Sunday, January 15, 2012

We are fellow Americans, even if the government disagrees; a more intentional use of the word "American"

Photo by Pen Waggener. Licensed via Creative Commons.

Over the holidays, I read Guy Kawasaki’s book Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions. As a technical preface, Kawasaki points out that instead of using the words “he/she” or “they” as generic personal pronouns, his practice throughout the book is to use the word “she” when the reference is a positive one. It's to make up for all those years of women being shortchanged in literature.

My advocacy equivalent of Kawasaki's practice is to use the word "American" to describe a person who has lived in the U.S. for a long time, even if she is not a formal U.S. citizen.

If you think about it, we consider people to be Americans, especially those we know personally, when we are aware that they have lived and worked in the U.S. for years. We commonly hold back from calling them "American" if we know they're not formal citizens - even when we believe immigration law unjustly denies them access to citizenship. Some of my readers likely consider themselves American, even if they don't have a visa, green card, or U.S. passport. Their years or even decades in this country are a witness to their American identity.

The reality is that even without permission, people can and do over time become de facto Americans - a status based in reality but not necessarily in law. The government, as is often the case, is slow to adjust to real life.

We as individuals don't have to be slow or willfully ignorant. Updating our collective vocabulary can't make up for all those years of being shortchanged, but both advocacy and accuracy make it appropriate to identify our fellow long-time U.S. residents - and ourselves - with the word, "American."

Related note: I envision that one day the federal government will come around - either as a result of a perpetually available, bankruptcy-type system; or due to a Constitutional amendment like this one:
"All persons having resided in the United States for twenty-one years are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."
See also: What Was in My Parents' Souls, by Mack of Coyote Chronicles

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