Tuesday, August 7, 2007

American and chic!

Two more years to wait and I'll be able to apply for US citizenship. Initially I was a bit unsure whether I'd wanted to "become" American. I feel very French in my way of thinking and my manners, and I was viewing the switch in citizenship mostly as a convenience. I like America for many reasons - Americans are nice!- but, well, I was feeling a bit too French, plus I will never understand the attraction of baseball or even, the horror! American football.

Recently I was having this conversation with some French cultural officials, about Orlan's infamous gesture, defacing a museum label that correctly asserted Duchamp* as a French-born, American artist. We disagreed as their credo was Duchamp merely changed citizenship as a convenience, was born and died in France. Well, it is their job to make French every single particle of dust under the sun that passed some time in France, had French ancestry, etc. I begged to differ as Duchamp spent most of his career in the US, married and American woman, and got the recognition he deserved first in the US and not in his Motherland.
This got me thinking. I choose to live here, I pay my taxes here, I follow US politics as best as I can, I speak English everyday, and I have found some appreciation for what I am doing here. Lastly, I am writing a novel in English, so I guess the decision made itself insidiously, À l’insu de mon plein gré as they say back home. But still, 2 more years to wait may change my mind again.

Then this morning I checked the French newspaper Libération and found this article. I am so utterly disgusted. If Sarkozy as president hadn't achieved to convince me, this is the last push I needed to make up my mind about US citizenship.
This woman found out when she went to renew her national ID card that she had to provide a "religion certificate" because she had a "Jewish-sounding name" and was born in French Algeria. Algeria was part of the French colonies and therefore France until 1962.
Now French law is very clear: if you were born in France you do automatically get French citizenship no matter where your parents were coming from, moreover religion doesn't interfere with anyone's right to citizenship.

But since 1994 and some administrative act passed by then right-wing Prime Minister Edouard Balladur, the French has found it OK to ask people born "abroad" or of "foreign parents" to prove their citizenship. And in a blatantly revisionist and racist move, people born French of French parents in former French colonies suddenly were viewed as "foreigners": the idea I gather was to exclude all the Arab immigrant populace that came to France from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia to work in French factories after the end of the colonies. Many of them being French by law. Which, according to the Constitution, cannot be changed retroactively: a law enacted in 1994 cannot change what was legal before 1962, only what happened after 1994.

I had the disagreeable experience myself of having to prove my citizenship when I had to renew my passport at the French consulate: I was born on the French mainland from French parents and carried a French ID most of my life, but since my Dad had been born in French Algeria before 1962 suddenly I was viewed as having one "Foreign" parent.
I remember being particularly pissed off as my paternal grandfather was one of a handful of French people who fought with the Allies during WWII, working with the Deuxieme Bureau in intelligence. When many, many FRENCH people from the mainland were, ahem, not doing much in this department. Not speaking about the appalling action of the Vichy government against the Jews.

So I could imagine how this woman was feeling, being forced to prove her citizenship and her religion because of her name. I have a very Gallic name myself and for some reason no one asked me for a Catholic certificate, BTW.
Reading this article it turns out that in this administrative circonscription they routinely single out Jewish people and ask them for a religion certificate. Jews in French Algeria were all made citizens in 1870, so there shouldn't be any question about any Jew born there before 1962 not being a French citizen. And as far as I know, last time I checked Jews belonged to a religion, not a foreign country.
It seem that the overzealous administration clerks are taking upon themselves to act as vilely as their Vichy forebears, the article pointing out that some French citizens were brutally deprived from their French citizenship when trying to renew their IDs, after decades of being French, born on what was then French soil, being parents and children of French citizen.
The article precises that some people were stripped of their citizenship after "marrying a foreigner". Or adopted another citizenship, even though France does recognize dual citizenship. So many French people are now made alien on their own soil because of racist and antisemitic undercurrents.
Now I'd like to see the A.O.C Gauls to have to present a religion certificate each time they have to renew their administrative documents (BTW: we have 3 IDs in France: National ID, Passport, and Driver License plus another one if you live abroad and register at the local French consulate). Since a recent poll revealed 60% of my compatriots are atheists or agnostics, this may turn amusing.

The irony is that the current French president himself is from Hungarian descent, his father having been born in Hungary. Should he be stripped of his French citizenship because he is not 100% A.O.C? Moreover, it seems one of his grandfather was Jewish. Would he have to show a religion certificate to prove he is a French citizen? I'd say let him prove his Frenchiness up to the 6th or 7th generation, just so we renew with our 1940-1944 roots.
By this token, I am very sorry but Duchamp isn't French anymore. And I guess very soon, so will I, unless I become some fab' hyper glamourous writer and then we'll see some furious retro-pedaling to bring me back into the 100% A.O.C. Gallic fold.
You know what? I think I'll convert and join the tribe, just by esprit de contradiction.

* I wonder if Orlan would have changed back the label to "French" artist if it had been some cheesy academic painter and not Duchamp.

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