The prompt for this essay, a very short reflection, was rather vague. It basically asked us to talk about ourselves and our families in the context of immigration. If that didn't apply, we were told to discuss how our citizenship is formed. I decided to analyze why it is that my white family doesn't care about who we are or even utilize our citizenship status that much and yet when it comes to others, my family really polices these things.
Family Essay: Gatekeeping citizens and American exceptionalism
When it comes to my family, our roots are hard to discern. We’re very split up: Every person who was married or together in my family has been divorced or split. Some of these divorces resulted in a very divided family, from which I don't learn much about my family members. I did learn, however, that my Mom’s side definitely has Irish blood. But that’s all we know. We don’t have any context about when or if we had Irish immigrants come to America who would soon make up my family lineage. My father’s father was never in the picture, and I know nothing about my my grandma's history, so the information pretty much stops at my Dad.
The reasoning behind my family’s lack of background however, is simple: privilege. At no point have we, to my knowledge, been questioned about who we are. We’ve never been asked to prove that we belong. There is no reason for us to be actively conscious about who we are in our everyday lives, or even if we travel. We are white, we don’t have a religion that plays into how we dress, and we don’t have an accent. This oblivion to personhood is reinforced by our interactions with police, with paperwork at the Department of Licensing, with our ability to get jobs. Family members have been pulled over, and the worse that has ever happened is a speeding ticket or some time for a DUI. I was pulled over once and they just told me to slow down and sent me on my way. We have never been asked about who we are, or questioned when we showed insurance, IDs or papers.
In essence, the gatekeepers, as Lee discusses, take no issue with our appearance, the way we speak, our papers, our heteronormative gender identities, or our relatives. Perhaps the only ways my family has issues with the state is by class, monetary finances and the ability to pay things. Because we seem to pass most every state standard and policing, I’ve often noticed within my family the frequency to define ourselves as “not them.” They’re not lazy, or unemployed, or immigrants, or illegal, or a person of color. “We’re American” is what we claim, but with no real identity or meaning to that. This leads me to believe we’ve internalized American exceptionalism.
But coming from a family of citizens, I’m able to get Financial Aid, scholarships and financial exemptions for school whereas noncitizens typically cannot — unless they’re on DACA or DAPA or if they have obtained fake papers. If it weren’t for these privileges that are often only given to citizens, or quasi-citizens, I wouldn’t be able to go to college, wouldn’t have learned what I’ve learned or become who I am.
In addition, my life very much centers around being a journalist. While immigrants have and certainly do maintain jobs, like journalism, that ‘require citizenship,’ I am at less risk in occupying a job. My person or identity was never a reason for me not getting a job. The same goes for occupying paid internships. In doing everything I do as a cis-gendered, heteronomrative, white female, I am at less risk than others who don’t occupy this title of citizenship or this privilege of white skin, of straightness, of one of the binary genders.
One distinction I’m noticing between Rosalyn Koo, provided by Maeve in America, is her active decision to utilize her citizenship for protesting and making a difference whereas my family doesn't do such things. In Koo’s instance, an immigrant is using citizenship more so than natural-born citizens are.
Similarly to Koo, however, I am very much involved in politics and go to many protests. My family doesn’t understand these choices. Protests are currently viewed as unpatriotic, "unAmerican.” This family-internalized gatekeeping is placed onto more political youth, such as Koo and myself, that illegitimates our personhood. We are no longer legible to our families because of how we choose to utilize our citizenship.