By Mieke Pressley
Growing up in Europe as a Belgian-American, I was often asked: “But are you really American?” or “Why do you sound so American?” My answer – “Well, yes, I am a US citizen,”—would be brushed off with a shrug; to my skeptical Flemish classmates I was an imposter, a Yankee wannabe.
When I was younger, and the US was seen as the place to be, some students would find me interesting purely because half my genes come from a person who grew up on the North Shore of Chicago. But the older I got, the more my Belgian friends began quizzing me about US government actions. I felt, and still feel, lost in the middle, in a no man’s land of national identity: too American for Belgium, too European for the States.
For the past year, Australia has been dealing with a so-called dual-citizenship crisis. The Australian constitution forbids any individual holding citizenship for another country from running for parliament. While this is not new, issues arose when a number of MPs, including Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, were revealed to hold another passport. Barnaby, who had acquired automatic New Zealander citizenship through his father, claims to have been unaware of his second identity. According to a recent poll, 51% of Australian citizens believe that politicians running for office should give up any second citizenship or be disqualified to do so.
In this age of globalization, the lack of support for those belonging to multiple countries is remarkable. While 89 countries allow their citizens to own another passport besides their countries, many more, including Austria, Romania and the Netherlands, restrict dual citizenship. Immigrants moving to these countries may be stripped of their former passport when achieving the new country’s citizenship.
English-speaking University College Roosevelt, forms a melting pot of nationalities, making it a haven for those of dual citizenship, despite the college finding itself in a country that to this day discourages multiple passports to its people. I set out in the hope of gaining insight of students on their dual citizenship.
“You can avoid difficult situations by keeping quiet instead of having to lie about your identity,” one 19- year old student confides in me when asked how she was able to keep her US citizenship as a Dutch national. Staying mute about your dual nationality in front of those who might “make a problem of this” appears to be the way to go for the Dutch dual citizen.
The interviewee goes by a ‘don’t flaunt it’ rule. “Whereas I definitely identify as half Dutch and half American,” she says, “I feel pretentious to introduce myself as such.”
Asked whether dual citizens should be restricted from achieving parliamentary positions my source’s reaction is a firm: “Of course not!” Owning another passport should not withhold a person from political candidacy. “On the contrary,” she insists, “such a person probably has more experience dealing with different cultures and therefore has more worldly knowledge in a sense, which they can use in parliament to take into account all represented groups within a society.”
If we take these words to heart, we can see the dual citizen as a cultural and national mediator, able to rise above the boundaries of nationalism, and continue building bridges of globalization.
20-year old Dafne Martinez further asserts this ‘dual citizen perk’. “Especially now with globalization,” she considers, “everything is so interconnected, a lot of cultures are now mixed and starting to become intertwined.”
Dafne is what we might call a ‘national and cultural chameleon’. On paper she is Belgian-American, but she also has Venezuelan, Dominican and Mexican roots through her mother, and a Dutch father. While she looks Latin-American, she sounds American. When speaking Dutch, she can jump from a Flemish to Dutch accent with ease.
It seems backwards to Dafne to not embrace those of dual citizenship. Identifying and belonging to more than one nation is enriching, why should we not take advantage of these perks?
Katrin Benzler, a citizen of France and Germany, pauses before expressing: “Your nationality does not define your views on a country.”
My conversation with Katrin, who identifies as equal parts German and French, reveals some of the issues she has as a dual citizen. Introducing herself as from two nations will inevitably be paired with inquiries: “Which side do you relate to more?” and “If you had to pick one…” It is expected to always be skewed towards one side as a dual citizen, an idea Katrin opposes. “Why would I have to pick one?” she questions, “I’m both.”
It is perhaps the idea of ‘being both’ that scares nations like Australia into barring dual citizens as MPs. The notion of divided loyalty continues to limit those with multiple passports, qualified candidates being passed over simply due to their ties to another nation. Former dual citizen, Farina Shaaban, makes a case when saying: “I don’t think your passport should be a measure of how well you can represent your community.”
Many are not as willing to embrace dual citizenship as my interviewees. Farina, 21 years old, was until the age of 18 a Tanzanian and German citizen. When she came of age, she had to choose by law: to be German or Tanzanian. “Giving up my Tanzanian nationality is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do so far,” she tells me. “That was really the first time I realized I was a dual national.”
While her loss of Tanzanian citizenship does not take away her cultural connection with her home country, having to give away the documents was a more difficult step than Farina had expected. “Thinking of going home as a foreigner one day is pretty strange,” she admits. Both Dafne and Katrin hope to hold on to their dual-citizen status. “It’s part of your identity,” Dafne said, “giving up that part can change things in your life by a lot.”
Mieke Pressley, Class of 2019, is an Art History Major, from Brussels, Belgium.
Image Source: https://www.aupair.net/8-amazing-au-pair-destinations/