Had me a very interesting, yet distressful and disappointing, conversation yesterday that got me to thinking. The conversation was with a coworker who I generally like and respect. The conversation topic was U.S. foreign policy as it relates to China. My coworker was born in British occupied Hong Kong and moved to Canada as a youth. He eventually moved to the U.S., where he has lived for his entire adult life. Last year he attained full citizenship. During the course of the conversation, I was struck by the fact that he was referring to the Chinese as “we” or “us” and to the U.S. as “you” or “them”. I stopped him and asked, “aren’t you an American”? He replied that he was Chinese, stating that he viewed himself not as an American or even a Chinese-American, but as a Chinese man who happens to be living in America. I pressed forward, asking why he would define himself in this way given that he has never actually lived on Chinese soil. He started stating something about cultural influence and affiliation. I continued by pointing out that he chose to live here. He chooses to stay here. I pointed out that it was not his choice to be born in Hong Kong. I asked him about his citizenship as well as his oath, which he inherently took to protect his country with his life. “His country... America”. His response was that his citizenship was an act of convenience and that the oath was just something he had to say to get this done. As you can imagine I was taken aback by this admission, but my point here is not so much to take a shot at my colleague, but instead to raise a broader question.
What I would like to ask is, not in a legal sense, but on a personal level when did you become (if you have become) an American? Was it at birth, or at some point of realization as a young kid? Was it during a speech from a family member or friend, or from a politician? If you are an immigrant, was it the day that you got off the boat, or at some point when you felt accepted or at home or maybe the day that you were sworn in? Was it an issue of culture, language or loyalty? Personally, I have lived here for most of my life and have, for as long as I can remember, considered myself an American. As such, I was taken aback by the fact that not everyone of my neighbors feels similarly. I am left with a feeling that I take for granted an assumptive minimal level of loyalty or patriotism from those that I live and work with. I have always assumed that, regardless of political affiliation or viewpoint, for the most part people still considered themselves, quite simply, American. Sadly, I suppose I was mistaken.