Colonization by Citizenship
By Manuel Bernal
United States citizenship does not make you American. United States citizen is a technical term while American is a loaded word with specific implications. The implication, of course, is whiteness. Citizenship does not create birthright to whiteness nor does it generate naturalized whiteness. You are still brown, you still have an accent, you still have a fully non-white name, you will still be othered and you and your children for generations to come will still be perpetual foreigners. Don’t forget, for one second, that when you are awarded that N 550/ N 560/ N 570 document, that it is not a transfer of complete access, it is only a technical transfer. You are a United States citizen on paper but culturally, socially, politically, and economically, you will always be non-American. And even when you get los papeles, white America will still resent you and they will resent your children.
Ese racista Trump states he wants to take back birthright citizenship, so even when this transfer of access is complete please remember that it can be taken from you just as quickly. Mi Padre was naturalized in ‘86 and in the early 90’s received threatening phone calls from neighbors to leave the newly bought home (We still live there, so fuck them). His citizenship didn’t mean a goddamn thing to those neighbors. My father’s citizenship didn’t mean shit when the police told him to stay inside his home when the Klan rolled up in our town.
I’ve been called a ‘spic’ and have been stereotyped more times than I can remember, and at several times was told I didn’t act Mexican as a compliment. My citizenship didn’t prevent the terms wetback, spic, sand nigger, illegal and beaner to be thrown at my brown body as a youth. My citizenship didn’t hold back the number of times I’ve been told to go back to my country even though I was born here. Having citizenship didn’t prevent the patriotic tension from building in a room where you spoke Spanish in order to translate for your parents. Having citizenship didn’t prevent that feeling deep in your stomach telling you they hate you and your native tongue. When white documents are transferred to brown hands, the transfer is technical and symbolic. The transfer is not cemented in culture nor engrained in wholeness.
This is not to say that the document is meaningless because it’s not. It grants you the ability to stay in this country and be with your family. That transfer prevents depression, fear, and the anxiety of whether or not you’ll see your loved ones again. The transfer grants access to your family and makes it easier to navigate these systems and institutions that provide vital resources. It grants people with very real access, with very real impacts.
What United States citizenship does not give you is any right to place yourself above the rest of la gente. Don’t ever look down at people with non-citizenship status as inferior. Because if you do, you are a disgrace to humanity, a sellout to la raza and you maintain white supremacy all while doing everything you can to be accepted into America/Whiteness that was never meant for you. How many gente voted for Trump this election? Specifically, how many gente voted for him who were recently naturalized? How many people are scared that other gente will create more competition for resources and how many people are only trying to fit the dominant culture and dominant worldview of the United States? Whiteness functions as a tool for many latinx people because if one adopts the dominant view then one gains more access or it at least becomes easier to access resources. This access comes at the expense of carrying out oppressive norms that damage everyone outside the dominant culture. There are several latinx people who refuse to speak their native tongue, work on eliminating their accent, Americanize and whiten their non-white name in order to advance in this society. Employment preparation involves several of these elements in order to be more appealing to employers and to appear normal and selectable. This is the power of whiteness; having whiteness grants access, grants employment, grants life. Whitening oneself is a degrading process but many are willing to do so in order to avoid being othered. The process is mind boggling because many don’t realize that in assimilating we are supporting the same oppression that we are exhaustively fighting against.
I’ve watched a lot of brown people try everything possible to fit into this dominant culture by stripping themselves down to their indigenous bones, hoping the dominant culture sees white bones; selling their cultural soul and identity for whiteness. The lines of whiteness have always directed racial traffic. These lines have historically allowed certain groups in and certain groups out. Initially many groups from Europe were not considered white but through time, and to the benefit of white elites, they gained access to whiteness. All of these European groups eventually entered the white parameters. The fear of discrimination accelerated their urgency and they traded in their history and culture to do so. Whiteness, as a social function, is powerful and devastating. It can erase culture, place fear into non-white groups and colonize minds. When white lines direct racial traffic it leads groups into an exit of dead cultures with piles of assimilated bodies. Race and ethnicity become a road that is difficult to navigate because white lines have forcefully erased history through whitewashing of cultural roadmaps. A lost highway of self-hate and racial confusion is where white lines lead. Through solidarity and collective efforts, it is up to us to re-route ourselves onto a path of cultural truth and recognition. A path that is proud of our roots and dismantles the fear that is pushed onto us; we cannot sell our cultural souls for the hope of buying into whiteness. Don’t become colonized by a document. Citizenship is a status and not a path or pass toward and into whiteness.
As you read these words, and I hope you read these words and they resonate in your mind forever, for all the latinx people who voted for Trump, for all la gente who sold out at the polls, don’t forget that although your worldview supports white supremacy and you continue to support oppressive policies, if deportation forces and oppressive policies ever target la raza, you will be on that list with me and our citizenship status does not change a damn thing. You are on that list for a specific reason. The state will not hesitate to place you wherever they think you belong, where we belong. Always remember that they forcefully transported United States citizens of Japanese background to internment camps. Just like my neighbors making threatening phone calls to my hard working, caring, loving father and mother to leave their newly bought home, they didn’t give a damn about mi padre’s citizenship and those deportation forces won’t give a damn about your citizenship.
Xicanx anti-racism advocate from Indiana. BA in political science from Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne Indiana and a current graduate student for an Ma in public policy. Will pursue a doctoral degree in race relations.