When I turned 16, I wasn’t worried about getting a car. I was worried about becoming a Guatemalan citizen. Since both of my parents are Guatemalan, I was eligible for citizenship as long as I filed before turning 18.
I was obsessed with being able to officially call myself Guatemalan. It was mostly for cultural reasons. Whenever I visited family in Guatemala they would call me “la gringita,” which roughly translates to “the little American.” I longed to be able to claim Guatemalaness — whatever that means.
Multiple citizenships are on the rise and are a result of increasing immigration and global interconnectedness. Dual citizenship boils down to “a good business transaction for many states,” as Rachel Ellis Neyra, who teaches English courses cross-listed with Hispanic Studies and Latin American and Latino Studies, explained.
States that allow dual citizenship tend to be ones with a large diasporic population. Many Latin-American states fall into this category. The proportion of its people living elsewhere — and the revenue they bring back home — is significant enough to merit a formal recognition.
In Neyra’s words, “territory is not the only way to articulate belonging … it needs to open up.”
College senior Ola Leszczynska, who is majoring in political science, embodies an alternative way of belonging. Leszczynska is a citizen of Poland and the United States, but identifies specifically with the Polish community in Chicago that she grew up in. While dual citizenship makes traveling between the two countries easier, she says she’s “somewhere split along the middle.”
This summer, the split loyalty that many dual citizens experience caught the world’s attention at the Olympic games in London. When Leo Manzano won a silver medal in the 1,500-meters final, he proudly displayed a United States flag along with the Mexican flag.
Manzano, who was born in Mexico and gained American citizenship after he entered the country as a undocumented child, won the first U.S. medal in the event in 44 years.
Manzano’s actions after his big win sparked a discussion about the role of dual citizens, and called into question their full loyalty to either country. Ruben Navarrette, a CNN contributor, wrote an article entitled “U.S. Olympic athlete, Mexican flag?” in which he ultimately calls on Manzano to “choose which country [he’s] going to represent.”
As a U.S.-born Guatemalan-American, I agree with Manzano’s statement: “I love both countries. They both have a piece of my heart.”
Of course, my Guatemalan citizenship also provides a logistical advantage, especially if I decide to live there in the future.
College senior Sarie Kate McEntaggart who is an American and Irish citizen agreed. She explained in an email, “multiple citizenships means that I have more choice and more flexibility in where I might like to live.”
“It’s certainly related to my cultural allegiances, but in the end these countries are just legally obliged to provide me with a passport,” she added.
McEntaggart brings up another aspect of multiple citizenships: the need to deal with complex citizenship law. It can be hard to keep track of countries that recognize multiple citizenships and those that don’t.
College senior Emma Kofmehl, who is a citizen of the United States and Switzerland, wrote in an email that “on a day-to-day basis I think of myself as American because I live here.” This conception of citizenship, according to Neyra, has “to do more with lived experiences,” as opposed to documentation.
This is a feeling that was echoed by all the students I interviewed. At the end of the day, while multiple citizenship is useful — especially for traveling or if one plans to move to another country someday — the concept does not amount to much on a daily basis.
Ever since I’ve become a Guatemalan citizen, it seems to matter less. Over the last four years, I’ve grown more connected to the country through cultural experiences — so much so that my citizenship has become no more than a legal document.
Yessenia Gutierrez is a College junior from Hollywood, Fla. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Yessi Can” appears every Monday. Follow her @yessiwrites.