On Immigration, and Choosing Your Identity.
January 4, 2011 Leave a comment
Immigration. It’s a controversial topic in the United States, and around the world. France, with its large Muslim-immigrant population, is struggling with it as well. Much of what comes up on the anti-immigration side is what it means, exactly, to be an American. Duncan Hunter, a Republican Representative in California, posits that it’s more than than existing on one side of an invisible line dividing one country from the next. It’s in our souls, apparently. This thing, in our souls, that differs a real American from a not-real one, is apparently being born to parents with a piece of paper saying so.
I am an American, yes. According to Duncan Hunter, I am a “real” American. But I question what exactly that’s supposed to mean. What is it about my mother being in a particular location on a map over twenty-two years ago, and my grandmothers being on a particular location on a map over fifty years ago that makes me more divisively American in my soul that a person traveling across an invisible line in the sand and declaring, “I am an American”? I have always lived in the United States. I had no choice in the matter; I did not choose to be American. I simply am. Had I the resources, would I emigrate to another country? I don’t know. I don’t have the resources, so I don’t have that choice. I have, however, traveled internationally. I can say without hesitation that America is not the best country in the world. It does not have within its arbitrarily drawn borders everything that I could ever want to see, feel, and experience.
I cannot see how anyone can say that someone who is born American, to American parents, is more American than someone who chooses to make the journey, across borders, across oceans, leaving behind friends, family, home and hearth, to choose to be an American.
Countries and borders are not physical things. We can try to make them so, but they’re not, by any stretch of the imagination. Countries are groups of people, who have divided themselves, taken control of a piece of land, drawn invisible lines, and created a culture all their own. Making the effort to leave one group to join another is a radical act.
Could it be that those among us who have simply been born into a group and chosen to remain in it all their lives, are envious of the power of those individuals who take their destiny, their identity into their own hands, and change it? There is a power in choice, unlike any other. There is freedom in it, too.