- Racial Equity
- Talk About Race
By Raúl Ernesto Márquez
Applying to become a naturalized citizen in this country is not easy. Those who are lucky enough to meet the requirements have to deal with a series of steps that often take years to complete. But the legal aspects of becoming a citizen are only half of the process. There is an ideal is for the applicant to not only be a credentialed citizen on paper, but to also feel like one. Some would say that is the harder part.
More than once I’ve heard the story of immigrants who live through almost identical circumstances as they try to incorporate themselves into society here in the United States, brothers who have similar upbringings yet have feelings toward this country that are like day and night. One might be an optimist who embraces all the good things that the U.S. has to offer and is proud of being a part of it. The other is a pessimist who feels like he’s constantly being cheated, who feels that a sense of belonging is practically nonexistent for him. Why such a difference in perception? I don’t have a definite answer for that and I can’t speak for every single immigrant out there, but I would like to share a couple of stories that illustrate my perspective on this issue.
As an immigrant who is lucky enough to be on a legal “path to citizenship”, the question has now become, how am I doing on the other part of the process? Which of the brothers am I? The idealist or the pessimist? For now, I would say a little of both. I often find myself going from one end of the existential spectrum to the other. Nevertheless, little by little I’ve been making a conscious effort to be more of an optimist and start feeling more American, so to speak, especially since my wife (who is also an immigrant) and I found out that we are expecting our first child a future US citizen. I would like for there to be a family narrative that nurtures my kid’s sense of belonging. And about a month ago, an opportunity to add to that narrative presented itself in the Census.
I had seen and heard some of the PSAs that were encouraging people to fill out their Census form. The importance of being counted seemed to be the core message of the campaign, and that message felt very inclusive. When I got the form in the mail I thought to myself, “Here’s my first genuine chance to participate directly in shaping the politics of this country” (since, as a foreigner I can’t vote), and that in turn would make me feel more a part of it. So I filled it out and made a copy that I could perhaps one day show to my son or daughter as proof of the family’s emotional assimilation into this country. As corny as it may sound, the day I deposited that form inside a mail box felt like I was voting for the first time; it felt like I was starting to feel American.
Shortly after that happened I came across what seemed to be an ongoing push by several politicians to deny citizenship to US born children of undocumented immigrants. Regardless of whether it would affect our child or not, I felt like a message was being sent: you and your kid are not welcomed here. So, in one week I went from feeling as if I was told, “we want you to be part of this country,” to getting the complete opposite message from what seems to be quite an influential segment of the population.
Talk about mixed messages.
In spite of this, and if only for the sake of my child, I want to stay positive. If he or she ends up being born and growing up in this country, I don’t want him or her to be resentful of it.
What can academics, politicians, advocacy groups and society in general do to help with this? That’s the challenge that I think needs to be addressed and discussed a little bit more.
Raúl Ernesto Márquez, originally from El Salvador, I’ve been living in Florida since 1996. Over the past five years I’ve been helping several non-profits (some of them focused on immigrant rights) with design and marketing
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