I was born on a former British colony.
My primary and secondary schools used a British curriculum.
I attended a tertiary institution in the United Kingdom.
I am also an unabashed Anglophile.
And yet, despite all those facets of my life, I knew I always wanted to live in America; to one day become an American citizen. Several of my family members emigrated here many years ago, making both lives and livings for themselves. I knew that I would have my turn (legally, of course).
Now that I have… it is a bittersweet moment… because I am confronted with the notion that not everyone, regardless of if they are natural-born or naturalised, will be considered “true” Americans.
Unlike some European and Asian countries where national identity is linked to ethnicity, America was supposed to be different. After all, it was a country founded by immigrants, a refuge for the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. It was the land of opportunity, where anyone could move there work hard and achieve anything.
Except, of course, for being president. That “right” was reserved for only natural-born citizens. Fair enough. I accept that I, as an immigrant, will never be president. But I can hold out the hope that my child(ren) (if I am ever blessed to have any) could be.
Well I’m not so sure about that anymore.
As the first ‘person-of-colour’ in the Oval Office, Barack Obama had to put up with challenges, criticisms, and acts of disrespect that previous occupants never had to. The ‘birther’ conspiracy is a prime example of this; to this day there remains a significant portion of right-wing (*cough* white *cough*) Americans who believe that he isn’t a natural-born citizen and made him illegitimate to serve as president. It begs the question whether his race has something to do with it. As Senator Sanders pointed pointed out – as the son of Polish immigrants himself, no one has ever asked for his birth certificate.
But now this disgusting theory is being floated again, and it is being tacitly supported by the man who “birthed” it.
As an immigrant and a person of colour, I find this disconcerting, if not frightening. It is bad enough that such a conspiracy is being used simply for political expediency in an attempt to delegitimise Kamala Harris. But it also gives credence to the notion that there is a sense of stratification to being an American citizen. That there are those who are “real” Americans and then there are those who are American “in name only”.
Considering America’s recent social and political polarisation, perhaps the focus on Kamala Harris will result in a much-needed discussion on the contribution of immigrants and the concerns of racially mixed families.
More importantly… she represents the face of the “Now America”; not the “new” or not the “next”,… she represents America as it is now. Whether you’re ancestors arrived on the Mayflower or came through Ellis Island; whether they are of Saxon stock or the descendants of slaves; whether your parents emigrated or you just arrived – once you were born here or you take that oath we are all the same – we are all American.
God bless America – God bless us all!