Friday, May 20, 2016
a man with too many countries
I am no Philip Nolan -- the protagonist in Edward Everett Hales's The Man Without a Country.
Hales's tale is a reminder of the consequences of hubris -- getting our just deserts from our own wishes. In Nolan's case, at his treason trial for his part in the Aaron Burr conspiracy, he announced: "I wish I may never hear of the United States again!"
The judge granted Nolan his wish -- sentencing him to spend the rest of his life in exile on board a series of American Navy ships. Love Boat meets Guantánamo.
Even if you do not know the story, you know the ending. It is, after all, an American tale.
Nolan spends 55 years in his floating exile and step by step learns that he loves his country. He may not have stepped foot on its soil in decades, but its essence is part of who he is.
Two recent posts caused this little reverie. Yesterday, I mused on my Canadian roots in steve cotton has a secret -- a deep, dark secret,and in pat -- i'd like to buy a consonant, I wrote about learning Spanish to meet my Mexican citizenship requirement.
What does it mean to be a citizen of a country? And is that different from wanting to be part of a country?
A reader had a long email conversation with me last night about my ancestry. From the names I used in my Canada essay and from the photograph of the young me with my family, he deduced that I was a Sephardic Jew of German ancestry. He conducted several name searches in Jewish data banks, and concluded his hypothesis was correct.
I would like that to be true. My family has strongly supported Israel before and after its creation. The problem is that my cousin Dennis, who has extensively researched our family tree, has come up with no evidence to support the hypothesis.
Maybe my reader is correct. Maybe I do have the seed of Abraham in my DNA.
But that does not make me culturally or religiously Jewish. I am Christian. Not just Christianish -- as Anne Lamott likes to joke. And there is nothing culturally Jewish about my upbringing -- other than my mother's assertion that all pork products are an abomination.
I am an American. Culturally, I believe in the founding principles of the country. They inform all of my political decisions -- and many of my social choices.
So, how do I square that with my desire to be a Mexican citizen -- as well as an American citizen?
While composing this essay, I ran across a piece of music that helped put some of my thoughts in perspective. The tune is "Anthem" from a badly-constructed musical, Chess. The author of the book used the conceit of a Russian-American chess match as an allegory for the cold war.
At the end of Act One (because these moments should always leave the audience at the interval wondering what will happen next) defects. When the reporters ask him why he is leaving his country, he sings "Anthem." (Choose an HD setting if your internet connection will support it.)
The song is about what you would expect from the composers of ABBA along with the lyrics of Tim Rice. Like Oakland, there is not much there there.
That has not stopped the Chess groupies from pulling out the stops in finding the true meaning of the tune. My favorite is the post-modern claptrap that the song is a deconstructionist tribute to the negation of nationalism. I suspect that came from a high school drama coach who was desperately trying to find a good hook for this schmaltzy pastiche.
Considering the cartoon aspect of the production, there is probably no subtext to the song. It is all text on the top -- simply saying that true patriots can still love their country even if not there because "my land's only borders lie around my heart."
That is why Americans such as Morris Cohen, Alger Hiss, and Philip Agee could claim western nationality and concurrently owe their allegiance to Russia or Cuba. It is not that they had any particular love for the Russian or Cuban people (that I know of). They were soldiers in a foreign ideology. Not to mention being as treasonous as the leaders of the Confederacy.
As simple as the song is, it may be the answer to the question why I want to be a Mexican citizen. I want to be part of the civic community in the country where I permanently reside. And, unlike Cohen, Hiss, and Agee, it is my fellow Mexicans that tie my heart to this land. There certainly is no ideology that would make being a dual citizen inconsistent with my allegiance to The States.
And, if it turns out I have Jewish roots, that will just be the icing on the cake.