The U.S. Consulate in Auckland wanted to see my baby. Not in a photograph, not over a Skype interview, but in person. Only after documenting her physical presence (by pinching her pudgy cheek? Tickling her little toes?) could my native government guarantee that she was flesh – not some off-shore tax scam – and grant her the citizenship she deserved.
So one straightforward request turned into multiple applications, paper trails dating back a decade, pledges from character witnesses and a flight to the opposite end of New Zealand.
At the consulate, a security guard demanded my umbrella, coffee and diaper bag. Our jokes about the omnipresent Uncle Sam were met with a solid Berlin-wall-breaking Yankee stare.
All this to pass on American birth rights to my 10-month-old child.
Because it’s not actually so simple, is it? Our nationality – that label on our passport – not only defines who we are, it encourages and limits who we may become.
Where we can travel, where we can work, where we can’t be extradited from in case of a federal conviction. . .
And if it were simple, would we appreciate it? I only truly respected my citizenship after living abroad – because mine was a divine privilege, taken for granted without even knowing it’d been granted the day I was born.
And Aila’s dual citizenship (given the staunch patriotism of her Kiwi father) is an actual gift, chosen just for her. Something not automatically assigned, but earned, donated, shared.
So this Thanksgiving, when I start listing things to be thankful for, I top my list with this very option: the freedom my U.S. citizenship allows, in movement, in thought and speech, in (albeit strictly) incorporating others.
It may not be perfect, but it’s mine. And now, so gratefully, it’s hers, too.
What things are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?