Friday, February 24, 2012

Linsanity & Perpetual Foreignness

I've written before (both as a scholar and a blogger) about the concept of "perpetual foreignness," that class of individuals with "marks of foreignness," like speaking English with a foreign accent or being Asian or Hispanic, groups often assumed to be foreign-born, regardless of actual place of birth. Here's what I said about perpetual foreignness in a law review article examining the Constitution's requirement that the president be a "natural born citizen:"
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.
Of course, this concept of perpetual foreignness is not limited to naturalized citizens.  Those who are born in the United States -- but are from groups thought to be "foreign," like all minority races other than African-American -- also face the stigma of perpetual foreignness.  Remember when Tara Lipinski and Michelle Kwan won gold and silver in 1998 Olympic figure skating? One headline announcing the result read, "American Beats Kwan." Tara Lipinski, American. Michelle Kwan, not so much, despite the fact that she was born and raised in California.  Michelle Kwan, perpetual foreigner.

What about Jeremy Lin?  Everyone knows he was born in America -- he's touted as one of the first Asian-AMERICAN players in the NBA (actually, he's frequently touted as THE first, which isn't true, since the first was a man of Japanese descent in the 1940s).  But is Lin REALLY American?!  That's the question subtly asked in this Time Magazine piece about whether Lin, who is apparently unlikely to be selected for the American team by Team USA coach Jerry Colangelo, would play for the CHINESE team in the upcoming Olympics:
Colangelo, however, says he won’t be swayed by public opinion, or even the remote possibility of China taking him away. Lin’s maternal grandmother is from mainland China, and Xinhua, the state news agency, has already called on Lin to renounce his U.S. citizenship and suit up for the Chinese team. (China does not allow dual citizenship. Lin’s parents are from Taiwan, but the Taiwanese team cannot qualify for the London Games).

Yes, it would seem outlandish for Lin to join the Chinese team. . . .
YES, it would seem outlandish -- or in the vernacular, completely LINSANE -- so why are they advancing such an idea??!!! All it takes is being Asian, and suddenly we speculate on whether you are willing to renounce your American citizenship in order to play for a foreign team!?! See, when you're a perpetual foreigner, your American-ness is always in doubt, slightly suspect, apparently disposable.  Being "foreign" trumps citizenship, even birthright citizenship.

Even more outlandish than the idea that Lin would join the Chinese team is the fact that a major news magazine like Time would actually speculate about it.  They need to read the Asian American Journalists Association guidelines for reporting about Jeremy Lin (how sad that they actually needed to issue such guidelines):
Jeremy Lin is Asian American, not Asian (more specifically, Taiwanese American). It's an important distinction and one that should be considered before any references to former NBA players such as Yao Ming and Wang Zhizhi, who were Chinese. Lin's experiences were fundamentally different than people who immigrated to play in the NBA. Lin progressed through the ranks of American basketball from high school to college to the NBA, and to characterize him as a foreigner is both inaccurate and insulting [emphasis added].
Indeed.  The AAJA's bottom line is a good one: "Stop to think: Would a similar statement be made about an athlete who is Caucasian, African American or Latino?" Words to live by.

1 comment:

ordinary malaysian said...

Citizenship is a legal myth while race is an existential fact. You may be any American citizen but if your race is not considered 'American'- WHATEVER THAT MEANS or has come to mean - then citizenship is truly a myth. Fact is more dangerous than a myth, because a myth is after all a myth. You can deal with it but you can't deal with a fact and so you if you are Chinese not considered 'American', then you play for the Chinese. This is how silly people have come to be. First, you create a myth and you play with it and claim credit for your genius and then you say the fact does not fit the myth. See how smart the human race has become. Always creating and playing games and oh so bright! You have done well to have articulated this nonsense of play and pretend.