you are.”
If you cease to be a citizen, do you cease to be less of who you are?
Some believe that if they cease to be U.S. citizens they will become less of what they believed they were. Many Americans abroad are experiencing a crisis of identity. Who are they? What is the United States of America?
But, again, what is an American? Does it have a meaning? Is it anything you want it to be?
Thinking about his reminds me of an earlier post by FoxyLadyHawk titled:Why I will not renounce
What is exceptional about America is not that the people are better, or that the government is wiser, or even that it is the richest and most powerful nation in the world – for now. Empires rise, and inevitably they fall. What is exceptional is the form of government, based on the documents we all know about: the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, powerfully reiterated by the Gettysburg Address. What is exceptional is the system of checks and balances, and the means of amending the Constitution, which were designed to keep the government in check and maximize the freedom of the people to live their lives as they please.
America is exceptional because it is the only country that was built on an idea, and that idea implies a promise. The idea is that all men and all women are created free and equal and that a proper government is one made up of freely elected peers, in which any citizen – * any * citizen – may run for public office. The promise is that because of that idea, anyone has the right to do whatever he or she chooses to do in order to improve her lot in life and live as she wishes, beholden to no monarch or officer or class structure for her future or her fortune. She is not promised happiness – only the lifelong freedom, the natural-born right to pursue it in her own way.
It’s interesting to go back and read the comments to the above post. It’s almost two years old. Have people’s views changed?
The “Why I will not renounce” analysis assumes that America is a true democracy. A democracy where citizens participate it the political process. A democracy where where candidates represent the interests of the voters and not the political parties. Surely true democracy requires more than the right to vote. Incredibly there are certain situations where U.S. citizens abroad do NOT have the right to vote.
What does this suggest about being an American? Is it that as an American you are a member of an elite and privileged group who is free and able to choose what one wants in one’s life? This is not true for Americans abroad. Furthermore, this does not separate the idea of being “American” from “America”.
Is it really possible to renounce U.S. citizenship and still be an “American”?
In his 2013 State of the Union Address President Obama commenting (if he knew what was in his speech) on the meaning of citizenship said:
We are citizens. It’s a word that doesn’t just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we’re made. It describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations; that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others; and that well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story.
In fairness, I would say that he does try to separate the idea of “citizenship” from government or the political community at large. Is he suggesting that all American citizens are somehow American? He doesn’t say that if you are NOT a citizen that you are not American. But, would renouncing U.S. citizenship make you less of an American?
Patriotism and being an American
Must one be patriotic to be a real American? Could renouncing U.S. citizenship be an act of patriotism?
So, what is an American?
I don’t know. The answer to this question is way above my “pay grade”. But, it does seem to me that that there must be some meaning (beyond paying taxes) to be being “American”. If you think of yourself as American, it might be worth considering what that means.
82 thoughts on “What is an American? Forget the state and just be a child of the nation – but what does this mean?”
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I think it is hard for some people to shed their culture when they become immigrants and some others will always have an affinity for the countries they left behind, but being an immigrant means assimilating and taking on values of the new country and investing in it. Perhaps it is the children and grandchildren who truly melt in but the landed begin the process even if they don’t actively choose to and I think that making the switch is a choice.
I still “sound” American though more and more I am picking up very Canadian vowel sounds and I have a different view of the politics and the traditional infrastructure issues because I have a basis for comparison that most Canadians don’t.
I can’t erase what shaped me but I can choose who I want to be and to whom/what I gift my allegiance.
I see what you mean. The problem is that the word “citizenship” tries to do too much. If we separate out the threads we can see that there is citizenship as a formal legal status and there is citizenship as identity. My impression has always been that these two things were one and the same in the minds of most Americans. And yet we can find examples where that isn’t the case. Where, for example, a person is a formal citizen of a country with a passport but does not feel that he/she is really a part of that political/social/cultural community. We can also find examples where people feel to a certain extent some kind of connection with a homeland and that’s part of their identity. My grandmother is a good example. She was a German by blood and to some extent by language and she felt connected to that country on a cultural level. But she did not hold a formal status as a citizen of that country. She never had a German passport or voted or did anything to make herself part of that world. I like what calgary said about “heritage” which is how I would look at it that connection.
So let’s say that American heritage stays important for some folks who renounce. Let’s say that the idea even catches on because, let’s face it, Americans in the homeland are pretty disgusted with the USG and telling them that we have renounced the gov, but not the people is likely to get a more positive response. I think many homeland Americans would very sympathetic to that position which effectively undermines the concept of citizenship as both identity AND a formal status. It’s an attack on the state and its right to speak for the nation – all Americans. In short, it’s a way of saying that we don’t find the current government desirable or even legitimate but we have no problem feeling proud of and wanting to maintain our connection to the American nation.
Or maybe I’m full of it. 🙂
Good comment, Yoga Girl.
Isn’t that what freedom should be, the very definition? What the US imposes for us is serfdom, the opposite of what the US Government pretends to uphold and sell itself on.
Especially for the “Accidental American,” there should be a claim to US citizenship if there is a qualification and the responsibility of making that decision knowing all its requirements / benefits. We who were born in the US and now live abroad made our own choices for whatever reasons, among them freedom.
Consider this, that losing our US citizenship is how we maintain freedom and liberty. America should be proud of us!
Except that govts come and go as do the ideals and the policies. So dumping your country because of a current (or couple ) of administrations to go live someone else and yet continue to call yourself an American isn’t, I don’t think, what is at the heart of it for most emigrants.
Sure, some people left to escape the draft in the 60’s and others have left for just employment or schooling, but if you take on another citizenship and put down roots, have kids and build lives that preclude returning to the US, you’ve done something a bit different than what the Homeland folk are being led to believe that expats are.
My grandparents spoke German. Were first/second generation. Gramps loathed the US govt and active sought loopholes in the tax system and kept his sons out of WWII even, but he didn’t consider himself German. He was fully invested in the American dream.
When you get down to motivation and self-identity, I agree it gets tricky and pretty subjective in a hurry, which is part of the problem. The USG can call me its citizen and say we have a contract but I don’t have to agree with that.
Look at the Freeman movement in the US and Canada. Citizens who basically reject the idea of state and nation but probably still identify very much with the culture and values of where they live.
Maybe when asked our citizenship status, we should just say “it’s complicated”.
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“Except that govts come and go as do the ideals and the policies. So dumping your country because of a current (or couple ) of administrations to go live someone else and yet continue to call yourself an American isn’t, I don’t think, what is at the heart of it for most emigrants.”
….which is why I refer to myself as Canadian.
Yes, I admit that the US part wants to tag along like a real bad case of herpes. The $2350 cure is indeed, a bitter pill to swallow that I just can’t do right now. (looking for a new apartment for the Mrs. and I) But, I paid the fee, filled out the citizenship application, took the test, and swore the oath. I am what I am by my choice, and no one can take that away. Meanwhile, I can’t worry about things I currently have no control over, because it’s a waste of anxiety. I’ve done that too much, and I refuse to do any more.
It’s just that now I carry two passports.
Gotta deal with one problem at a time. It’s all I can say.