glass_icarus: (zhang ziyi)
[personal profile] glass_icarus
Dear Elizabeth Moon,

I do not have words or time enough to fully express the depth of my NO. Other people have made some excellent points- although you have predictably deleted the comment threads I was also going to link- but since the purported subject of your post is citizenship, I'm going to stick to that. Keep this in mind: I don't, actually, want or need to hear your answers. I find your opinions to be self-evident and I have no interest in your self-defenses because in the end, this isn't about you anyway. I am responding to your post because it happens to be the last straw for me, here and now, and because in the face of countless vitriolic variations I have had to bite my tongue. Silence, you see, has weight and cost, and I live in constant awareness of both.

I am an immigrant and a citizen of the United States. My parents and I have been naturalized for ten years. I have few memories of that process, but lest you believe that naturalization is not fraught with bureaucratic and systematic pitfalls, think again: I distinctly remember the clerk telling me to "write your name, whatever people call you" on my certificate of citizenship. (For the record, it is precisely this sort of comment that leads people like me back to the Department of Motor Vehicles over and over and over again when trying to obtain their driver's license. I was one of the lucky ones- all of the names on my documents matched, and I only had to go back four times for reasons completely unrelated to my driving skills.) My sister was born on US soil; citizenship is her birthright.

By your definition, we are citizens, correct? We are now "American," therefore the term belongs to us! Except that every day I live with the reality that it does not. Not once in the twenty-odd years we've been living here have we ever passed as citizens, or even as the resident aliens (oh, loaded term) that my parents and I used to be, without showing government identification. Not when my sister and I open our mouths on "perfect" US-East-Coast-accented English, though we do so every day; not in our own hometown, where a passing driver thought it was perfectly acceptable to curse out my father in front of me (I was maybe five at the time, and was confused for years afterward as to why "Chinaman" was considered a dirty word); not even in New York City, where a stranger I encountered in Central Park last summer told me to "go back to China"... and promptly followed that shockingly unoriginal gem up with "China's a nice town." I find it easier to embrace and explore my Chineseness than I do my Americanness, because there is a chasm between the reality of my identity and the perception of what is American that I do not know how to cross, that I cannot cross alone. Because citizenship, like identity, requires a negotiation between lived experience and perception. Because true citizenship, to me, is a matter of mutual respect and acknowledgment more than it is a legal status; because last I checked, belonging wasn't a unilateral decision.

These are just words, I can hear you thinking it already (astonishing how often that happens with writers), but let me ask you this: should I be more grateful that I only suffer the lesser symptoms of a greater problem, instead of being angry that the greater problem exists? Before you say yes or no, but, consider: the burden of proof- to show that we belong here, that we deserve to be included in your American- is always on us. No matter how long we have been here, no matter how long-established our communities are, no matter that we have sacrificed our mother-tongues and histories and names upon the altar of your assimilationist melting-pot ideals, no matter that we have worked and bled and died to serve this nation, people will always believe that we are- or should be- "going home." (I will say this much now: "home" is a more complicated concept for us than you can ever know.) Perhaps you think it is right and fair to test our loyalty to this nation when we "belong" to more than one, or perhaps you think the ends of national security justify the means; but even I can tell you that on any given day, the security that you so prize does not exist for everyone.

You say that "the business of a citizen is the welfare of the nation," and in broad strokes (and insofar as my community is considered part of the nation) I agree that this is so. However, I also believe that the business of a nation is the welfare of its citizens, and that the latter takes precedence over the former. If I love my country, if I want to serve my country, and it does nothing to recognize me; if politicians and legislators and members of the judiciary continue to ignore and overlook the needs of my people, should I still grant the welfare of the nebulous "nation" sovereignty over my life? Should I expend all my efforts in support of the comfortable majority even as my minority community and those of my friends and family members continue to struggle against the injustices of their daily lived experiences? Is this a sustainable, an equitable relationship? I say no, it is not. I say that a patriotism that only demands and never asks, only takes and never offers, is at least as terrible a thing as a love-relationship that does the same. I say that you should look at what national institutions have previously done to us, at what the state is trying to do today, before you dare to judge us for prioritizing the welfare of our own communities. Will you tell me now that awareness of these- yes, American- histories "unfits" me for citizenship?

You are a writer; considering the weight of your words is only a logical expectation, and so I will ask you to consider these. You call us "insular" for choosing to walk in safer spaces, for putting ourselves first when we have been shown repeatedly that no one else will. You accuse us of being "racist" and "hypocritical" (and if this is subtext it is only in name) for espousing the bigoted attitudes so often spread and instilled in us as a matter of survival by the very social institutions you believe we should support. You say that all immigrants should be "good citizens," aspire to be like my minority- the model minority, perceived to be silent and obedient and hardworking- as if this status is desirable, and exacts no price. You speak of freedom as if it is a thing to be earned, something we cannot aspire to unless we subscribe to your particular definitions of it.

Here's the thing, Ms. Moon: I don't actually care that it is you who are speaking this time around. But I cannot count the number of people I have heard say these exact same things. These are words, just words, after all; surely repetition has no effect; I should be grateful instead of angry; things could be worse, certainly. Yes. Of course. But I have swallowed enough gratitude and enough anger to know which I will choose.

Date: 2010-09-17 10:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Wow. Your essays are always excellent, but this is a beautiful and intelligent piece that speaks eloquently to the reality Moon's words trampled on and insulted. I really like your choice to counter her arguments by picking up on citizenship, what it means and doesn't, and blending thoughts about the idea of it with the reality. It's not an approach I've seen elsewhere as yet.

I admire your ability to convey strong emotion, especially anger, and at the same time a thoughtful consideration of the ideas that matter here. Bravissima.

Date: 2010-09-17 10:52 pm (UTC)
jhameia: ME! (Default)
From: [personal profile] jhameia
Yes. *hugs*

Date: 2010-09-17 10:53 pm (UTC)
jhameia: ME! (Default)
From: [personal profile] jhameia
Also, may I link?

Date: 2010-09-17 11:33 pm (UTC)
whymzycal: a blood-spattered comma (comma assassin)
From: [personal profile] whymzycal
This whole post is made of WORD and YES.

Date: 2010-09-18 12:56 am (UTC)
jibrailis: (merlin -- gwen)
From: [personal profile] jibrailis
Thank you for this.

Date: 2010-09-18 03:04 am (UTC)
crossedwires: toph punches katara to show her affection (wil subway)
From: [personal profile] crossedwires

Thank you for writing this. I wish you didn't have to.

Date: 2010-09-18 03:07 am (UTC)
shadowspar: Pic of Kurama holding a rose (kurama - rose)
From: [personal profile] shadowspar

Thanks for this poignant, eloquent reply. It's so full of truth that it rends at one's heart.

Date: 2010-09-18 03:24 am (UTC)
azurelunatic: "Offices are why big people get GRUMPY and say BAD WORDS" (bad words)
From: [personal profile] azurelunatic
Thank you for writing this and sharing it in public; someone just linked it in IRC because it is awesome.

Date: 2010-09-18 06:37 am (UTC)
elsane: clouds, brilliance, and the illusion of wings. (Default)
From: [personal profile] elsane
thank you for this eloquent reply. You speak beautifully. I wish you didn't have to.

Date: 2010-09-18 07:05 am (UTC)
yasaman: picture of jasmine flower, with text yasaman (Default)
From: [personal profile] yasaman
Thank you for this. I was working on my own post today, and while I was debating whether or not to even say anything, your post came up and I realized I had to. ♥

Date: 2010-09-18 10:36 am (UTC)
fulselden: General Iroh, playing earth-water-fire-air. (Default)
From: [personal profile] fulselden
Thank you. This is so clear minded and deeply felt. I'm going to come back and work my way through the links.

Date: 2010-09-18 12:22 pm (UTC)
deepad: black silhouette of woman wearing blue turban against blue background (Default)
From: [personal profile] deepad
I quoted the stuff that really hit me on my own journal - thanks!

Date: 2010-09-18 12:28 pm (UTC)
verasteine: Steve (JB with glasses (b&w))
From: [personal profile] verasteine
Yes, this, and thank you for sharing, which I imagine can't always be easy.

I have to be honest and say that I didn't fully read Ms. Moon's piece, as I saw where it was heading and have no time for drivel, but your response, on the other hand, is eloquent and direct and should be required reading.

Date: 2010-09-18 12:48 pm (UTC)
spiralsheep: Reality is a dangerous concept (babel Blake Reality Dangerous Concept)
From: [personal profile] spiralsheep
Thank you.

Date: 2010-09-18 01:46 pm (UTC)
ciderpress: default: woman with red umbrella (Default)
From: [personal profile] ciderpress
I'm so sorry that this needs to be said. Thank you.

Date: 2010-09-18 03:07 pm (UTC)
thingswithwings: dear teevee: I want to crawl inside you (a dude crawls inside a tv) (Default)
From: [personal profile] thingswithwings
This post is powerful and beautifully written; thank you for making it. And thank you for the links, too.

Date: 2010-09-18 06:23 pm (UTC)
la_vie_noire: (Default)
From: [personal profile] la_vie_noire
Such an amazing piece.

Date: 2010-09-19 04:11 am (UTC)
thothmes: Jack looks dubious.  Legend: About that... (About That...)
From: [personal profile] thothmes
My stepfather is a naturalized American citizen, born in Palestine. When he came to this country and married my mother, he was a Jordanian citizen. Now his family are stateless. My sister was always pulled out of the line for extra security screening, until she married and got herself a German last name. Now she never is, in spite of the fact that she still looks like an Arab, and still has an Arabic first name.

Prejudice and profiling come in many forms.

My mother (in her 70's) has a friend of her own age, born to American-born parents and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. Her first name, the only one she has ever had, is Jane. Because her ancestry is Chinese, she gets asked where she is from. "Phoenix, Arizona," she will say. No, where is she from?

I'm sure this is all too familiar to you.

With these examples before me, I assume someone I meet is American, no matter what their face or name, or accent, unless I have good reason (like a foreign passport prominently displayed, or a name tag that reads "HELLO My name is Ambassador So-and-so").

I hope that this eloquent piece reaches many people, and sensitizes them to the scope and nature of the problem!

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] thothmes - Date: 2010-09-20 03:30 am (UTC) - Expand

Date: 2010-09-19 11:39 am (UTC)
vi: (Default)
From: [personal profile] vi
This post is amazing and so are you. Thank you for writing it, though I'm sorry this has to be said so many times over. &hearts

Date: 2010-09-19 01:49 pm (UTC)
livrelibre: DW barcode (Default)
From: [personal profile] livrelibre
This was brilliant and thanks for saying it.
surpassingly: (kitteh: HYA!)
From: [personal profile] surpassingly


Date: 2010-09-20 09:49 am (UTC)
love: (Default)
From: [personal profile] love
Reading this is bittersweet because I am about to immigrate (my husband refuses to go to Malaysia because the weather's too hot; I'm not looking forward to dealing with Colorado winters, but at least I can stand them). As a Malaysian Chinese, even in my birth country (where citizenship by right of birth still means I am a second-class citizen), all I can say is Amen.

Date: 2010-09-20 04:34 pm (UTC)
faynia: (Another Angel Icon)
From: [personal profile] faynia
You are one of the most brilliant and articulate person I know. Just. *HUGS* ♥_♥

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] faynia - Date: 2010-09-20 05:04 pm (UTC) - Expand

Date: 2010-09-20 05:37 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I can't tell you how much this post speaks to me. I've been feeling exactly the same way for ages, but couldn't quite put them into words so eloquently. Thank you, thank you so much.

Date: 2010-09-21 12:19 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] joannkatana
Thank you for this. My parents didn't choose to teach my brother and I Chinese to increase our chances of doing well in tests at school. So, now, when I visit the rest of my family - I can only catch bits and pieces of the conversation. I can't speak directly to my grandparents; my parents have to pause and think about how to translate and compress a fast flowing conversation. I joke to other people that I know scoldings in Chinese.

I wish it was just a joke.

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] joannkatana - Date: 2010-09-22 02:55 am (UTC) - Expand


glass_icarus: (Default)
just another fork-tongued dragon lady

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