Will Tribalism Trump Citizenship? By Louise Annarino,2-22-2013
My Mother’s side of the family is planning our first ever family reunion. That this is happening during a time when I amwrestiliung with the differences between being part of a tribe or being a citizen of a nation indicates the synchronicity which operates throughout the multiverse. What does it mean to be part of a tribe? What does it mean to be a citizen?
My first struggle for identity was between two tribes: my Father’s and my Mother’s. Was I Sicilian like Dad; or,Napolitan like Mom? “Half and half” Mom explained. In our house we referrred to two other larger tribes: our paisans (which included Siciliani,Calabrese, and Napolitani etc.) or “the Americans”.
The American tribe seemed stranger to me than the paisan tribe, and trying to fit into that tribe was quite confusing. For example, when visiting Americani one had to wait one’s turn to speak,slowing down conversation, but creating time for reflection. Portion sizes wer miniscule. I once had dinner at a scholl chum and each person was allotted 1/2 a pork chop. I was starving when I got home and dug out the cold lasagna,because of course we always had left-overs in our over-stuffed fridge. But, my friend’s family had money to attend the symphony,go to the art museum and attend ballet. Mom could sing an aria as well as Maria Callas, or a pop ballad as well as Frank,and we danced around the kitchen together every day. She had won a jitterbug contest at radio City Music Hall at age 16 and music and dance filled our home.
I did not like the sound of English.Italian was much more musical and passionate in its delivery,using hand movements to extend and deepen meaning.English seemed drab. When I asked my Mother to teach English and speak it more often so I could understand the adult conversations of my older extended family better she offered my first instruction in the difference between tribalism and citizenship when she stated, “You are an American now. You will speak English and learn to be an American. I will not tach you Italian.It will not help you become an accepted American;it will only hold you back.”
When I responded that maybe I did want to be an American she strongly set me straight. “It is Ameerica which protects us and gives us a chance to have a decent life, and to live in peace and prosperity. As a woman particularly, I should be greatful to be an American. It is not so easy to be an Italian woman,” she explained. We are lucky to be Americans and living in the best country on earth. Italy was the “old country”;America is our country now. At Thanksgiving, Mom cooked turkey with all the trimmings, plus antipasto, lasagna and garlic bread. At Christmas and Easter we ate ham plus ravioli. Tribally, we were both Sicilian and Napolitan,both Italian and American. As citizens we were all-American.
When I listen to fundamentalist,tea-party,NRA furor I hear tribalism trumping citizenship. When I read about the Taliban, AlQuaeda in the Magreb and other such groups I see tribalism trumping citizenship.Tribalism is a threat to peace, and must be kept in check. The Soviet Union was an horrific and failed effort to reduce tribalism. The United States of America is the wondrous and best example of a successful effort to reduce tribalism. How do we do so? Through our Bill of Rights which covers every single citizen,even though we are still trying to make that a reality in fact. We end tribalism through citizenship. The nation becomes larger and more meaningful to a citizen whose rights and freedoms are protected and preserved, than his allegiance to a tribe, especially one which tramples upon human rights and fails to protect the human rights of every member of the tribe. This is why the Soviet-Union failed, why Al Queade will fail, why any tribe seeking to assert its authority over a nation instead of under a nation is doomed to fail.
Which brings me to immigration reform. We must never approve an immigration policy which focuses on controlling tribes and creating an underclass through work visas, or one which allows women to be denied full freedom. The centerpiece of any sound immigration policy must be a path to citizenship. Do we really want to allow various tribes to live within our borders without citizenship? Do we understand that this would endanger our democracy?
This is a real danger. Tribalism is a threat to those outside the tribe,and often to those within the tribe. The only reason America has been able to peaceably self-govern and overcome the tidal wave of tribes,with all their differences, is through offering full citizenship to those willing to pledge allegiance to our constitution and to our Bill of Rights, which often flies in the face of the tribe’s belief system. For example,The Violence Against Women Act is being opposed by Republicans in part because it affords protection against violence for immigrant women. Do we understand the tribalism which perpetrates such violence, under a veil or not? Do we understand the tribalism among some Republicans which would deny a human right to a woman outside the American tribe? Tribalism is a threat both from tribal Americans and tribal immigrants.
Citizenship carries rights and privileges, but it also demands allegiance to an enlightened set of priciples laid out in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. We can’t haev one without the other.Those who would zealously guard such principles, must also demand such alegiance.However, if they do not offer the rights of citizenship, they cannot demand allegiance to America. For over 200 years we have not invited tribes to settle here;we have invited citizens to settle here. That has kept us safe.That has kept us free.
We cannot understand the importance of immigration policy unless we understand the difference between tribalism and citizenship.