The past few weeks have brought me in very direct contact with both the difficulties and the little joys of a life and an identity forged between two nations.
Back around March, I had to run a number of errands relating to nationality, visas, migration, etc. Most importantly, I had to register my son Sam as a US citizen. He was born here in Colombia, which means he'll never be president of the US (though he can become Senator or President in Colombia, which seems like a more lucrative proposition anyway). But by dint of his father's being a US citizen, he has a right to citizenship too.
After some research on the US embassy website, I learned that I had to file for something called a Consular Report of Birth Abroad for Sam. This entailed my signing some formats, and somehow proving that I'd lived in the US for more than five years since the age of 14 or something. I could have proven this by showing my old passports, which would give an idea of when I was and wasn't in the US. I packed the passport I'd had since the age of 17, but the day of our appointment at the embassy, I couldn't find the damn thing! I searched and searched frantically, and cursed my forgetfulness. Well after our embassy visit, I discovered the passport just where I thought it had been. I guess in my frenetic search I'd overlooked it.
Aside from this passport, I'd brought to Bogota some old college transcripts and things like that, which allowed me to account for four years spent in the US in my adulthood. I hoped they wouldn't give me problems for that fifth year, but in any case I was prepared to present my heavy Chicago accent and knowledge of local Chicagoland television (ITT technical institute, Victory Auto Wreckers, Empire carpets) from the early 90s as proof that I'd endured a long childhood in the deep Midwest.
The procedure at the embassy was pretty pain-free. We presented all the forms we'd filled out, plus Sam's birth certificate, our marriage certificate, and a few other things. That was enough to get Sam's citizenship certificate, his US passport, and his social security card. They told me to come back in a week for the certificate and passport, and the SS card would arrive to my US address in the mail. We're still waiting for the Social Security card after 7 months, though by the time Sam's 60 the Republicans will most likely have tied the system to offtrack betting results or something, so it won't be worth much.
I was really happy to make Sam a US citizen. Despite the best efforts of our businesses and our politicians during these three decades of my life, there remain some things about the US that are worth believing in. It's my homeland, with a history filled with things to be proud of, and also plenty of shameful things that good people fought to change. In my handling of all the paperwork to make Sam a citizen, I recalled some people I'd met while I was living in Spain, people I'll refer to as the elite supernationals. These are that set of (often European) kids who've grown up between about a million nationalities. I grew up in a pretty well-educated, middle-class environs in Chicago, but before going to Madrid, I'd never met this type of person before. What's a typical supernational elite? Her dad is a Czech educated in Britain, her mom a Frenchwoman of Moroccan descent, the kid grew up in Marbella in Spain, while the parents shuttle between EU offices in Brussels. They speak a bunch of languages, know a lot of places, but don't feel profoundly tied to any one culture. Such people might even be hard-pressed to define what their culture is. They have a perfect US accent when they speak English, but don't get references to "What's Happening Now" or deep dish pizza. I don't want my son to be like that. I want him to know his two homelands, not just a standardized understanding of a regionless bourgeois construct of the US or Colombia, but specifically I want him to know, to be a part of the Midwestern US and Boyaca. I want him to know local cultural quirks, eat our food, pray our prayers, sing our songs, etc. Sam's not going to any private Alliance Francaise school or something to be around a bunch of other rootless, effete supernationals.
As part of my program to sufficiently Americanize Sam, I've been singing him lots of classic pop songs from my mother's time.
I grew up with Lollipop and Mr. Sandman from the Chordettes, who were a staple of my mother's youth and consequently of the rural Wisconsin bar we frequented when I was a kid. I've also recently learned the lyrics to My Prayer by the Ink Spots. In newer fare, I'm endeavoring to master the words to this modern country song by Josh Turner.
I was exposed to this song during a year of college in which my work at a grain elevator exposed me to lots of pop country music, and my living in Central Illinois afforded me plenty of opportunities to be around that scene if I so chose. I really love Turner's basso profundo, his earnest lyrics, and his acoustic instrumentation, which is surprisingly rare in most of the trite shit on country radio these days.
At the same time I was getting Sam's US nationality in order, I also had to renew my Colombian visa. Since I married Caro, I'd been on what's called a temporary spouse visa. It was valid for two years, so it was now time to renew it. Normally I'd renew it for another year, then I'd be eligible for what's called qualified residency. After being a qualified resident for a few years, you can apply for Colombian nationality. Initially I'd never considered becoming a Colombian national. What would the benefit be? Increased strip searches at the airport, more direct exposure to corrupt politicians and organized crime? But as I've come to love this new country, I've changed my position slightly. Indeed, if the US undergoes a few more hearty rounds of credit default scams and massive breakdowns in the political process, a US passport may be the one that draws suspicion and sideways glances at airports abroad.
Anyway, I had to renew my visa. Thanks to my having sired Sam, a Colombian national, I had the right to leapfrog directly to my qualified residency. I thought this was kind of cool. I had contributed one more (brilliant, beautiful) head to the strength of the Colombian nation, so I think it's right I should be recognized as more than just a transient passing through. But because in the next few years my wife and I are thinking of moving to the States for a while, I didn't start the qualified residency process. I understood (perhaps mistakenly) that my leaving Colombia for a few years would interrupt my residency period, so I figured it wasn't worth it to start the process.
As I flitted about Bogota making these diplomatic rounds, I felt really excited, special. For one, the visa office is located in one of the lovelier, more upscale neighborhoods of the city, and I was admittedly dazzled by the tree-lined streets, the sleek skyscrapers, the delicious restaurants. I often pooh-pooh these rich, pretentious, insulated neighborhoods, but they really are well-planned, nice places to live. I also combined my errands with a meeting at a potential employer's office, a national agrochemical company. In the end not much came of this meeting, but again, I felt like a bigshot to be meeting with a CEO. Now that I think of it, I don't believe I'd ever met a CEO before that!
But more importantly I was exhilarated by the assertion of these different parts of my identity. Proud to confer my US citizenship on my son, with plans of one day introducing him to my place of birth and showing him a place he'll always belong, by mere dint of who his father is. But I was also proud to be accepted and recognized in this other country I've decided to make my home.