The Meaning of Nationality

In my last post, I mentioned that I’m an Australian citizen now. My mum is Australian, and I’ve been planning to apply for citizenship by descent for nearly my entire life. So I was prepared to do a lot of paperwork, jump through a lot of hoops, and pay for every step along the way. I was not prepared to have a mini identity crisis once it was done.

My citizenship certificate. The Australian coat of arms is at the top, and it states that II became a citizen on July 31st 2014.

Please ignore the fact that I haven’t legally changed my name yet, and just admire the pretty coat of arms.

The worst thing is, the whole thing has been fuelled by all of the anti-immigration rhetoric I loathe, just turned back on myself. I started referring to myself as “technically Australian,” pointing out that I’ve never been to Australia, I don’t really understand Australian culture, and generally acting like I don’t really count. Sound familiar?

I started obsessively reading a book on Australian history, hoping to someday be familiar enough with it to count. Because clearly, the best way to deal with not having to take a ridiculous citizenship test is to act like I have to and to stress about not having worked hard enough for my citizenship.

You know what citizenship I really didn’t work hard for? My US citizenship. I was just born. I didn’t fill out any forms, or even decide that I wanted it. It was just handed to me. Despite that, I feel really out of place in the States. Granted, I’m way more familiar with the culture there than in Australia, but I still can’t answer people’s questions about what it’s like very well. I was generally an unhappy person while I lived there, and I didn’t engage with the world around me.

And somehow, the place that feels most like home is the UK. I doubt I will ever achieve so much as a work visa to live here, I have no family here, highly limited rights, and the sickening thought at the back of my mind that I could be told to leave at any moment, and yet… The day I returned to the UK, after nearly a year of feeling homesick, of being able to think of nothing else, I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t feel anything because I no longer had to twist my brain around to accept the streets and currency and shops in the US that felt strange to me after learning how to be an adult in the UK. I didn’t have to worry about people teasing me for using another culture’s words, slang, and phrasings. That night, I went to the pub I used to work in, and almost everyone knew me and was pleased to see me, and I felt so much love for this country. But according to the UKBA and everyone who supports increased regulation on immigration, I will never belong here. To them, this should never be my home.

So Australia is in the middle here. I want Australia and Australia wants me, even though we don’t really know each other. And that should be enough, that I want Australia. What else is there to go on, really? I’m not the only person with citizenship by descent, or who was born in a different country than the one they were raised in, who immigrated later in life. There are also people who never connect with the culture they are raised in, many who are not familiar with their original country’s history. This whole experience has just illuminated how strange the concept of nationalities really is.

I was raised with my mum constantly reminding me that I was Australian too, and I remember silently filling in the words “not yet.” I was wrong. I was Australian because I always intended to claim citizenship and did so as soon as I was able. I was, and am, Australian because I want to be.

But, now more than ever, I don’t know what being Australian even means.

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