On what I like to think of as the high American holidays—the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving—it occurs to me that perhaps there is something to the U.S. Constitution’s ban
on non-native-born citizens becoming president. It’s not that I’m unpatriotic—I’m as Yankee doodle as they come—but there’s something about having grown up elsewhere that robs the big American holidays of their resonance. So much of the ritual of their celebration has to do with nostalgia for fireworks or turkeys past, and if you grew up thinking of July 4 as Pam Shriver’s birthday or of Thanksgiving as the occasion when Americans eat jam with their meat and two veg, it just doesn’t mean as much. Meanwhile, a lot of my fellow citizens were running around in flag T-shirts or protesting the situation in Iraq under the banner of Patriots Against the War. Why, R and I will probably get through this entire Independence Day without consuming a single wiener
. (Although, come to think of it, at brunch this morning we did have red
plum syrup on our white
-ish waffles, along with blue
berries, so perhaps I’m being too hard on myself.)
This topic came to mind as I was reading last week’s New Yorker
piece about Arnold Schwarzenegger, which opened with the legislation introduced by Orrin Hatch last summer that would make people who have been U.S. citizens for more than 20 years (coincidentally the length of time the Governator has had a blue passport) eligible for the presidency. I know a lot of people who have adopted children from overseas—they came over as tiny tots, just a few months old, and it seems crazy that they’re denied an opportunity afforded to their siblings that were born here. (I also know some very un-American Brits who could be president since they were born in the United States. Not that anyone would vote for them, but that’s beside the point.)
At the same time, I do wonder about divided loyalties. Without coming over all Norman Tebbit
, I’ve been in this country for half my life, I consider myself absolutely American, and I can’t imagine ever returning to live in Britain or voting in a British election … and yet, when the Olympics roll around in a few weeks, I have no doubt I’ll be cheering the Brits down the home stretch with the traditional English cry of, “C’mon my son.” (Something I would never have done when I lived there, but that’s neither here nor there.) If I’m rooting for the land of my fathers in the 400 meters, would I be unsure whose interests I was representing if I were sitting in the Oval Office?
In the end, I think you have to trust the pledge of allegiance new citizens make—doubting their devotion could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The media coverage of Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, the latest American said to have been captured and perhaps already beheaded in Iraq, seems different from the stories about the previous victims, and I can’t help thinking it’s because he’s an Arab-American and therefore suspected by some of having divided loyalties. If we don’t trust naturalized citizens to perform all the responsibilities of citizenship, why should they—we—be loyal?