Sunday, October 17, 2010

Why I am Asian-American

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. - Amendment XIV, Section 1, United States Constitution

This is another badly worded post. I am asian as both parents are of asian descent. And I am American based on the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution as my parents were under the jurisdiction of the laws of the United States at the time of my birth. But it is also important to remember that nothing in the U.S. Constitution has to be the way it is. And like many aspects, this is one that has been challenged in the past, present, and will be in the future (Heritage Foundation brief about the granting of citizenship to those born while parents where in the U.S. under legal visas). And certainly, few countries follow this rule. Most countries define citizenship to follow from the parents. And few countries will allow the children of immigrants to be full citizens, with the rights to vote, hold office, and serve in its defense. In the United States at various point in time many groups were viewed with suspicion, and much resistance to viewing them as worthy of citizenship (obvious historical examples are Catholics, Irish, Italians, Germans, Chinese, Japanese, as well as Blacks, which prompted the amendment in the first place. A list of current examples is not much shorter.)

Where is my place in this? For several years, I have been on the board of a local asian american professional organization. (this causes amusement on people who knew me before I moved to Pittsburgh, as I am not the type who usually does such things.) As such, this is something other then asian (other groups are comprised of mostly asian immigrants), and not completely just another professional group (the Pittsburgh region distinctly lacks diversity compared to other urban areas of the United States.)

Other countries view the idea that the children of immigrants can be full citizens just as those who have been in the U.S. for several generations to be impossible. I suspect that most countries do not have provision for someone to desire full citizenship who did not have local ancestry by blood. The alternative is the view that purity of blood is paramount. An example was the view in the early days of the U.S. that one drop of blood was enough to make someone viewed as black, regardless of how much of his ancestry was white. In Germany, Chanceler Merkel has declared that multiculturalism has 'utterly failed'. France is in the process for making it easier to strip people of their citizenship.

Why should the U.S. not follow the path of Germany, France, or Japan? Why should the U.S. continue too put itself up as a place where those who have ambition and goals and drive can go and work to succede? Why should the U.S. be a place where the children of immigrants who work with their hands can gain the education to succede and thrive?

The U.S. has a myth of American Exceptionalism. But if the myth is true, then it must be because there is a characteristic of the U.S. that is exceptional. It is not the racial stock of its people, because that racial stock is found in the lands of its origin. It is not the ties to the land. Others in other places have just as strong ties to the same types of land that we have. It is not a natural industriousness of its people, many lands claim industriousness and even education better then the U.S. But none have told the world that there is a place for those who have ambition, drive and desire to create in the way the U.S. has over the decades. And none have been therefore attractive for those without social status, where the children of parents with no special status of title, social class or privilege can begin working on the street, in garages, with their hands and rise to become captains of industry or even a President. And because all these things are true, I believe in the myth of American Exceptionalism.

Does it have to be this way? No, it does not. There are many calls that say that those who 'do not look like us' should not have the privileges of a citizen. That it is not possible for people to change from the citizenship or religion of their parents. That people should not be able to rise in the world through effort, drive and education. That people who are different should not be allowed to serve in this countries defense or in public service.

Are there places like this? Yes. And they are dying, stagnant, fully aware that their best days are past and will not return. Realizing that they are in a spiral of destruction, feeding off the assets built in the past, and not renewing the future. And should America turn its back on the things that make it exceptional, I will mourn the end of America's greatness.