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Citizenship as Inherently Exclusive

Citizenship as Inherently Exclusive

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Minh Hang Do. Originally submitted for Ethnic Studies at University of California, Berkeley, with lecturer Keith P. Feldman in the category of Social Studies
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Minh Hang Do. Originally submitted for Ethnic Studies at University of California, Berkeley, with lecturer Keith P. Feldman in the category of Social Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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10/27/2013

 
ABSTRACT:In times of crisis, people often seek answers and scapegoats. The United States isno different. Since the rapid decline of the economy in 2008, there has been a rapid risein the rhetoric of citizenship and a growing focus on "undocumented" immigration. SomeAmericans seek to answer the economic crisis through immigration reform, andconsequently, citizenship reform. However, what many people on both sides of thecitizenship and immigration debate have failed to realize is that citizenship as it issocially understood today, has not always been understood in the same way. Tracing thehistorical development of the term "citizen," and focusing particularly on the idea of citizenship as the Romans and the founders of the United States of America understoodit, this paper seeks to show that citizenship has always and perhaps will always remainexclusive and problematic. Since the inception of the United States, citizenship has beenstrongly about ideas of freedom and liberty for all -- is what most Americans would liketo proclaim. In reality, citizenship has never been about inclusivity.Citizenship as Inherently Exclusive
So
what if 
I didn’t have citizenship – I paid taxes, I worked, I was going to school, I followed the U.S. laws, I spoke fluent English – I was noless deserving than any other student who had been blessed to be born acitizen, born on the right side of the border, born to the right parents.
What was so alien about me?
[But] at the end of the day, I still recognized that I was alsoblessed. Blessed with permanent residency status – legal status.This is still what citizenship means to me – legal status. The fact that I can call myself a U.S. citizen, to me, gives me no more entitlement than a single piece of paper that calls me a citizen.To my mother, citizenship meant that she was finally beinrecognized by the United States. That she was finally wanted. That shecould have a claim to American-ness. But is that all there is? At the end of the day, should those of uswho participate and perpetuate this American culture and ideology be anyless entitled to American-ness for lack of a single piece of paper? A singletitle?
The personal value of citizenship differs from person to person. As in the aboveexample of my personal experience, while U.S. citizenship means simply a title to me, itmeans a claim to American-ness to my mother. Depending on one’s own personalcircumstances and history, the value of citizenship can also change. Some maydesperately crave it (as a result of their understanding of life without it), while others may
 
not appreciate it or may not see any real value in it at all (as a result of their luck of being born with it or the ease of their having received it). While one’s life experiences mayalter one’s personal value and individual belief regarding citizenship, overall, the idea of ‘citizenship’ has a socially formed meaning. In the U.S. and arguably globally as well, ithas linkages to such terms and conceptions as ‘alien,’ ‘humanity,’ ‘nation-state,’ anddichotomies such as illegal/legal. Specifically in the U.S., the idea of a citizen alsoconjures up race, gender, and class notions.Words like citizen are imagined within the minds of people as always having hadthe current meaning, understanding, and connotations. However, the history and conceptof citizenship and what it means to be a citizen is long and powerful, with many ties thathave ultimately led to the current understanding of what a citizen is. The concept of citizenship has historically been and remains to be fraught with contradictions andnotions of exclusivity, superiority, bias, and inherently tied to a dichotomy of those whoare and those who are not.In addition to exploring the genealogic history of the term ‘citizen,’ I will focuson two case studies as being particularly powerful in shaping the modern idea of a‘citizen’: the Roman construction of limited citizenship and the United States’ idea of thenaturalized citizen.The word citizen originates from the Greek term
 polites
in which a citizen was anindividual who resided within the parameters of a Greek city and who was an elite withthe inherited privilege to vote, to serve as an elected or appointed government official,and to essentially participate in political processes (Berlant 2007; Bachmann and Staerkle2003). From the very first iteration of the term, ‘citizenship’ connoted exclusivity and
 
was reserved for a select few, excluding women, slaves, children, and those outside of theconfines of the geopolitical area. The Greeks chose a “strong citizenship of exclusion torestrict social resources and political rights” because they believed that as citizenship becomes increasingly expansive, it has less to offer its citizens (Bachmann and Staerkle2003). They would be the first but certainly not the last society to take this approach tocitizenship.Under the Romans, citizenship at first also included the right to serve on alegislative assembly and was aligned with the notion of popular self-governance.However, due to the nature of the imperial governmental structure, it was unfeasible inthat imperial subjects could not be allowed to rule themselves. And so the Romansreconstructed citizenship as “a legal status defining membership of a political community[… providing] rights to legal protection by Roman soldiers and judges in return for allegiance to Rome” (Bachmann and Staerkle 2003). The specific legal regulation wasessential for property rights, but also, the Romans wanted to restrict the privilege of citizenship to a select group, and thusly, citizenship again was reaffirmed as exclusiveand became connoted with law and land. Even more important, the Romans constructeda system whereby there was a hierarchy of citizenship and whereby citizenship becamedivisive. There were
cives Romani
(Roman male citizens who had full rights), and thenthere were the Roman female citizens,
 servi
(slaves), and three classes of 
liberti
(freedslaves), all of whom had some form or other of limited rights (Mathisen 2006). And soone could argue too, that this construction of limited citizenship is the first form of themodern idea of a second-class citizen – citizen but not fully citizen. While one couldmove from lesser to greater legal privilege to ‘become’ a Roman citizen, the opposite was

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