Today, April 28th will be our second wedding anniversary. This is also the day that qualifies me to request Italian citizenship.
Intro: Getting citizenship.
Hypothetically why I should or shouldn't I renounce my citizenship?
I. Why I should keep my citizenship
Heritage (side story: The Wongs Come to America)
Friends and Family
II. Why I shouldn't keep my citizenship
Heritage of Service
*I realize that everyone from the Americas is an American, but I'm pretty sure as a nation we've commandeered the word, so there's no other way I can refer to my nationality from this point forward
I like to think that I got married for all of the right reasons; I really love my husband; his family is great and we both respect each other’s autonomy. However, the primary reason we did get married was for me to get a "green card". It’s a family visa actually and it allows me to work full time, get residency, and healthcare.
The decision to marry for this reason may sound calculated and may even shine a suspicious light on our marriage, however, there’s nothing more romantic than giving your partner the gift of never being deported.
In my six years of living in Italy, I've applied for five visas and there's always an interim between each renewal that is filled with anxiety born of the uncertainty of your legal status being approved or not. Arrogantly I assumed in the beginning that Americans were un-deportable, but if you can't find a job to vouch for your visa, or you no longer qualify for a student visa you'll be asked to leave.
Because of these restrictions, Elia and I have spent about a collective year apart due to gaps between the end of one visa and the beginning of another. Part of the visa process has also required me to spend a certain amount of time in U.S. territory.
Marriage grants you residency with a visa that must be renewed every five years. The only thing that stands between me and banishment from Europe when I travel is my permesso, or proof of my family visa. It's a flimsy piece of paper that looks like an ID from the 1940s. Every customs inspector north of France has scolded me for the archaic documents Italy still issues its people.
Anyway, my new citizenship will bring an end to that era, and for some reason, it’s induced a patriotic crisis.
I know it sounds ridiculous because almost nothing changes for me, as I can keep my American citizenship. The fact is, living in Italy has made me confront many different sides of myself I exchanged for personality traits rather than dregs of my American conditioning.
Many reasons have become evident in recent years why being an American is nothing to brag about. Therefore I’d love to ceremoniously renounce my citizenship but one, no one will care, and two, I might need it someday.
So in true American fashion, I’m going to make a well-organized list of why I should or should not keep my American Citizenship if I hypothetically had to give it up on today.
Then we’ll tally up the results, I’ll make a five-year plan based on nothing, and make at least three dream boards to visualize my future as a nationless anarchist.
I. Why I Should Keep My Citizenship
There are few things less patriotic than renouncing your citizenship. But, truly, there are a lot of reasons I’m proud to be American. American English, for example, is so fun, there are no rools and the slang is outrageous. In a similar vein, freedom of speech is also great, it could be better and it seems like people don’t really get that it comes with consequences (come at me @hexed_patriot), but it’s a luxury so many other countries don’t have.
More than anything I’ve noticed when working with people from non-U.S. countries, employers really appreciate how Americans are inherently optimistic and ready to work. I like having an automatic reputation for being reliable.
Pledging allegiance to a flag every morning throughout your childhood does leave a residual effect on how allegiance to our country should manifest. Whether it’s service, community betterment, or even nationalism. I feel tethered to the states in the sense that as an educated woman, I have a responsibility to give back the society that raised me.
Graphic designers have the incredible power to persuade people in the blink of an eye through effective, visual communication and there are a slew of books and essays about ethical design. I don’t have to apply myself to just American clients dedicated to improving American communities, but my country’s current state makes me feel especially beholden to its betterment.
Americans are obsessed with heritage. Europeans are baffled when Americans brag about being a quarter Italian and eighth German and always, always, a little bit of Irish. In reality, no matter where you are in the world everyone just thinks you’re American. Of course, that conversation is different for everybody, especially if you’re a person of color. Don’t get me wrong people can be terribly racist here, but no one does racism like America. And not that it makes it any better, most of the hatred, in Italy anyway, comes from xenophobia rather than systemic racism. I can’t speak for anyone’s story but my own though, so I’ll go ahead and say I’m half Chinese and a mix of every European country except Italy. From my experience, it's the Chinese side that seems to matter to most people because I “don’t look American”. I’ve heard coded language like that my whole life and it hasn’t stopped in Italy. More than once people have shouted slurs at me on the street then laugh it off as a joke or sheepishly walk the comment backward when they realize I’m not Chinese. I am an American. Personally, I don’t care that much about what percentage of what I am, I believe, however, after a lifetime of people telling me that I am “exotic” or “oriental” (I’m from Wisconsin 😢) has nudged the interest of my heritage into my lap. Yet, a trip I took to visit the Chinese side of my family in LA last November showed me a different perspective of my family that I had never seen before. For the first time since moving to Italy, I felt proud enough of my heritage to question my abandonment of America.
The Wongs Come to America
No one in my family speaks Chinese and no one knows much else about our family before the mid-century either. The oldest familial artifact I’ve seen was a photo album of my dad and his siblings in bowl cuts and bellbottoms captured in 1960's LA. My grandma rocked a beehive and big glasses and together they looked like nothing more than an American family.
Last Fall over tacos, my aunt told me that she had recently learned a bit more about our family’s arrival in America on my grandfather’s side, it started with his father, a railroad worker in Georgia. As the years passed in America, he never found himself a wife and consequently mail-ordered a young bride from China. I have no idea how happy they were because I don’t think it mattered- the whole point is that they successfully made a family and life for themselves in America. I can't imagine how hard it must have been to grow up in a poor, Chinese family in the south, no less. Not wanting to stick around my grandfather did what most Americans did to ditch their hometowns- he enlisted. Through this decision, he was allowed to earn a medical degree in exchange for service which resulted in his deployment in Aisa during which, I believe, would have been the Vietnam war. My great-grandmother, back in perhaps Louisiana, was business savvy and was able to run a successful laundry service after the death of my great-grandfather. The following morning after tacos, I had breakfast with my grandma (everything in my family revolves around the next meal, we are Italians at heart). Over coffee, I asked her how they came to build their house in their neighborhood of Palos Verdes. Thus, my grandma picked up the story again from the time grandfather came back from deployment. After working for a while back in the city, he came to specialize in the study of cancer and essentially became the first oncologist in LA. This success gave him enough standing to buy a house in the suburbs, which is how my dad's family ended up being raised in Palos Verdes. One of my grandfather's close friends was an Italian man that used to gift my family typical food items on holidays. The friendship either inspired or fueled a love for all things Italian in my grandfather, which makes my living here a funny coincidence.
Later, after breakfast, our family went to Chinatown for dim sum and to visit the Chinese American Museum. The first floor is filled with displays recounting the American landscape that welcomed early Chinese immigrants. Between the numerous massacres of the Chinese in railroad camps, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that wasn't lifted until 1943, and the general discrimination that came with being a colored immigrant held, it spoke to the desperation of the immigrants’ situation back in China which made their shitty treatment in America seem better by comparison. This situation is just as applicable to immigrants now as it was over a hundred years ago.
The second floor of the museum is filled with artifacts from contemporary history. Right at the top of the stairs is a portrait of a 1960s Chinese-American family. The father, Wilbur Woo, was one of the first to move his Chinese family to Monterey Park and out of traditionally Chinese neighborhoods in downtown LA during the post-war suburban sprawl. Although his move wasn’t a political statement he received a slew of anonymous phone calls and death threats and a bunch of guns from concerned friends.
The Woo’s move was around the time when my grandfather would have bought his first house in Palos Verdes. I wonder if he experienced any push back moving into a suburb that was on the other side of LA, not even close to Monterey Park or downtown.
Anyway, the point of this story is that generations of immigrants worked very hard for life to be comfortable for a third-generation American like me. I often feel like I shouldn’t abandon the space that was made for us.
Two of my brothers moved out to California after high school, where I lived for a time too. A couple of years ago we compared notes about living in California vs. the Midwest, and not surprisingly we had separately concluded that people are pretty fucking racist in Wisconsin. It’s the difference between some stranger telling you “why you look so chinky” *spits chew* vs. “oh hey, you’re a hoppa just like me”.
California has the largest population of Chinese Americans and it felt great to blend in. I genuinely miss it. On the other hand, if my life is better in Italy will California miss one less Wong?
Friends and Family:
I actually do have a heart. After six years abroad, the friends that you retain tend to be the ones who have always been the closest to you and it is hard to be apart sometimes. Although most of them don’t live in Milwaukee anymore, it still would be easier to hop on a plane to see them from anywhere in the U.S. than it would be from Italy.
Family is more difficult. You grow up, but your family ages. I wish I could see my remaining grandparents more often. My grandmother died in a car accident days before I left for Italy the first time. Her funeral and my departure were hours apart. It threw a wrench into the grieving process and I still wish I could have been there with my family as they cleared out her house.
I’ve missed weddings and graduations. It’s great to see the pictures and facetime at the parties but, being there would have been better.
With or without an American passport, all of these emotions and missed events are my reality. The only difference is the lines I would have to wait through in customs. Also, the chance of returning to a normal life amongst the people closest to me would be near impossible without citizenship.
I. Why I Shouldn't Keep My Citizenship
I don’t consider myself a particularly American person.
I’m a vegetarian and I think fast food and industrial farming are horrible. I think most Hollywood movies are just thinly veiled propaganda pieces. And I don’t think it’s cool that Americans just use toilet paper in the bathroom.
I know the U.S. has a lot of systemic issues that require urgent change. But it drives me insane when people from other countries lecture me about how fucked up America is. I know, I was raised there, why do you think I moved!? It’s like when someone insults your gun-toting cousin with an American flag back tattoo. It’s my cousin, our family, and our problem so it’s only ok if we call him a paint-huffing, knuckle-dragger.
Why do I feel indignant when people criticize America, why does it matter to me anymore? I think it’s the same reason why people who claim that protest is unpatriotic, we’re conditioned to withhold criticism because we are America, it’s our house, and we rule. Without being aware of it, Americans exchange patriotism and nationalism. I'm sure I've been guilty of it, and I still find myself thinking that there's always a "good side" and a "bad side" (classic American thinking, literally every blockbuster proves this). It’s cool to be proud of our blue jeans and never-ending optimism, but it’s ignorant to say that all of the good things don’t come with gerrymandering, no healthcare, and a ton of lead plumbing. Maybe it’s cowardice to abandon all of this star-spangled baggage without doing more to lighten the load, but I feel like I need to loosen my grip on my “ownership” of America. It’s become an unhealthy concern that I literally lose sleep over. Anyway, aside from registering people to vote and voting myself, there’s not much I can do to change anything.
Heritage of Service:
I come from a military family. WWII, Vietnam, Iraq... Oceania is always at war.
This week was the 15th anniversary of the death of my cousin in Bagdad. The timing of this anniversary is part of the reason I think I’m writing this post. Jason died in an attack that was unfortunately well documented and publicized, and it was one of many incidences that sparked controversy regarding Blackwater Security. At fourteen I was old enough to want to make sense of the violence and once I started reading about government contracting and the bogus reason the war was started in the first place, it was enough to make me take a step back and say “I want nothing to do with this”.
I can’t judge the decision of a 22-year-old kid from Iowa joining the military for a way out any more than I can judge either of my grandfathers' for joining the military for similar motives. I’m also really grateful that my grandfathers’ choices worked out well and as a result, were able to provide my parents with a great amount of opportunity. It’s also not wrong to say it was their choice to make and enlisting in the military is not the wrong choice for everybody.
However, after living in Europe I’ve come to realize “choice” is used very loosely in this context. As Americans, we’ve grown numb to the ways propaganda is served to us in everyday life. It’s not normal to see advertisements to join the army that are made to blend in with action movie trailers at the theater or during sports events, it’s not normal to give juvenile offenders the option of prison or war as a punishment. It also drove me up a wall every time recruiters came to our high school during lunchtime to hand out free school supplies and held pushup competitions in the cafeteria. It makes it seem like not only is joining the military a cool way out of bumfuck- but it makes it seem like it’s the only way out. In my opinion, the stakes are too high to join a military perpetually at war, I’ve seen the consequences up close. There is no payment high enough that can justify making someone's family bury the obliterated remains of a 23-year-old. We did all get a letter from President Bush thanking us for Jason’s service though. That was pretty tight. s/ I’m not a pacifist and I don’t think I’m completely entitled to be personally offended by my cousin’s death either. But I am. I don’t like the idea of holding a club card where I and the people I care about are considered expendable.
The United States is one of the few countries that require its citizens and resident aliens to pay taxes. Meaning I am taxed by both Italy and the U.S. As I’m not a resident in the U.S. I only have to pay federal taxes instead of both state and federal.
As an Italian resident, I’m ok with paying the taxes and I believe in it. I’m happy to give what I owe because in return I get healthcare, I’ve gotten assistance through the government as a freelancer during the quarantine, people who work under contract like my husband get paid sick leave and of course assistance during the quarantine. Everyone is also entitled to paid vacation, longer (or existing) maternity and paternity leave, additionally, the cost of going to University is affordable and income-based.
One might ask “Why would you be ok paying for someone else to go to University?”. Indeed, everyone who is fighting for the only twelve job openings in all of Italy is overqualified. But, to be honest, I feel safer living around a bunch of over-educated people than a bunch of dummies that don’t believe in science and are shooting up Clorox on the steps of city hall.
This, instead, is the breakdown of one taxed dollar in 2018:
Of course, this will look a lot different for 2019 and 20.
Just out of curiosity and because for some reason The Right loves Sweden:
"27% of taxpayer money in Sweden goes towards education and healthcare, whereas 5% goes to the police and military, and 42% to social security"
I don’t think I’ve convinced myself of anything I haven’t felt before. As I said, I’m going to keep my American citizenship. Really, I can’t stress enough that it doesn’t matter whether I have the papers or not because I’m so American it hurts. I like to believe I’m above it all but I’ll always speak howdy-Italian and my love for making five-year plans and eating pounds of ketchup will always give me away. I’m not happy with how things are going in the U.S. to the point where I tell people I’m Canadian if I have the chance. But at the very least retaining my citizenship will always allow me the opportunity to vote and return home if anyone ever needs me.