Opportunity. Liberty. Fairness. Equality. Respect. Justice. Reason. Integrity. Mobility.
Between the tender ages of 6 months and 17 years, I had no personal recollection of “America” except for the lofty principles mentioned above and a prize I won in the lottery of birth: a passport with a star-spangled banner and a regal bald eagle.
You guessed right. I am what Trump would call an “anchor baby.”
Tucked away in a quiet oasis in the Middle East, I grew up 13,000 kilometers away from the USA in a country called Oman. As a third-culture kid (/mongrel/mutt/insert your preferred terminology), I have always judged the concept of “nation.” In my circles, national identity is not very trendy; and, despite my parents’ South Asian roots, nationalism never really hit home for me.
As someone without a childhood experience of America, I instead constructed an imaginary of my birthplace halfway across the globe. Arguably, it’s better to get rid of imaginary friends than to indulge them. But, I cannot because, for people who do not inherit straightforward national identities, our imaginaries are the obstinate parts that we fight for. And, frankly, I do not see any logical inconsistency in forging an imagined identity when nations themselves originated as imagined communities.
Secretly however, I toe a fine line between wanting to “belong” and realizing that, as a “global citizen,” the conventional definition of national belonging is not tailor-made for me. Since I have not been emotionally conditioned to feel patriotic, I have developed a studied rational attachment to the virtues of all nations with which I associate myself. So, when America’s virtuosity is under siege, the part of me that seeks a strong sense of nationality feels very nation-less (*panic attack* I promise I’ll be a good anchor baby! Please do not do this to me). And, lo’ and behold, my drowning nationalism comes to the surface as an aching urge to salvage those virtues.
In Oman, whatever I knew about my imaginary USA came from secondary sources like my parents’ memories from their days in Boston during my father’s post-doctoral fellowship; the news (balanced and unbalanced alike); books; school; and a few jovial Americans in the local expatriate community. With hints, clues and leads from them, like other hopefuls all over the world, I pieced together an idyllic vision of America comprised of the most inspiring principles that I know.
Because my passport was the only material proof I had, when no one was looking, I would sometimes turn its pages, read the quotes from America’s heroes and think, “Wow, that’s inspiring. I cannot wait to become a part of this society.” My all-time favorite quote from the much-coveted little booklet is:
“This is a new nation, based on a mighty continent, of boundless responsibilities.” (Theodore Roosevelt)
That said, my idyllic vision was not oblivious to the reality of the US role in the Middle East that was criticized by those around me. Despite this critique’s truthfulness, the gravitas of my virtues of America retained an unrelenting hold over my imagination.
Oh, and of course, even though I would feign indifference, I always felt special and privileged when, in the event of an oil problem, political instability or a coastal storm in Muscat, the US Embassy and State Department would send a word of caution to check in on me. Though this was probably just automated bureaucratic protocol, I felt that, despite a lack of intimate familiarity with my birthplace, my nation cared about me.
Seven years and some months ago, as I was getting ready to return to the USA to join Stanford’s Class of 2013, I felt I was entering a new phase of the world. The year before I left Oman, the American nation elected our first President of color, Barack Obama (himself a third-culture kid). Though I played it cool, my heart did momentarily swell with pride. When America sneezes, the whole world catches a cold. And, when America rejoiced, somewhere, somehow I too felt it. The undercover optimist-nationalist in me thought, “maybe change is within our grasp” and Fukuyama’s end of history has finally arrived.
Though I didn’t use the language of post-racial theory, in my state of naïveté, I thought that a post-race world would soon become a reality. I perceived America’s triumph as a global triumph. In my eyes, America emerged as an exceptionally noble nation where jus soli (“right of the soil”) reigned supreme, not jus sanguinis (“right of blood”). After all, it was the exceptional law of the soil that enabled me to call America my own. Nowadays though, the clock has turned back and I feel like I am being disowned.
I have tried hard to keep silent on the wall-building, Muslim-banning, climate change-denying President Trump. But, it has become clear to me that my principles of America will soon become a zeitgeist of my childhood. When America turns upside down, the world also turns upside down. And, between snow in the desert country of Oman (a welcome but worrying climatic aberration) and the state of affairs in my birthplace, for better and for worse, my world has turned upside down. I feel unhinged, like an anchorless baby.
No doubt, I am shaken, but not stirred.
Thank you Mr. Bond, but we’ll actually take our cue from Captain America,
“Even when the whole world is telling you to move…plant yourself like a tree and say, ‘No, you move.’ ”
So, I will oppose my country’s immigration and foreign policy a hundred times over if and whenever it runs counter to US and global security and, most importantly, to my American principles. Here’s a working Letter of Intent. And, though we are in a trying age for democratic checks and balances, do hold me accountable. Big thanks to the 9th Circuit for setting a victory precedent; in some small way, this anchor baby endeavors to follow your suit.