About a month ago I got into several heated exchanges about Singaporean politics. It was intimated in one instance and said outright to me in another that I had no business even voicing an opinion because I wasn’t Singaporean. There was an other exchange where someone presented a very narrow view of who a “Singaporean” is. Finally, there was an offensive Straits Times article (won’t link, behind a paywall) that showcased 4 children of mixed Singaporean and some other nationality who did not appear to be Singaporean but surprise! were–offensive because what it really did was perpetuate the narrow definition of who a Singaporean is and what they should look like.
The idea of writing a post about assimilation and at what point, if ever, you stop being an outsider in a new home began to percolate.
Then came the Boston Bombings. I spent that week glued to my tv, and since the death of Tameralan Tsarnaev and arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, I’ve been keeping up on events via an e-subscription to the Boston Glob as well as other news sources.
It’s ironic, really, then, that the article I’d already wanted to write was now applying to my home country as well as my adopted country. In the news coverage I’ve read, Dzhokhar’s American citizenship is almost never mentioned, although his foreign birth constantly is. More frequently I read about his brother’s troubled past and while it is noted that Tamerlan was denied US Citizenship (when it is mentioned), it is not mentioned that he held a green card (PR). The distancing of the Tsarnaevs from their American citizenship status is furthered by referring to Tamerlan’s wife as his “American wife.”
You can argue that a silly dustup online calling my Singaporean-ness into question isn’t anywhere on the scale of the attacks that has inspired the media’s court of public opinion to ignore or metaphorically revoke the American-ness of the Tsarnaevs. At first glance, they do seem very different. But they share one similarity-there was an infraction committed by one party, and the other party decides that the infraction is large enough to revoke their claim to Singaporean-/American-ness and does so.
Is being born a citizen enough to ensure that your nationality-ness is not questionable? Ask Barack Obama. Although entitled to American citizenship via his mother, his foreign parent has been the foundation upon which many lies about his citizenship have been built, to the point where a portion of the US believes him to not actually be an American. Further, his time abroad seems to call his American-ness further into question. As the parent of a third-culture kid, I have watched this phenomenon with interest and concern. I believe that my children would never commit such an act, nor do I expect them to run for president, but I’d be lying if I didn’t haven’t stopped to think that were my kids in either set of shoes, there would be some amount of “foreign-raised” or, in Rhi’s case “foreign born” rhetoric getting tossed around as well.
Americans are a very insular people. Less than half of Americans even hold a passport, much less have left the country, for perspective. Evening news is very local centric, and the only real international news is that which somehow involves the US. Even given that, I’d argue that a large percentage of Americans couldn’t find Iraq or Afghanistan on a map if you offered them cash, and we’re involved in military actions in those countries. We also believe ourselves to be unique and special in the world-having drank the “America is the best” kool-aid. As I’ve written before, the picture of an American is a white person, and persons of color do not enjoy the privileges I do as a white American, so my perspective is skewed by that position of privilege. Further I am in the position of privilege of having been born American, so it’s easier for me to critique my home country.
By comparison, in Singapore I am very aware that I am not a citizen and that I do not hold a similar position of privilege here. I will never physically pass as a local-I am all too clearly an ang moh, and plenty will look at me and always see an outsider even if I converted my citizenship. I can call Singapore my home, but I don’t know what it’s like to go through a local school as a student. But I do love Singapore as well, and I am invested in Singapore’s future, regardless of my citizenship.
Personally, I don’t believe that there’s a magic formula as to when you get to care about a country enough to voice an opinion. I am an American and I care about the future of the US. But after three years, I feel that I have the right to voice informed opinions about Singapore and to care equally about the future of my current home as well. It’s not acceptable to call someone’s worthiness to have an opinion into question (whether that opinion is valid, sure, but not the right to have an opinion).
What do you think? Do you get to claim ownership of a country only when you hold a passport from that country? Do you have to live there for x amount of time? Take permanent residency or some other demonstration of loyalty? If you’re an expat (in any country) do you feel a part of/ownership of your non-passport country?