Show Me Some (National) ID

By Mary Onishi

Just like everyone has a mom, everyone has a national identity. But determining the second is a little trickier than a simple blood test.

Factors such as birthright, language, beliefs, values and citizenship play a role in piecing together national identity, according to Associate Professor of U.S. at Texas Tech University History Miguel Levario, who specializes in Borderland History.

Levario teaches a class on race identity and citizenship in the United States. He said national identity is difficult to define.

“It’s fluid, it’s complex,” he said. “And it’s not a cop-out by any means – I mean – it truly is complex.”

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that only about a third of Americans said it is very important to be a native-born citizen in order to be truly American.

Levario said that even the factor of citizenship limits many people who live in the U.S. from having the full rights of an American.

He said, historically, factors like race, gender and class limited people’s voting rights in America. Likewise, citizenship tests represent a criterion for immigrants to legally become Americans.

According to a survey by the Center for the Study of the American Dream, one in three native-born citizens failed the civic literacy test, which is 32 percent less than the average immigrant passing rate.

Professor Levario said if people feel American, then legal documents should not inhibit them from embracing that national identity.

“Are we to say they’re not American because they perhaps don’t have that paper?” he said.

Feiyi Shao, a Texas Tech international student majoring in agricultural and applied economics from southern China, said she believes language is an essential factor in national identity outside of the U.S. as well.

Shao said a non-native could come to China and be considered Chinese if they were to learn the language. The Pew Research Center survey found that language is seen as the most important factor of national identity.

Professor of Spanish at Texas Tech Genaro Perez said he was born in Colombia and moved to the U.S. in 1958.

“In order to be able to make it in this country I had to first learn the language,” he said.

Perez said being able to speak the native language of a country is necessary to not only survive in that country but also to understand the culture.

“When you learn the language you also learn the culture,” he said.

Levario said, historically, almost immediately after immigrants move to America, English is incorporated into their homes.

“That’s one of the most common trends we see in every single ethnic, immigrant group in the history of the United States,” he said.

Levario also said national identity is sometimes defined with ideologies and values such as democracy and freedom. However, he said these are too broad to fit a specific country.

“You think people in Canada don’t like freedom?” he said.

Levario said while cultural values and citizenship tests exist to attempt to define a person’s national identity, ultimately, it is something everyone must define for him or herself.

“The powers that be don’t necessarily have to define it,” he said. “Because you yourself are defining it.”

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