Bilingual is Better
Aug
30
2013

Reflections On Citizenship

Posted by:  |  Category: Bicultural Vida, Daily Blog

6

Costa Rica, US

My brother lords it over me when we are growing up: I was born in Costa Rica and therefore can never become President of the United States, but he can.  He was born in California, and in our minds, when we are 8 or 9, being President is a realistic goal. And it is an enviable one at that. The U.S. holds a mystique for us — we love the music, the surfer slang, the brand-name clothing, the fun treats and gadgets we don’t have access to in Costa Rica in the eighties.

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My father, a staunch Democrat, pulls us out of school so we can go hear Dan Quayle speak at the U.S. Embassy. A few months later, we go back to hear George H. W. Bush speak. I get out of trigonometry. My own political views are still muddled and taking shape. We wave American flags. All these years later, I have tremendous respect for my father for believing that listening to what our leaders have to say is important, regardless of one’s own beliefs.

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I see the President of Costa Rica walking down the hallway of my high school one day. I walk up to him and shake his hand, and it is no big deal.

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I wear my blue-and-white school uniform to the acto cívico and march in a parade on el 15 de Setiembre. My parents help my brother and me make our own lanterns for the desfile de faroles the night of the 14th. I go stand in front of my Spanish teacher when called and recite el Himno a Juan Santamaría, el Himno del 15 de Setiembre, el Himno a la Anexión de Guanacaste. We have a well-thumbed copy of Lo que se canta en Costa Rica at home for reference. At school, we change the words to the songs to make them funny.

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I always feel beyond privileged to walk past the U.S. Capitol Building on my way to work. I always get choked up when I look out the window of the plane and catch my first glimpse of my Costa Rican mountains. I’m always comforted by the familiar routine of the Immigration official in Dallas or Miami stamping my U.S. passport and saying, “Welcome home.”

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My parents take us to the U.S. Embassy on the Fourth of July. We eat hot dogs and have sack races and are surrounded by English speakers. I take my sons to the Costa Rican Embassy for el quince de setiembre. The place is loud, small and crowded, exactly the kind of place I avoid taking my autistic, noise-sensitive sons.  And it’s the only place where I make an exception and ask them to go anyway. It is important to me. We eat arroz con pollo and tres leches, and I have an overpriced Imperial.

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I don’t register my own children as Costa Rican citizens, for the sole reason that I know if I do, getting them out of Costa Rica after our yearly trip will be a hassle involving trámites and an autorización and timbres. I have heard about it from friends, and have been advised against doing it by airport officials. My boys have until they are eighteen to do it, which sounds good to me.

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I fill out long forms and am interviewed for security clearance. I am asked questions about my dual citizenship. I have chosen the United States, I say. My children were born here. My  home is here.

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I hear Sting, Peter Gabriel and Tracy Chapman perform at the Human Rights Now! concert, my very first one. My next concerts are Alejandra Guzmán, Luis Miguel, Ricardo Montaner and Ricardo Arjona.

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I go to a bar in my mother’s beach town with my husband and am immediately pegged as a tourist by a man who is trying to sell us something. I finally show him my cédula de identidad and he brings it down quite a few notches.

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My brother tells one of my sons that if he becomes a Costa Rican, he can go to school there someday. He starts to cry. Mama, ¿no soy de Costa Rica? I try to explain that it’s a formality, and that I am Costa Rican, which means that he is, too, but my words carry no weight. He is not buying it, and I end up feeling guiltier than I ever have about just about anything. I consider just filing the paperwork at the Registro Civil and dealing with the autorización.

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The woman at Migración tells me to get in the shorter line for nacionales next time. I don’t have a Costa Rican passport anymore, I tell her. Mine expired at least two decades ago and I’ve never renewed it. No importa, she says. She turns my U.S. passport around so I can see it, and points.Place of Birth:  Costa Rica. Aquí dice.

{Image by  macsflickr}

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