Intersections: Talk of citizenship puts things into perspective

During a casual conversation with lifelong friends last week, we somehow arrived on the topic of citizenship.

Both of them were born right here in Los Angeles, and they knew I was not.

What they hadn't known, and what I really hadn't thought about since I was a teenager, was that I became a citizen of the U.S. exactly 10 years ago.

It was a quirky, albeit initially shocking revelation. Between sips of tea, we spoke about the long and arduous immigration process, from seeking asylum in the U.S. to being refugees, to becoming permanent residents and then, finally, receiving citizenship automatically through my parents because I was underage at the time.

They were puzzled. They never thought of me as any different to them, despite where our journeys began in this country. And while we were still in high school, I hadn't either. I never felt like a noncitizen or less than one.

I was never judged on how I came to this country or what my status was. In fact, it was an obsolete fact to the point where we didn't have a discussion about it until a decade later.

Our conversation and their discovery that my path to officially becoming an “American” came with more delay, hoops and hurdles than theirs made me think about perspective and how we project ourselves and are projected toward each other.

When I read articles on U.S. immigration policy or ethnic communities in cities across the country — or the fascinating and fiery debate on using the word “illegal” when referring to undocumented immigrants — the online comment sections are riddled with more derogatory statements than I care to elaborate.

When it's not “go back to your country,” it's a suggestion that the persons in question must and should take every means possible to conform and assimilate to becoming an “American” as fast as humanely possible. But what does that even mean, anyway?

There's no understanding that their family struggles are not century-old legends they are far removed from, but fresh and raw, that their memories of all they left behind are daily thoughts, not tucked away in books left in the attic, along with treasures they can sell at auctions organized by “Antiques Roadshow.”

When I'm watching TV and I see an commercial, I can't help but laugh. The suggestion that I can register on a website and find missing relatives, family history and even scanned documents from yesteryear is utterly preposterous to anyone whose ancestors did not arrive in the U.S. at least 100 years ago.

The journey I would have to take to figure out what someone else can on their computer in the comfort of their own home is beyond just thousands of miles of flying time. It is near impossible.

We are in different stages of this process, but we've all been foreigners or migrants at some point in time. Being different doesn't mean we have to misunderstand each other all the time.

LIANA AGHAJANIAN is a Los Angeles-based journalist whose work has appeared in L.A. Weekly, Paste magazine, New America Media, Eurasianet and The Atlantic. She may be reached at

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