Today I went to pick up my American passport from a slightly dodgy looking depot in North London and I felt quite out of place. Not just because I was in the middle of a maze of warehouses but also because the last American passport I owned ran out over ten years ago and I only ever really used that passport once (that I can remember).
When I opened the bright red envelope to check my passport was inside, I felt quite fraudulent when I took my American passport out. As though I wasn’t really meant to have it. I’ve lived in England for most of my life and none of my family are American citizens. I am one completely by chance. My father was stationed over there when I was born and so, by default, I am an American citizen.
When I was younger I used to yearn to be recognised as an American, despite barely knowing or understanding anything about the country. I learnt the national anthem, had an American flag hung over my bed and would always say that my nationality was “Anglo-American”. My brother used to wind me up by saying I wasn’t actually American and that I was 100% English. I wasn’t having any of this and told him I was as much English as I was American.
And this is true. At least, in America’s eyes it is, and in England’s too. They both recognise my dual-nationality but also accept that I am 100% English and 100% American. Being American and English is not mutually exclusive, being both is possible and so I am just as American as I am English.
Theoretically that is.
In reality, though, I am English through and through. Sure, we’ve moved around a lot but I call Devon my home, I sound English and all of my family are English. So it makes complete sense that I had a mild identity crisis when I went to pick up my American passport. Being “American” has always been part of what younger me dreamed my future life to be and now that it is happening I am forced to remember that it isn’t just a dream but something that is my reality.
But I do still struggle with it. I want to get to know America because it is a part of who I am, whether I feel comfortable about that or not, and it is time I started to learn how to accept, and embrace, that. But at the same time I don’t think I will ever automatically say that my nationality is American. When people ask I always say English, because I am. I am worried that if I say American people will think I am trying to draw attention to myself or that I am claiming a title that I don’t deserve and, even if other people aren’t thinking that, I will be. I would feel guilty to say I’m American because that is not how I perceive myself to be, regardless of how technically true it is.
So, it got me thinking. How important is national identity? The feeling of belonging to a certain nation and culture. From what I have studied at university it is clear to see that the concept of national identity has caused many bloody wars throughout history and continues to do so today. But with this question I am talking more about someone’s personal relationship to their national identity rather than as part of a political collective. Is it important for people to feel personally connected to their nationality or is it simply a way of regulation and control?
In my opinion, I don’t think being English or American essentially matters. There isn’t some intrinsic characteristic that is determined by being either one of these two options. However, I think my personal relationship with these two national identities is problematic because I don’t understand how they fit into what makes me the person I am. But, hey, I guess that’s just something I am going to have to figure out…
As always, I would love to hear what you think about this topic!!