Saturday, April 11, 2009

"Perpetual Foreigners"

I'm so proud to be a Texan -- not:
A North Texas legislator during House testimony on voter identification legislation said Asian-descent voters should adopt names that are “easier for Americans to deal with.”

The comments caused the Texas Democratic Party on Wednesday to demand an apology from state Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell. But a spokesman for Brown said her comments were only an attempt to overcome problems with identifying Asian names for voting purposes.

The exchange occurred late Tuesday as the House Elections Committee heard testimony from Ramey Ko, a representative of the Organization of Chinese Americans. Ko told the committee that people of Chinese, Japanese and Korean descent often have problems voting and other forms of identification because they may have a legal transliterated name and then a common English name that is used on their driver’s license on school registrations.

Brown suggested that Asian-Americans should find a way to make their names more accessible. “Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese — I understand it’s a rather difficult language — do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?” Brown said.

Brown later told Ko: “Can’t you see that this is something that would make it a lot easier for you and the people who are poll workers if you could adopt a name just for identification purposes that’s easier for Americans to deal with?”
The telling comments from Brown for me are"you and your citizens," "we could deal with here."easier for Americans to deal with," She doesn't see people with 'foreign-sounding' names as our citizens, American citizens, people who belong here, even though we are clearly talking about American citizens here since only American citizens can vote!

Here's what I wrote about naturalized citizens as "perpetual foreigners," when analyzing the natural born citizen clause that prevents the foregin-born from becoming President:

Kenneth Karst focuses on the concept of citizenship as “belonging.” For him, the importance of citizenship starts “in the formal recognition of membership in the community.” He argues, however, that formal recognition alone is insufficient. The principle of equal citizenship means that “[e]ach individual is presumptively entitled to be treated by the organized society as a respected, responsible, and participating member.” Naturalized citizens have achieved the legal status of “citizen.” It is less clear, however, that they have been accorded the sense of belonging that goes beyond formal recognition of membership in the community. “Membership . . . is only meaningful when accompanied by rituals of entry, access, belonging and privilege.”

Being “foreign” seems to trump “citizenship” for naturalized citizens. Many naturalized citizens, especially when non-White, are seen as “permanently foreign.” Robert Chang argues that the figure of “perpetual internal foreigners” has been necessary to construct America’s sense of identity, because immigration and naturalization restrictions “were based on a sense of who properly belonged in the national community.” Without restrictions on who could be a citizen, there would be no “them” to compare “us” to. Once the foreign-born become citizens through naturalization, the “myth of a historically homogeneous American identity” must be preserved by devaluing naturalized citizens. One might argue that it is different today, where immigration laws are no longer based on race, where, as Nathan Glazer puts it, “a strong accent, a distant culture, is no bar to citizenship.”

But Professor Glazer must concede, “whatever we mean by the American nation, the new citizen may not yet be considered a full member of it by many of his fellow citizens, because of race or accent.” He continues: "Many of us, perhaps most of us, have a mind-set in which certain races and nationalities, despite their formal equality in American law, despite the fact that distinctions of race are not recognized in immigration or naturalization law, have a greater claim to becoming American and are accepted as more legitimately American than others.

In America, it seems, some citizens are more equal than others.

Marks of "foreignness" -- a strong accent, being non-Caucasian and non-African-American, a name indicative of non-Western culture -- are perpetual. You can be a U.S. citizen by birth or be a naturalized U.S. citizen for longer than you were ever a citizen of another country, and, as Representative Brown reminds us, your "foreignness" will trump your citizenship every time.

And if you want to belong -- to participate -- you better change your identity!


Sheri said...

I am a native Texan. I am so incensed about this ignorant bigot's comments I could SCREAM. Happily, there's now just about zero chance this dimwit will be re-elected!!! Grrrrr!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I was similarly appalled and disgusted by the comments (not to mention the whole voter-id thing, which is designed to make it more difficult for citizens to vote). I certainly hope she is not re-elected!
(Sue, aka anonymous)

Wendy said...

I immediately thought of you Malinda when I heard this bigot speaking on the news--of course, not that you are like her! I have been waiting for your post on it.

Sadly, I have heard a couple of people who proclaimed that she was wrong, but immediately agreed that it would be easier on them if people would have easier names! It just shows that the perpetual foreigner attitude absolutely exists, now if we can get people to recognize it we are making small steps to ending this mentality--the only good from her pathetic statements.

Mahmee said...

Holy crap! Apalling, true...yet sadly not surprising. I second that "Grrrrr!!!!!!!!!"!