Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Becoming Dutch, prt. 2

Do you ever have events in your life that you think aren't going to be a big deal before they happen, but in actuality it's a very important moment in your life? That's how I felt about the day I became a Dutch citizen. In the weeks leading up to the ceremony I barely discussed the ceremony with anyone, taking on a happy but relaxed tone about the whole thing. Privately during my quiet moments, I was in turn excited and very nervous about getting up  in front of a large crowd of people. I kept worrying that I would mispronounce the words or that I would trip and fall on the stage with everyone watching or that people would judge me as not being Dutch enough. During this whole process I have contemplated what it means to take on a new nationality. In this globalized world, the role of the nation-state is not what it used to be, and we have culturally assigned a different meaning to citizenship, but I am struggling to put into words what that meaning is exactly. I have especially tried to think about what it means to have dual citizenship.

Before the ceremony began, old films of Amsterdam were projected behind the podium. Very cool.
I've loosely followed parliamentary debates in the Netherlands on the question of dual citizenship. In certain situations (like mine), holding two passports is allowed, but that doesn't mean certain political parties aren't opposed to the practice. Dual citizenship can be a difficult concept to wrap your head around, especially because granting citizenship to an individual requires an oath of loyalty to a nation. There is a worry that loyalty to two countries could possibly create a dilemma for individuals in certain situations. I found this report from the Migration Policy Institute to be quite helpful in explaining the issues some people have with dual nationality. For me, at least, dual citizenship has more to do with my concept of identity than it does with any question of loyalty. It goes without saying that I, of course, feel loyal to the Netherlands; my husband, my daughter and my home are all here. I read Dutch newspapers, shop in Dutch supermarkets, follow Dutch politics and celebrate Dutch holidays with my Dutch family. I look forward to voting and having a say in the place I call home. It has been difficult at times to acclimate to life in a new country, but I can honestly say that I feel settled here. Things that used to irritate me I now pass off as quirky and just part of life. When Niek's friends start waxing nostalgic about their youth, however, I start to feel like an observer looking in on a past I can understand but cannot relate to.

Here I am not stuttering or falling across the stage.
How could I ever not feel like an American when my childhood and a good chunk of my adulthood are rooted in the U.S.? It's part of my identity and not one that I could just forget. My parents and some close friends are American and still live there. In this digital age, I can read American papers every day if I want to, although I am sometimes very thankful to be removed from the 24-hour, American news cycle. I'm actually really grateful that the construct of dual citizenship exists. It affords me the opportunity to create a new identity in a hyper-connected world--at least, the Netherlands and the U.S. feel deeply intertwined within my own identity. I can't help but think how different it is for me than for immigrants from only a century ago. My grandparents used to tell stories about their childhood and their parents' identities as Americans. My great-grandparents immigrated to the U.S., and when their children were born they were brought up to be "American" with very few ties to the old country. Sure, their cuisine was tinted with the flavors of central Europe and their Catholic parish was comprised almost entirely of immigrant families from Yugoslavia. Despite living in a neighborhood full of families just like theirs, my grandparents only ever spoke English in their homes, having been told by their immigrant parents that Americans only spoke English. There is a passage in the novel, Middlesex, describing a ceremony at the Ford Motor Company for new immigrant employees that struck such a chord with me, because it reminded me of my grandparents' stories. All the employees start the pageant in the traditional dress of their homelands before descending into a pot and then remerging as "Americans" all dressed in similar looking suits. Becoming Dutch felt nothing like shedding my past the way it must have been for immigrants only a few generations ago. It no longer feels necessary or even right to renounce my past. I get the sense that their is a collective acceptance for dual nationalities, and I don't feel any friction with this new identity.

Those were my thoughts leading up to the naturalization ceremony. The night before I couldn't sleep from all the excitement, and before leaving for the ceremony I put my hair up four different times before I felt it was right (not apparent in the blurry photo below). In a room with lots of other families about 50 people made an oath to be loyal and true citizens to the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The speech emphasized tolerance and respect for difference: a multi-culti moment that felt a little forced but was a nice sentiment, nonetheless. They didn't call my name until almost the very end. I think they went in random order, so there was really no warning when it would be my turn.

It's official! I'm Dutch now.
After the ceremony they served Dutch foods like cheese cubes and bitterballen (fried meat balls). I didn't have any of it because I was busy chasing after this one:
She walks now and does not sit still.
My family, bless them, marked the occasion with a few Dutch presents to make my transformation into citizen complete. I now have a sandwich box for my lunch, which came complete with a cheese sandwich and licorice (gross!). Do you see the cookbook with pea soup on the cover? That slim volume is full of Dutch cuisine recipes. I can sum it up for you with just a few ingredients: potatoes, peas, sausage, apples.

I applied for my passport last week, and that's when my new identity finally become something tangible. I looked down on my passport application and saw my nationality listed as Dutch. It feels very real now, and I'm happy about that. 


  1. Thank you so much for taking us all though this amazing experience with you. I can really, really relate to your feelings- and your excitement about becoming Dutch. I am couting down the minutes and the seconds until I can apply for Danish citizenship, but the (big) problem is, I would have to give up being an American. So basically, when the day arrives and I can apply, I don't know what I will do.

    1. It surprises me to hear that Denmark doesn't allow dual citizenship. I will say that I am glad to have taken this step. I like that I can vote and not feel as much like an ex-pat.
      How long until you can apply? You've been in Denmark a while now, right?

  2. I loved this post and I will most likely become a dual citizen within the next few years and have the same sort of anxiety but am happy in Sweden I do not need to talk in front of anybody to achieve it!

    1. Thanks for the comment. I am definitely not one to get up in front of large crowds. It was only a moment, but I was happy when it was over.

  3. The recipe book doesn't have 100 herring recipes?!

    One of the things I always have trouble with is people in the U.S. who have adopted a nationality neither their own nor "American." An old girlfriend of mine, for example, is very proud of her Irish heritage, but her ancestors were from Germany and settled in an area of Boston, where fitting in meant acting like their Irish immigrant neighbors.

    My father's family came from Holland, but "Quick" is hardly Dutch - the first letter isn't in the alphabet - 200 years earlier, the first Quick emigrated from England to Holland. So what nationality am I? Most people say I am very un-American.

    1. Oh man, I think the Irish-American identity is so strange and has so little to do with the actual country of Ireland. My dad has clung so tightly to that sense of identity and seemed deeply troubled a few years ago when, after a small bit of genealogical research, I told him that there was very little Irish in his family. He has chosen to ignore my findings and insists that he's almost half Irish.

      If you look around the Netherlands, most Dutch people aren't deeply "Dutch" by ancestry and can claim roots in other countries. I was fascinated to learn that there have been quite a few waves of immigration in the Netherlands since the early-modern period. Historically most people acclimated to the culture and took on a new Dutch identity with ease.

      Who says you're un-American? Have you been wearing Obama shirts to Tea Party meetings, or something?

    2. My favorite un-American comment came when I was among a group of people from various countries and, on finding out I was born here, I was told, "But you're not fat! And you're not loud! And you aren't wiping everything with hand sanitizer." Sort of the flip side of "the Ugly American."

  4. Congratulations, Diana! I'm so proud of you! As a kid, I always wondered why people lived where they did, when it seemed like they could just live "anywhere else." (This may have had something to do with growing up in Berne, versus my desire to be, you know, anywhere else...) While I understand a little more about the world now, I still so admire those who follow their dreams and strike out on a less conventional, less familiar path -- like you! A colleague at work just got his US citizenship after 13 years, and it was impossible not to think of you as he expressed his gratitude and love for his adopted country (although we celebrated with greasy pizza to fulfill the requisite cheese quota). Thanks for the update. Many, many, happy hugs to you.