The choice all immigrants must make

THE BALTIMORE SUN

LIFE IS ABOUT choices.

With that in mind, consider the recent action of the Mexican Congress, which voted overwhelmingly to permit -- nay, encourage -- dual nationality for millions of Mexican citizens and their U.S.-born children living in the United States.

Specifically, the dual nationality scheme (which will necessitate a few constitutional amendments but should be in place by 1998) permits Mexicans to become citizens of another country (the U.S.) while remaining Mexican nationals. It may, depending on additional legislation, permit Mexicans who are also U.S. citizens to vote in Mexican elections. And it specifically allows children -- born outside Mexico but whose parents were born in Mexico -- to apply for Mexican nationality.

The idea is that a Mexican national who comes here, and becomes an American citizen, would remain a Mexican. He or she wouldn't have to make that serious choice of nationality.

These Mexicans-in-exile would have full property rights. They would be able to inherit family lands back in Mexico, for instance. Fine. That's a Mexican issue that Mexico should decide.

But Mexico could define those property rights without creating the rest of this self-serving mess.

Property rights are one thing. Political rights and the meanings of citizenship and nationality are something else, and they are not purely Mexican issues.

I don't want U.S. citizens, those born here or those naturalized, voting in other nations' elections. Nor should the U.S. government want that.

And I don't want people voting in our elections if their allegiance is so uncertain that they can't make the necessary choice to be American.

Becoming a naturalized citizen means "renouncing" and "abjuring" "all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty." That's in the oath that new citizens swear.

Becoming 'American'

Back when we still thought America was a melting pot instead of a collection of hyphens, the crux of combining myriad nationalities into one was in that oath. You gave up your allegiance to Germany, or Italy, or England, or China -- or Mexico.

You became (fanfare of trumpets, please) an "American."

I am not so dumb that I do not recognize that Americanization always has been an incomplete emotional process. There are fifth-generation Irish-Americans who are more Irish than Gerry Adams. New York Italians still march on Columbus Day.

I recently dealt with a gentleman in Illinois (whose ancestors had been there since the mid-19th century) who spoke with a heavy German accent, although he surely has never considered himself anything but American. I recently met a woman who collects Swedish Christmas decorations, among other things, because her forebears came from Sweden.

Being American does not mean forgetting where Grandpa came from. It doesn't mean you can't be proud of your Scandinavian, or Irish, or African, or Middle Eastern, or Hispanic ancestry and appreciate your own ethnic group's contributions to the common goulash that is "American" culture.

It does mean, however, making a firm and conscious choice about nationality, whether you are a Rodriguez, a Schwartzkopf or an O'Malley. They are all good "American" names.

A resident alien should not be expected to choose loyalty to the United States over loyalty to whatever nation whose citizenship he or she holds. However, if that resident alien meets the legal requirements and decides to become a U.S. citizen, expectations necessarily change. Choices must be made. Renunciations of allegiance to foreign princes or states must be seriously made. Anything less is a sham.

Too easy to remain apart

I saw a quote from an immigrant-rights advocate who said of Mexico's dual nationality law, "This will help Mexicans living in the United States incorporate themselves into American society."

That is a load of pure bat guano. If you encourage dual allegiance, much less dual political participation, it retards incorporation into American society by making it even easier to remain apart -- an alien in fact if not in name.

Mexico -- overpopulated, poor, its third-largest source of income rTC money remitted from Mexicans living in the United States -- is trying desperately to have its cake and eat it, too.

Most Americans would agree that there can be no more serious decisions than the choices of where you will live and to what nation you will freely and exclusively give your allegiance. Somebody on this side of the border needs to explain that to Mexico.

Pat Truly is a columnist and editorial writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Pub Date: 1/14/97

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