Out of Many, One People: Race, Naturalization, and the Manufacturing of American Citizens
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Naturalization is the state-mandated process that confers citizenship to foreign born individuals incorporating them as members of the national family. Though studies often examine the meaning of the legal status, rights, and participatory dimensions of citizenship, fewer work has examined belonging as a vehicle for nation-building and naturalized citizens as adopted members of the nation. This project explores these ideas through interviews with black naturalized West Indians and a content analysis of primary documents produced by government bureaucracies given power over the naturalization process. While I find that my respondents express pride at acquiring citizenship, they are also a specific citizen subject: a citizen who does not unequivocally feel they belong. I argue that this sense of belonging is influenced by the failure of the formal naturalization process to address how to inculcate a deeper emotional attachment to the nation. It is also the result of an informal racial naturalization process where the meaning of a black American national identity becomes clear through everyday experiences that contradict core values of American democracy. Despite this perception of national belonging, these individuals are nevertheless exemplars of the State’s ideal desired naturalized citizens. As such I demonstrate how they can be positively valorized in comparison to African Americans because they employ alternative forms of capital in the attempt to escape the stigma of blackness. Black immigrants may occupy a slightly higher status to African Americans in a field of racial positions as a result of this valorization. However, both groups are still relegated to a second class citizenship option for belonging and a shared branch in the national family tree. By examining how new Americans are manufactured, in particular the black naturalized citizen, this dissertation re-imagines an age old migration question—out of many, how do we create one? I conclude with the suggestion that the potential of belonging as a nation-building tool could be better realized by considering the answer to another more provocative version of the same question. Why do ‘we’ want to become one out of many anyway?
Subjectcitizenship, naturalization, race, immigration, black immigrants