Readers React

21st Century citizenship: For readers, it's personal

In #21stCenturyCitizen, readers have crucially added context and subtlety to Times editorials

In our recently completed series on the meaning of citizenship in the 21st century, readers have played the crucial role of humanizing the editorial board's ruminations on lofty topics such as national loyalty and the extent to which speaking English defines Americanness with their own, on-the-ground experiences. This isn't an uncommon relationship for readers to have with The Times: The paper publishes a piece on policies with real-world implications for the public, and readers write us to explain what those implications might be for them. 

But in this series, readers' experiences really helped to drive the conversation. In October, a naturalized American from Mexico explained why he agreed with The Times on the importance of obtaining citizenship. After the editorial board encouraged immigrants to learn English, we heard from teachers upset over cuts made by the Los Angeles Unified School District to the adult education programs that make it easier for non-English speakers to learn the language. Memorably (at least to me), after we editorialized in favor of setting undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship, a British citizen with a green card and several American children and grandchildren explained why she couldn't bring herself to swear a naturalization oath that would ask her to "absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure" any loyalty to her home country.

More so than usual, in this series we heard from readers who could speak directly to the complicated subjects of our editorials. The letters below are also from readers whose own experiences add context and subtlety to one of our editorials in this series -- in this case, the Dec. 26 editorial on dual citizenship saying immigrants should be reluctant to swear allegiance to two countries. Nearly all of the several dozen letters we received, many of them written by dual citizens, disagreed with the editorial board.

As for me -- a thirtysomething from an immigrant family in Southern California who's scarcely had to think much about the meaning of citizenship beyond voting and generally staying informed -- it was both a pleasure and edifying to read the hundreds of thoughtful letters and online comments from readers and to edit some of the best for publication. The topics covered by the editorial board included ones often fraught with strident and borderline hateful rhetoric (i.e. immigration and English-only laws); given that, it's been heartening to participate in thoughtful, reader-driven discussions on these issues. 

Phil Brown of Sønderborg, Denmark, speaks up for Americans living abroad:

This editorial overlooks the millions of us Americans working and living overseas and our children too.

I am proud that my daughter has U.S. citizenship in addition to Swedish citizenship. Although she will grow up in Scandinavia, not in the States, her citizenship status will give her a connection to her father's side of the family and allow her to, for example, attend an American university or visit American aunts, uncles or other family for an extended time. Perhaps she'll even choose to live in the U.S as an adult.

The IRS collects a lot of revenue from those of us living abroad (another topic, but the U.S. is one of the only countries that still taxes its citizens even when they live elsewhere). My little girl will have to file a 1040 every year of her adult life, as does every American in the world. I can't see the government voluntarily giving up on this revenue stream. 

Mike Manahan of Long Beach says having dual citizenship keeps his options open:

Your article on dual citizenship missed the point. I hold dual citizenship, and like many people before and after me, I came to the United States because I believed in its principles of freedom and liberty.  Even though I hold dual citizenship, I embrace the founding principles of the United States. 

My concern is not people with dual citizenship, but more with people who come to the U.S. who do not embrace the principals of freedom and liberty, but who are looking to turn the U.S.  political system into one that reflects the country of their origin (including corruption, overblown government, buying elections and excessive restriction on citizen activities). 

So why do I hold dual citizenship? To me it is a safety net, because the political winds in the U.S. are changing, and those very principles of freedom and liberty are eroding before my very eyes. I have the option to leave. 

I feel sorry for the many Americans who do not have that choice.

Los Angeles resident Fred Mariscal encourages his fellow immigrants to become fully American:

I came to the United States from Mexico in 1992 to study at USC. I was able to become a citizen of the United States on April 9, 2014. Even though I became a citizen only recently, in my heart I have been an American for much longer.

My Mexican passport expired in September and I have no plans to renew it. The fact that I will not renew it is an expression and reaffirmation of my love for and allegiance to the United States. My fellow citizens should expect nothing less of me.

I haven't traveled back to Mexico since I became a U.S. citizen; when I do, you can bet I'll enter the country as an American. I do hope that more green-card holders apply for citizenship and embrace this country to the fullest. 

Kay M. Gilbert of Manhattan Beach explains why she retains her Brazilian citizenship:

I was born in Brazil 58 years ago and became a U.S. citizen not long afterward. I haven't been back to Brazil since 1956, but I'm considering applying for dual citizenship.  Why? Because I am permanently committed to the U.S., but the U.S. is not permanently committed to me.

People born in the United States can never be stripped of their citizenship, but the U.S. government can declare me "subversive" and revoke my citizenship and deport me. Of course I would fight that in the courts, but even if I were right, I might not win.

I'd like to believe that the U.S. only denaturalizes criminals and terrorists, but history tells me otherwise. We denaturalized Emma Goldman and Molly Steimer for opposing the draft in World War I. I'm not likely to lose my U.S. citizenship, but if I did, I'd like to know I had somewhere else to go.

This is part of an ongoing conversation exploring the meaning of citizenship in America today. For more, join us at latimes.com/citizenship and #21stCenturyCitizen. We’d love to hear from you. Share your thoughts, rebuttals and experiences with us at letters@latimes.com

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