Citizenship is Sticky

Recently I was working on passport and visa information for one of our new programs.  My assignment was to draft a letter to explain the visa application process to parents.  We consulted Embassy websites. We connected with people and sent emails for clarification.  Laws and standard operating procedures appeared incongruent and frustrating, to say the least.

At the heart of the matter is citizenship.

For this particular country, in order for adoptees to return for a visit in their birth country, they must first “officially” renounce the citizenship of their birth country.  Sometimes, when  adoptive citizenship is obtained, the adoptee automatically loses this birth country’s citizenship.  The matter is settled at that point. But in some countries, before an adoptee can visit this birth country for an adoption heritage journey, they must first put in writing that they renounce their birth country’s citizenship. A slap in the face if I ever saw one!  As an adult adoptee, I found myself having great trouble drafting the letter to explain this to families.

I resisted having to say to another adoptee that citizenship renouncement is necessary for them to continue their adoption journey.

I started wondering about my own citizenship from my birth country–Colombia.  Lately on Facebook group message boards, much has been posted about my own birth country starting to enforce a law that was passed years ago.  Or has it?  Anecdotes posted about adult adoptees having to get a new passport before they can return to the United States have not been validated by official country press releases.  I would love to return to my country again soon but if these anecdotes are true and common, what a messy proposition to go through!  Perhaps these people unfortunately happened upon a grumpy official that day.  Whatever the case, citizenship issues are sticky because, in my opinion, they force you to choose between one identity and the other, when I suspect, many adoptees feel they belong somewhere in the middle.

During my homeland journey in 2006 I experienced very mixed feelings.  I had hoped that when I landed on the soil of my birth country I would feel at home.  I would feel that I finally belonged somewhere.  I had not anticipated that I would realize how American I truly am!  I was disappointed that my feelings were so confused.  Although I had fantastic emotional experiences with my family during our trip, I came home with many more questions.  It took at least three years to come up with the words to explain how I feel.  My conclusion: I feel adopted.  For me, saying that I am adopted explains the middle ground or even gulf between two citizenships, the liminal space, as sociologists would call it.  Adopted, for me, means not quite feeling like every other American and not quite feeling like I belong in my birth country.  I have become more comfortable in my own skin, realizing what words to use, but it took a long time and much reflection.  This is why I experienced such discomfort asking other adoptees to choose their citizenship before they may be ready.

Passport and visa preparation for the homeland journey is just one  phase of the adoption story.  I hope parents and children can have honest and sensitive dialogue about the citizenship issue.

I would like to hear your thoughts about citizenship.  Remember that no one will be judged here so let’s have a conversation.

2 Comments on “Citizenship is Sticky”

  1. I have a daughter that we adopted when she was 3 yrs old from Romania who is almost 19yrs old. We have located her aunt, uncle, cousins, grandfather and her parents know we are looking for them. I am wondering if my daughter will feel the same, stuck between two cultures. It never occurred to me that she might feel differently since to me she is totally an American girl. My question to you is, how old were you when you were adopted?

    1. Hi, Candie! Thanks for posting a comment! I was just two months old, super tiny. All I’ve really known is America, but somehow, I’ve always claimed my Colombian-ness as well. Some of us are torn, some of us are not at all. Watching my younger (by three years) brother grow up, I got the feeling that he felt very American, but when we returned to Colombia, I think he discovered his Colombian pride! That doesn’t mean he “feels” Colombian either, but he proudly wears the soccer jersey and T-shirts and Colombian flag ring he bought there. You might talk about what expectations your daughter has for contacting her birth family and maybe a discussion of national or ethnic identity will evolve from there. Good luck and thanks again for commenting!

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