Saturday, April 15, 2017

On sacrifice, history and what we are 'owed'

I've received a fair amount of feedback, most of it positive, regarding the case I made recently for allowing dual nationality to all foreigners. But, there are a few points I'd like to clarify here, which I think merit further discussion.

On selfishness and sacrifice

The first is this idea that, impossible or not, to decline to renounce one's original citizenship is somehow inherently selfish - to want the best of both, or to be unwilling to make any sacrifices.

I understand this as an instinctive first reaction - it's one of those "makes sense on its face" arguments - but with even a bit of dissection falls apart.

First, I reject on its face the notion that a person should have to make massive sacrifices to be a part of the society of the country they call home. That's not the argument I want to make, but I want to put that core idea out there. Some people take this further, and try to justify giving missionaries dual nationality on the basis of their "sacrifices" for the good of the communities they live in, but that the rest of us don't because we live more comfortable lives.

First, let's be clear: missionaries are not selfless. The good works they do - and they do some good things, I admit, and I don't think they're bad people - are done with their own goals in mind: converting members of the community to their faith, which is a benefit to the churches that often fund their missions. I still think they deserve a path to citizenship despite fundamentally disagreeing with the notion of evangelizing, because I think anyone who has decided to make Taiwan their permanent home and contributes to it in some way deserves that path. However, this argument is then extended and ends up somewhere around "you have a nice apartment and a job and therefore you don't deserve citizenship", which I quite literally do not understand as a logical conclusion. Do we really judge who gets to be a member of society based on whether they have wood floors or not? "You live well so you don't deserve political representation"? Really?

I get it, I really do - the idea is that we already have good lives, so we shouldn't want more. However, wanting political representation and to live a normal life as a member of society is not the same at all as having a couch that is not from IKEA (though honestly, if we hadn't inherited the couch we do have from the former tenant, our couch would absolutely be an IKEA model). The logical conclusion of this is that you should not agitate politically if you are comfortable economically, but economics and politics are separate things. I don't want more money - I want to be a member of society.

That said, I really don't want to make it my main argument - I want to point out the ridiculousness of it and move on.

Here's the thing about assuming that renouncing one's original citizenship is a 'sacrifice' and to not want to do so is 'selfish'.

To take the only path to citizenship currently available to me, I would have to quite literally renounce my core values. As much as I complain about the US and insist on my own self-sufficiency and freedom, fundamentally I believe in caring for one's family when they need it. I have already written about why I must retain American citizenship if the need to care for my father arises, and won't repeat myself.

I will, however, point out that the selfish act here would be to abandon my family for my own desires vis-a-vis my life in Taiwan. It is, if anything, a sacrifice that I do not pursue this route, because family, should they need me, trumps what I want in this regard. I would also point out that this means that asking me to renounce American citizenship is tantamount to asking me to put my desires over the needs of said family, and to essentially change who I am as a person - to be willing to be the sort of cold-hearted individual who would choose her immediate satisfaction over possible future family caretaking.

I mean it - I will give Taiwan what they want in any other regard. They want money? I'll pay it. They want me to get my PhD and become a professor, even though I'm happier (and I think a more effective teacher and contributor to the field) outside the academic bureaucracy and would normally stop at a Master's? I'll do it. Mandate that 36-year-old women must also do military service? I'll do it. Pound of flesh? That can be arranged. Start a charity and work at it as my main cause? Already considering it, though kind of hard to do if I'm going to go the academic route until I'm finished shuttling back and forth between Taiwan and the UK for my degree(s).

But I will not abandon my family.

For a culture that places so much emphasis on being filial, you would think the Taiwanese government would understand this.

All that aside, I fundamentally find the idea that wanting to be closer to - rather than maintaining and enforced distance from - the society of the country one calls home is inherently selfish in some way. That wanting to participate civically is selfish - I thought civic duty was meant to be an act of giving? I truly don't understand the logic here, that it is somehow a problem or indicative of bad character that I'd want these things.

On history

I also got a very interesting comment on my assertion that "Taiwanese history is not my history". The point that was made was that if we expect the descendants of the 1945-1949 KMT diaspora, as well as those who took part in it who are still alive, to consider their history to be intertwined with "Taiwanese" history rather than Chinese history, how can we decline to do the same?

However, I'm not saying I won't do the same. I gladly will.

In fact, the ten years of Taiwanese history that have occurred while I've lived here are my history - I live here too. If we stay permanently and do get citizenship, when I am old I will look back on my life and perhaps then think of myself as Taiwanese, and Taiwanese history being my history.

What I meant by that comment was, the agonies and successes of Taiwanese history that happened to the ancestors of the Taiwanese alive today did not happen to my ancestors. I don't want to appropriate or seem like I am appropriating that legacy. The sum of history and cultural legacy that made me who I am, compared to that of my Taiwanese friends, is different, and I feel it's OK to admit that while still hoping to assimilate more. The idea is to avoid "you owe me your history, culture and legacy!" and instead aim for "I would like to be a part of your society if you'll have me, and as I do want it badly, I would like to make a case for that."

On being "owed" something

There is a popular meme going around that shows a blank piece of paper with a title along the lines of "a comprehensive list of everything you are entitled to and the world owes you".

It's cute, and I get the instinctive reaction to agree. However, I actually don't fully believe that - if you live in the forest as hermit who doesn't pay taxes or contribute to a society in any way, the world owes you nothing, that's true. But if you are expected to pay taxes, obey laws, support yourself, contribute to the economy and civic life of a society, in fact, I do believe that society owes you something in return. This is the basic argument for why societies that can do so owe their citizens a social safety net, and I happen to agree with it. Like dedication to family, it is a core value.

That, again, is not the argument I want to make however. I just want to point out that that line of thinking is inherently flawed.

What I want to say is this: I didn't come to Taiwan already knowing citizenship was almost impossible to obtain, and thinking I'd just complain about it whenever I decided I happened to want it. It was a much more organic process. I came here thinking I'd stay for two or three years, but Taiwan, being like Hotel California (as someone once put it to me), has made it so I can check out any time I like, but it seems I can never (don't want to) leave. Only then did I decide to advocate for the chance to participate more fully - after I'd already been here for a decade, contributed in the same way citizens who were born here have done, and tried to be a net benefit to this country rather than a drain on it. I was already here contributing when my thoughts on this topic became defined, not standing on the outside banging on the door.

Do I think, for all of this, that I am "owed" citizenship? Well, no, not in the sense that every country gets to decide for itself what foreigners can and cannot have. I think I've earned it, but I don't think I'm 'owed' it, at least not in the world we live in.

Taiwan, however, is a country that has increasingly insisted it is based on shared cultural values rather than ethnocentric nationalism. They themselves insist that one does not need to be from a particular ethnicity, culture or group to be 'Taiwanese'. Their history museum in Tainan even has a plaque saying so!

If they truly believe this, and this is the kind of country they want to build, it is hypocritical to then make it difficult for those who lack blood ties to Taiwan who are not the lords and ladies of the 1% (or missionaries) to be a part of that society. If they really believe it, they need to stop setting up impossible barriers (and, as I've explained, the need to renounce is an impossible barrier for many of us) and allowing double standards for naturalized vs. born citizens. If they want to keep up that rhetoric, they do owe the people they're talking about a shot at actually being 'Taiwanese'. Forcing us to be perpetual outsiders who can't even have a mortgage or vote for the leaders whose governance affects us is the opposite of this sentiment. It's having your cake and eating it too.

On radical social change

I've also heard the argument that changing the law so completely cannot be done quickly because Taiwan progresses slowly, and to do otherwise would constitute 'radical social change' that would somehow cause problems for society.

This is wrong.

Just as marriage equality is not 'radical social change' but rather a logical expansion of human rights and recognizing what, for many couples, is already true, allowing immigrants in Taiwan to naturalize as dual citizens is not radical. We're already here and already contributing - not much will change as a result. All it is doing is expanding the scope of the rights of people who live in Taiwan, and acknowledging what is already true about our lives here.

Most Taiwanese, when made aware of the double standards that currently exist, voice support for creating a more possible and reasonable path to citizenship for foreign residents. They too are done with ethnocentrism, whether it's Hoklo or Han chauvinism. It is not scandalous or radical to then make the necessary political changes reflecting this.

I don't believe a change like this would result in an influx of people hoping to get citizenship - at least not among white collar workers (I don't believe in dividing who can have dual nationality and who can't based on social class, I'm just pointing out a reality.) Most would come, and eventually leave. Those who stay long enough - seems like it would have to be about ten years to get an APRC and then citizenship - would have demonstrated enough of a commitment to Taiwan to merit naturalization. Most importantly, they'd already be here. It would be a mere formalization of the status they already possess.

1 comment:

Stefani Pfeiffer said...

As a non-citizen, I cannot bring my mother here to care for her, because she would not be eligible for national health insurance, even after a long wait and paying premiums. Her monthly social security check would be spent here in Taiwan's economy.

Giving up US citizenship means giving up the right to work in the US. The right to work and get paid is precious anywhere you have it.

What would Taiwanese-US dual citizens do if forced to choose between their two nationalities?

If citizenship requires sacrifice, is there a reason they shouldn't have to sacrifice their citizenship in one country in order to belong to the other?

US history is not their family's history either, but that doesn't exclude them from becoming US citizens.

Is there a reason Taiwan does not have reciprocity on citizenship with the US?