One day last month, when I was walking through Oakland on my way to meet a friend in Berkeley, I passed the old Paramount Theater. This is a gorgeous restored Art Deco theater that I had paused to admire every time I’d walked past that week.
That day, though, the theater was open at 8:30 in the morning, and people were streaming in. Instead of continuing by, as I’d done every day before, I stopped and asked what was going on. Apparently, it was a citizenship ceremony: immigrants taking on American citizenship would take part in a ceremony to welcome them to their adopted country.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay to witness the ceremony itself without letting my friend down. I did go inside though, and was able to admire the lobby of the building and soak in the happy atmosphere for a few moments. I snapped a few quick photos.
People were standing around, talking in groups, or slowly making their way into the theater.
An usher pointed and called, “New citizens in the theater, families upstairs!”
Suddenly, I found myself choking up, overwhelmed by a rush of sadness. I nearly burst into tears in the middle of that lobby, and hurried for the door into the cooler morning air, trying to suppress the tears threatening to flow. Composing myself, I continued my walk, trying to figure out why I’d had such an upwelling of emotions.
I thought of a conversation I had had with an American in Amsterdam a couple of weeks before. He is the son of immigrants from Peru, and, in this conversation, I had brought up the possibility that I would renounce citizenship (see “Giving Up US Citizenship?” and “Republicans, Expatriates and FATCA” to read why I’m considering giving up citizenship). He pointed out that what he’d learned from his parents was how incredibly fortunate we were to have US citizenship at all.
At the time, I dismissed his comment as sentimental, over-patriotic Americanism, telling myself that my Dutch citizenship was just as fortunate, if not more so.
But now, standing in that lobby, the importance of US citizenship had hit me in the gut. Those people around me were absolutely joyous at receiving it, and had undoubtedly worked hard to get it, and here I was, contemplating giving it up.
It made me realize that I don’t really want to renounce my citizenship. It would be the most practical—and perhaps the most sensible—thing to do. It would appease my husband, who’s so unhappy about how our personal financial information has to be handed over to the US government under the FATCA regime. Once I finish withdrawing my money from US accounts, it would save me from having to file those onerous and privacy-invasive forms that are now required of expatriates. It would save me the money I’ve been spending to pay an accountant to fill in the forms for me. I could be treated for taxation purposes like everyone else in the world (other than Americans and Eritreans), who pay taxes where they live.
Nevertheless, this emotional attachment I feel to the US goes deeper than I thought. I love the US, despite everything that’s wrong with it, and despite my simultaneous emotional attachment to the Netherlands.
So what should I do? Go with the practical and renounce my citizenship? Or go with the emotional and keep it?