I just finished watching the documentary film, The Naturalized, a somewhat entertaining look at immigration and naturalization in the United States. I ordered it from History Channel because I wanted to show a bit of it to my class in order to assist us in the transition from the topic of immigration to the topic of citizenship.
It is a pretty optimistic film. focusing for the most part on immigrants who have an emotional attachment to being American – folks who, to paraphrase one of the people in the film, love America more than the native-born because they have something to compare it to. Only one of the people interviewed expresses little love for the U.S. and claims that their expressions of fidelity were insincere.
Our friend Becky is here tonight and she asked me what I thought about people who just seek to be immigrants and citizens in the United States for the benefits instead of really loving America. I told her that I think that’s nothing new – throughout history a substantial share of immigrant newcomers have come for economic reasons (take the original colonists, for example), many intending to return home once they made enough money and a good many doing so. Identifying as an American, if it comes at all, is not generally the motivation for immigration but, instead, the result of successful incorporation (potentially supplemented by the act of choosing the nation). It is for this reason, that citizenship can mean more for those that have the most difficult time accessing it, that I found the stories of 2 undocumented workers in the Naturalized so painful. The first, a Mexican who had been in the U.S. for 17 years and, if the camera is to believed although it seems a little too perfect, makes a living dressed as the Statue of Liberty and posing with tourists, who speaks fervently about the American dream and his hope that he may someday be on the path to citizenship. The other, a Nigerian immigrant who came to the U.S. on a student visa, overstayed, finished college, married, had 2 kids (who were in their teens and did not know their dad was an illegal immigrant) and then was deported and banned from returning to the country for 10 years, talked about the dreams he achieved in the U.S. and the ways in which his life was snatched away.
The Naturalized won’t knock your socks off but it does provide an alternative understanding of contemporary immigration and provide relief from the never-ending emphasis on border fences, anchor babies and global elites.