I pledge allegiance to the flags

In our last class discussion about nationalism, someone brought up the example of boxer Victor Ortiz, an American, who in his last match displayed a sense of Mexican nationalism by wearing the Mexican flag.

It led me to think about the meaning of nationalism, specifically in the context of citizenship.  In order to become a US citizen through naturalization one has to officially “renounce” their former citizenship.  This has always puzzled me: How can a country require someone to give up their citizenship to the country they come from?  Although it seems like more of a legal formality I have always wondered… as one takes that oath to renounce their allegiance to the country they are from, where they have roots, where they quite possibly still have friends and family, is there any hesitation?

For my friends that have gone through the process, there’s little, if any.  Why?  Because renouncing your citizenship to your nation-state is quite different from renouncing your nationalism, or identification with the country you are from.  Even though they have become US citizens they still start any introduction about themselves with “I’m (insert nationality)”.

I have also experienced the reverse as part of an expat community in Chile.  Although the members of this community have chosen to permanently settle in Chile, they have not, and will not give up their American citizenship.  They still feel American and identify strongly with events in the US, are affected by US regulations and follow US procedures, and feel a strong pull to the land they were born on and their fellow citizens with whom they have a shared past.  But at the same time, they are also Chilean, equally involved in and identifying with the events happening in their adopted country, are affected by Chilean regulations and have to follow Chilean procedures, and feel a strong bond with the land they are living on and their fellow residents with whom they have a shared future. The pride they felt as Americans while watching the last presidential election was equally as strong as they pride they felt as Chileans last year when the miners were rescued.  A tragedy in Chile hits them just as hard and brings them together just as much as a tragedy in the US does. They are Americans and Chileans, or as they say “Americans Chileanizados”.  Nationalism just isn’t a mutually exclusive category.

In this particular case, these people have formed a group among themselves to define this new category that they fit into, because it is not here nor there, but both here and there. It is a case of what Morley and Robins described in Spaces of Identity (1995) as “concentric circles of belonging and identity”.

So what is the point of renouncing citizenship? A friend once jokingly commented that dual-citizenship would be an issue if the US and Chile ever went to war with each other. Obviously, this is unlikely to happen, but it makes you think… if it did, then where would dual citizens’ loyalties lie?  Citizenship makes it easy to determine what side you physically stand on.  But where’s your heart?  I think the answer to that lies in nationalism…




2 thoughts on “I pledge allegiance to the flags

  1. Z’leste, I think that your points about nationalism and how they differ from citizenship are spot on. Even though someone gives up their citizenship to a nation-state does not mean that they do not feel pride or relate at all to the nation. I think that your examples of expats makes this abundantly clear. I also quite agree that citizenship really just simplifies paperwork as does not really relate the feelings of people. However, it seems that you are defining nationalism based upon country and border line of a nation-state. Does nationalism always have to come from the nation-state or can nations and thus nationalism come from other places as well?

  2. That’s a great question because it was actually something I was going back and forth on while writing this post and throughout the whole unit on nationalism. I think nation-states are the dominant paradigm for thinking about our identity but, I think a strong contender that is beginning to develop is the idea of belonging to a city-state rather than a nation-state. Even in my case of expats in Chile, as much as many of them identified with Chile as a country, most commonly the Chile they know is Santiago (not the case for all of course, but for a lot of them) – which is very different from other regions of the country – especially a country as long and spread out as Chile. I think the same thing can happen with New York City, that New Yorkers feel an intense belonging to and pride in New York City. They are American yes, but maybe America is defined more through the lens of what is NYC than say Kansas, and what may be more representative of the majority of the country.
    I have read about the growing idea of a world of city-states, where all the biggest international cities of the world have more in common with each other as international hubs than with the countries they are located in.
    I think we are used to using the nation as the basis of our identity but sometimes I think it does serve to examine what we are really talking about when we talk about that nation.

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