The Archaeology of Citizenship

The Archaeology of Citizenship

The Archaeology of Citizenship

The Archaeology of Citizenship

Synopsis

An examination from an archaeological perspective of how those in power have tried to mold the citizenship and composition of the United States and the various and often conflicting strategies that have been employed to "Americanize" both immigrant and native non-white populations.

Excerpt

Contemporary archaeologists are acutely aware of the relevance of their work for the present, particularly those who study the recent past. Moreover, their practice and findings often challenge ideologies that naturalize relations of power and homogenize categories of belonging. A critical examination of citizenship is especially poignant for this book series, which aims to elucidate the American experience in all its complexity. It is too easy to assume what it means to be an American. Suffice it to say that nation-states employ numerous mechanisms to inculcate values in daily life both formally and informally. Yet the adoption of those values and attendant duties does not confer citizenship unilaterally, nor do all migrants wholly embrace them.

The permeability of national boundaries has fluctuated to coincide with the economic need for cheap labor. With the birth of our nation in the eighteenth century, newcomers were welcomed so long as they were willing to swear allegiance, fulfill their patriotic duties, and adopt the practices of white Anglo-Protestants, with few exceptions. In their public lives, immigrants often acquiesced in exchange for a chance at economic mobility—the American dream.

My maternal grandfather, Antoun Donato, was among the huddled masses welcomed at Ellis Island in the early 1920s. After obtaining naturalized citizenship in 1926, he returned home to his native Aleppo (Syria) to find a wife to accompany him back to America. He was among the last wave of Syrian immigrants to America before more stringent immigration policies were enacted. As with many migrants who attained citizenship after adulthood, he lived a dual life committed to being American yet maintaining many Old World practices as he redefined what it meant to be an American. He and thousands of European migrants could claim whiteness as they entered the country and sought its rewards. Despite his . . .

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