Academic journal article Law & Society Review

On Citizenship

Academic journal article Law & Society Review

On Citizenship

Article excerpt

Candice Lewis Bredbenner, A Nationality of Her Own: Women, Marriage, and the Law of Citizens hip. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998. ii + 294 pages. $45.00 cloth.

Rogers M. Smith, Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in U.S. History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997. 712 pages. $40.00 cloth, $19.95 paper.

For the last two years, I have spent Saturdays in February at lunar new year celebrations. The new year is a time for reconciliation, renewal, and house cleaning. My daughter and I go out fox dim sum and watch a lion dance, startled by the firecrackers set off to scare off the past year's bad spirits. We also go to a potluck; families bring everything from Kentucky Fried Chicken to pot stickers. The children make paper lanterns, and some watch Mulan, Disney's animated film about a girl who rescues China. In San Francisco, the only other place I have celebrated the lunar new year, the parade and crowds and firecrackers are all reason enough to take that stop on a tour of world holidays. Now, how ever, I celebrate the new year because like thousands of other Americans in recent years, and like many of our friends, I adopted my daughter from China. Like many other white parents who have done so, I have joined in hybrid celebrations where I can talk about childrearing and my daughter can toddle with other girls who have almond-shaped eyes and straight dark hair.

My daughter has a Chinese passport but a green card, automatically granted by virtue of my adopting her. We await her nat uralization (and have been since August 1998; intercountry adoptive parents receive a very gentle lesson of what it means to have to deal with the Immigration and Naturalization Service.) That too is automatic because 1 adopted her. She does not have to answer any questions about who the presidents were, which is a good thing given that her language skills have moved from "hi" and "bye-bye" to "firecrackers make a noise." How in a liberal state does she become a citizen without her consent? All children born in the United States are citizens by birth; the presumption is an amalgam of consent and ascription in which the fiction is that one's consensual citizenship is contingent upon the state including one's children, according to Rogers Smith (pp. 130, 308-10, 440). My daughter, though, was not born in the United States. In what sense is she American? Or not American? Or Chinese? The paperwork required to settle her in this country, at once extensive but routine, contrasts with the continuing effort parents make to incorporate some Americanized version of Chinese culture into their girls' lives.

Historically, my daughter is in an anomalous position. U.S. law has long favored settlement of nuclear family members. Between 1882 and 1943, however, immigration from China and then Japan (until 1952) was dramatically restricted. People from Asia could not become citizens, but children of those already in the United States were admitted, leading to suspicion on the part of immigration officials that every claim to kinship by Chinese Americans was fraudulent (Salyer 1995). Even under that scheme it is hard to see how my daughter might have been admitted, because we are making no claim that she had been born to me. Her automatic citizenship fits with an emphasis on family in U.S. immigration policy. Any effort to develop some sense of Chinese culture would once have been evidence that she and others like her simply could not assimilate to American culture, confirming that they ought not to be eligible for U.S. citizenship. Culture, family, race: these have been ascriptive elements in U.S. citizenship, elements seemingly incongruous with the country's egalitarian aspirations.

The global movement of people combined with Western countries' efforts to close their borders and debate who belongs have contributed to the surge in citizenship as a category for analysis in recent scholarship (see, e. …

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