For me my nationality is a pretty random identity or affiliation, not something I’m proud or not proud of. I didn’t have anything to do with it: my parents chose for me to become an American citizen when I was two–my naturalization paper is typed in wonky typewriter and lists my height as ‘2 FEET 8 INCHES’ and my weight as ‘TWENTY FIVE POUNDS.” It would be almost impossible for me to lose my American accent and thoroughly, completely, absolutely impossible to lose my privileged suburban American upbringing and all its concomitants. At this point in May 2011 I don’t think of myself as ‘living abroad’ really, I just think of myself as living where I live, which is in Wellington, which is in New Zealand, which is not the country I grew up in or lived most of my life. I don’t live where I’m from but where I am, and I have given up speculating how long that will be true.
It will have been true for five years in August. (I’ll be having a party). The American thing does still come up, as you’d expect—just today someone on the phone at work asked if I were…Canadian, perhaps? I don’t get too into it anymore, largely because I am not currently in a social space where I am meeting a lot of new people and it’s been aaaaaaaages, girl, since I last did the Backpacker Questionnaire and it’s not much of a conversation topic amongst my various friend groups.
Except that sometimes it is a conversation topic, whether I want it to be or not. Every now and again I run into someone who wants to talk about American politics with me (the TSA and health care are always popular topics) or about American influence on New Zealand pop culture, or about Starbucks. The other day someone was complaining to me that their version of Word was auto-correcting things like ‘rationalise’ and ‘organise’ to “rationalize” and “organize” (which is indeed irritating and I hate having to always go and change everything). I wish I’d thought to say, “Well, let me just call Bill Gates and get that sorted for you, eh?” It’s annoying, sometimes, but it comes with the territory. Sometimes I enjoy those conversations, and sometimes I don’t.
Since I heard the news about the death of Osama bin Laden the other day—I didn’t hear anything about the super special Sunday night announcement, I learned about it all after the fact—I’ve gone through the gamut of thoughts and feelings like most people following the story would have, regardless of nationality or political affiliation or anything else: disbelief, questions about what happened, concern about being the world police, wondering what the political implications will be, thinking about kill operation vs. brought to justice in a court of law, thinking about September 11 and blowing my own mind by realizing it’s been ten years. Reading the all the various articles and posts and opinions and analyses, and trying to form my own. Talking about it, a little.
I feel weird about it. I feel really weird about it. I feel weird about giving my opinion As An American, although surely I’m entitled to mine just like everyone else, regardless, again, of my nationality or political affiliation or anything else. I feel weird about expressing ambivalence. I don’t exactly feel, when I talk to Kiwi friends about it, like I’m representing the US, because how can I, but I still feel shy somehow, talking about it. I haven’t enjoyed the watercooler discussion about it or the conspiracy theories or the bloviating or the celebration or the righteous indignation or any of it. Mainly I want not to think about it at all, but I also think that’s the coward’s way, so I worry and obsess and feel weird instead.
No matter where I live or what happens to my accent, I will always be an American, and I know I own the War On Terror even though I oppose it and I want it to be over in all its manifestations. I also know it will never, never, never be over, and I have to own that, too.