After 27 years in the United States, I find myself more American than I ever expected to be, yet not so American in many ways.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Seven passports between the four of us
My kids and I all have dual nationality, US and British. Contrary to what many Americans believe, it is perfectly legal to be American and have another nationality too. The Department of State explains on their website that "U.S. law does not mention dual nationality or require a person to choose one citizenship or another." Legally, we must use our American passports to enter and leave the United States, and our British ones to enter and leave the UK. UntiI I renew it in a year or so, my British passport still has my maiden name on it so, because my plane tickets are always booked in my married name, I am always unsure as to whether I should show my US passport as I leave the UK or not. My last few flights have been connecting ones - via Iceland, the Netherlands, or Belgium, so I have compromised by showing the British passport at Heathrow and then pulling the US one out at the next airport. So far so good, no one has questioned it.
Having spent thousands of dollars getting a 'green card' (which was actually pink), I thought it would be nice if my kids did not have to jump through the same kind of legal hoops if ever they decide to study or work in Europe. Apparently many other people have been thinking the same way. This evening I heard a report on National Public Radio about Israelis who have been applying for European passports - Israelis whose families left Poland for example, now applying for Polish nationality. In many cases it is not with the intent of moving to that country. One young woman who was interviewed explained that she was applying for a foreign passport so that she would not have any visa problems should she decide to work or study in London for a couple of years. A passport from one European country opens the doors to many others nowadays, and in an increasingly global society it makes sense to me to hold all the passports one is entitled to!
I've heard of Irish-Americans applying for Irish passports too. Again, the intent is not necessarily to return to the 'homeland' but to open up European possibilities. Although I have no doubt that many Americans would disapprove, I don't see this as a bad thing. I think it is important to have connections and loyalties, but that it is not only possible but probably a good thing to have a feeling of belonging to two places. I think one of the advantages of the ease of modern travel is that we can see that other places while different are places to which we might want to belong, and that people from other places can be our friends and family.
Unfortunately, while dual nationals (UK-US) such as myself are tolerated on both a personal and official level, I think there is much suspicion of people who come from other cultures/language backgrounds such as the Iraq or Iran or even Mexico. I see amazing prejudice on a regular basis against people who have not been in the US for long enough to learn English well and wonder if people really would have made the same comments about me when I had only been here a few years. I know they would not. For all the comments folks make about my accent and about the fact that I am a 'foreigner' (despite the fact that I've lived in the US now longer than I lived in the UK) the truth is I am accepted far more quickly and better than someone who does not speak English as their first language. For all the gripes I may have about Being American, I am happy to be here - but I am always happy to be back home in the UK too. Having an American passport doesn't make me any less British - but the fact that I have not renounced my British citizenship does not dilute my commitment to my adopted homeland. Unless you've lived in two countries and loved both, I'm not sure that you'll understand.