Fuzzy allegiances

The topic of the American Pledge of Allegiance came up in my Ethnicity and Identity paper recently during a great lecture by visiting Prof. Paul Spoonley in relation to immigration and how it looks different in New Zealand compared to many other parts of the world.

In New Zealand residents get many of the same rights as citizens, including the right to vote, while having the ability to stay somewhat apart from the national system of shared culture and beliefs if they so wish. The contrast was drawn with the U.S. where citizenship is the expectation of most immigrants to the country, where a national identity is all but forced upon would be citizens.

I actually recited the pledge for the class, (I wrote it out first to make sure I remembered it from my childhood indoctrination), and I noticed something I’d never considered before.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America,

and to the country for which it stands,

one nation, under God, indivisible,

with liberty and justice for all.”

What jumped out at me this time was the “one nation…indivisible” verbiage. In a time of transmigrants, multi-culturalism, multi-ethnicity, and dual citizenship is nationhood at all fixed? Is it likely or even possible for the U.S. to maintain one indivisible nation under a flag representing the country/state?

It feels like the pledge assumes a “nation-state,” not a nation(s) within a state.

One tactic is to preserve the one nation-state under a god. The “God” line has long been debated as a contentious issue and has been the primary reason some parents in the U.S. have told local primary school boards, the propagators of this particular piece of our national identity, that their child will not be required to say the pledge every morning before the start of the school day. Schools require the child be present, but allow them to stay seated, not place their hand on their heart, and refrain from saying the pledge.

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2 comments on “Fuzzy allegiances

  1. henning says:

    Interesting point, Ryan. You say that citizenship is the expectation of most immigrants. Why, do you think, is that so? The U.S. allows double citizenship, that certainly helps it. I just had a look at the rights and responsibilities of U.S. permanent residents, who might be able to vote in local or state, but not federal elections. Other than that, depending on your job you might benefit from U.S. citizenship, but what else are the tangible benefits? Do permanent residents also have to pledge allegiance to the flag? Certainly in the army, where many of them serve, they have to. Interestingly, immigrants can speed up the process to become citizens by serving in the army. Dubya signed an executive order in July 2002 allowing immigrants with green cards to become U.S. citizens as soon as they are sworn in.1 Handy, that!

    The notion of “one nation […] indivisible” seems a hard one to support, though. John Fogerty put it this way:

    “Some folks are born to wave the flag,
    Ooh, they’re red, white and blue.
    And when the band plays “Hail to the chief”,
    Ooh, they point the cannon at you, Lord”

    1 Immigrants become US citizens quickly through military service, online at http://www.workpermit.com/news/2006_10_18/us/military_service_citizenship.htm

  2. ryankf says:

    If one is willing to fight, kill and die for a flag i think that qualifies them for citizenship, so i agree with that one.
    This makes me think of the various nations in the US and what has happened to them. The Lakota, Sioux, Cherokee, Navajo, Apache, et al. – in a true sense of the word nations of America.
    The black community in the 1960s, the Jewish community in the 1950s, the Japanese community in the 1940s, the Chinese community in the late 19th c., German/Italian/Irish immigrants in the mid-1900s, all immigrant communities, but not nations as such, yet they had influence.
    Today all what remains are just Americans, one nation under God. In the American case, resistance really is futile.

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