Each of my names belongs to to former (deceased) member of my family. Diane was my french great grandmother; Janine was my french grandmother (“Ninette” we called her); Norma was my Oklahoman born mother; Morin… well that’s us, my father’s side of my family and those of us who came from Patrick and Norma. The names are important as they identify me. They also led to my giving my daughter a name that was different from anyone else in the family.
I was born in Paris, raised in Italy and came to the US for college… to California. I had visited Oklahoma and California where I had relatives. But my mother, the Oklahoman, wanted to make sure we had college degrees so we came to California for college. Coming when I was 18 felt like going to a far away boarding school and in many ways I felt I was in a foreign country. What I recall was the difficulty I had, for months, making friends. I could speak the language, but I had no recognizable English accent. Most of my new acquaintances decided I must be from the East Coast. I was classified, in the college, as a “Latina”, as I came from Italy, despite the fact that I was in no way “Latin” except by affinity: I loved and love the people of the country I grew up in. I remember the strangeness of seeing lights lit all over the neighborhoods in the college area where I first lived in the US: How could people afford the expenditure on electricity. In Italy, growing up, electricity was prohibitively expensive: you turned lights off immediately after you left a room. To “decorate” with lights seemed like a huge luxury. I recall not understanding how some young people had cars, or typewriters, as this seemed so extravagant. On the other hand, it was confusing to me that you could not rely on public transportation to get you where you needed to go. In Italy, this was never a problem.
I had dual citizenship, French and US. I almost lost the US citizenship as I had to live in the US for five years without leaving for more than 12 months total. I came close. Then I lost my French citizenship as I had signed a US document and enrolled at the Immigration and Naturalization Service when I first came to the US. The French Consulate said that I must have done so to intentionally give up my French citizenship. Had I been a man, they explained, this would not have been an issue, as men were needed in France in the decade around the time I was born (due to losses during the second world war) and they could not renounce there citizenship. It took an enormous amount of work on my father’s part, in France, to have the consulate give me back my birthright: French citizenship.
The combination of the near loss of my citizenship in both countries, and the fact that as a child I could not understand why I, as a American born out of the US, could not run for the Presidency, have led me to question the rationality of immigration laws. What I don’t question, however, is the richness that comes with identifying with different cultures and trying to understand the stories of our elders