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3 questions to ask yourself about US citizenship

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    Four years after arriving
    in the United States,
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    like any typical 16-year old,
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    I went to get my driver's permit.
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    After I showed the clerk
    my immigration papers, my green card,
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    she told me it was fake.
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    "Don't come back here again," she said.
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    That's how I found out
    I was in America illegally.
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    And I'm still here illegally.
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    I'm a journalist and filmmaker.
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    I live in stories,
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    and what I've learned
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    that what most people
    don't understand about immigration
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    is what they don't understand
    about themselves:
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    their families' old migration stories
    and the processes they had to go through
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    before green cards and walls even existed,
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    or what shaped their understanding
    of citizenship itself.
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    I was born in the Philippines.
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    When I was 12, my mother sent me
    to live with her parents,
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    my grandparents,
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    or, as we say in Tagalog, Lolo and Lola.
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    Lolo's name was ??.
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    When he legally emigrated to America
    and became a naturalized citizen,
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    he changed his name
    from ?? to Ted,
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    after Ted Danson
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    from the TV show "Cheers."
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    Can't get any more American than that.
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    Lolo's favorite song
    was Frank Sinatra's "My Way,"
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    and when it came to figuring out
    how to get his only grandson, me,
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    to America,
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    he decided to do it his way.
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    According to Lolo, there was no easy
    and simple way to get me here,
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    so Lolo saved up 4,500 dollars --
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    that's a lot of money for a security guard
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    who made no more than
    eight dollars an hour --
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    to pay for the fake green card
    and for a smuggler
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    to bring me to the US.
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    So that's how I got here.
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    I can't tell you how many times
    people tell me that their ancestors
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    came to America "the right way,"
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    to which I remind them,
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    America's definition of "the right way"
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    has been changing ever since
    the first ship of settlers dropped anchor.
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    America as we know it
    is more than a piece of land,
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    particularly because the land that now
    makes up the United States of America
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    used to belong to other people
    in other countries.
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    America as we know it is also
    more than a nation of immigrants.
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    There are two groups of Americans
    who are not immigrants:
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    Native Americans, who were
    indigenous to this land,
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    and who were killed in acts of genocide;
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    and African Americans,
    who were kidnapped, shipped, and enslaved
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    to build this country.
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    America is above all an idea,
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    however unrealized and imperfect,
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    one that only exists because
    the first settlers came here freely
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    without worry of citizenship.
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    So where did you come from?
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    How did you get here?
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    Who paid?
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    All across America,
    in front of diverse audiences --
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    conservatives and progressives,
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    high school students
    and senior citizens --
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    I've asked those questions.
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    As a person of color,
    I always get asked where I'm from,
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    as in, "Where are you from from?"
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    So I've asked white people
    where they're from from too.
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    After asking a student
    at the University of Georgia
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    where he was from,
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    he said, "I'm American."
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    "I know," I said,
    "but where are you from?"
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    "I'm white," he replied.
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    "But white is not a country," I said.
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    "Where are your ancestors from?"
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    When he replied with a shrug,
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    I said,
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    "Well where did you come from?
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    How did you get here? Who paid?"
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    He couldn't answer.
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    I don't think you can talk
    about America as America
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    without answering those
    three core questions.
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    Immigration is America's lifeline,
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    how this country has
    replenished itself for centuries,
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    from the settlers and the revolutionaries
    who populated the original 13 colonies
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    to the millions of immigrants,
    predominantly from Europe,
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    who relentlessly colonized this land.
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    Even though Native Americans
    were already here
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    and had their own tribal identities
    and ideas about citizenship,
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    they were not considered US citizens
    until the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act.
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    The landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act
    that Black Americans fought for
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    inspired the 1965
    Immigration and Nationality Act,
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    which ended America's
    race-based exclusionary system
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    that had lasted for 40 years.
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    I could go on and on here,
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    but my point, my larger point, is this.
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    How much do any of us,
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    whether immigrants
    of the past or the present,
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    know of these crucial parts
    of American history?
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    How much of this history makes up
    the actual US citizenship test?
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    Have you ever seen it?
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    It's a mostly oral test,
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    and government officers ask applicants
    up to 10 of the 100 questions.
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    To pass, applicants must get
    at least six answers right.
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    I looked at the test recently,
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    and I was aghast at the questions posed,
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    what constitutes acceptable answers
    to the glaring omissions.
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    There's a question about
    the Statue of Liberty, where it is.
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    There's no question about Ellis Island,
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    about the United States
    as an immigrant nation,
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    and the countless anti-immigrant
    laws that were passed.
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    There's nothing about
    Native American history.
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    There's a question about
    what Martin Luther King, Jr. did,
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    but largely there's inadequate
    and irresponsible contexts
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    about African Americans.
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    Here's an example.
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    Question number 74
    under the American history section
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    asks applicants to "name one problem
    that led to the Civil War."
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    There are three acceptable answers:
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    slavery,
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    states rights,
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    economic reasons.
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    Did my Lola and Lolo get that question?
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    If they did get the question,
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    do they even understand
    the history behind it?
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    How about my uncles
    and aunties and cousins
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    and millions of other immigrants
    who had to take that test
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    to become Americans.
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    What do immigrants know
    about America before we get here?
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    What kind of citizenship
    are we applying for?
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    And is that the same kind of citizenship
    we actually want to be a part of?
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    Come to think of it --
    I've been thinking a lot about this --
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    what does dignified citizenship look like?
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    How can I ask for it when I
    just arrived here 26 years ago,
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    when Black and Native people
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    who have been here in America
    for hundreds of years
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    are still waiting for theirs?
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    One of my favorite writers
    is Toni Morrison.
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    In 1996, a year before I found out
    I was in the country illegally,
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    my eighth grade class was assigned
    to read "The Bluest Eye,"
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    Morrison's first book.
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    Instantly, the book challenged me
    to ask hard questions.
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    Why does Pecola Breedlove,
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    this young Black girl
    at the center of the book,
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    why did she want blue eyes?
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    Who told her to want it?
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    Why did she believe them?
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    Morrison said she wrote the book
    to illustrate what happens
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    when a person surrenders
    to what she called "the master narrative."
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    Definitions, Morrison said,
    belonged to the definers, not the defined.
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    Once I realized that I was here illegally,
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    I convinced myself that if I was not
    a legal citizen by birth or by law,
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    another kind of citizenship was possible.
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    Citizenship as participation.
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    I engage.
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    I engage with all kinds of Americans,
    even Americans who don't want me here.
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    Citizenship as contribution.
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    I give back to my community
    in whatever ways I can.
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    As an undocumented entrepreneur,
    and yes there is such a thing,
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    I've employed many US citizens.
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    Citizenship as education.
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    We can't wait for others
    to educate us about the past
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    and how we got to this present.
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    We have to educate
    ourselves and our circles.
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    Citizenship as something
    greater than myself.
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    We are, I think,
    individually and collectively,
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    rewriting the master narrative of America.
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    The people who were once defined
    are now doing the defining.
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    They're asking the questions
    that need to be asked.
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    A core part of that redefinition
    is how we define
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    not only who is an American
    but what constitute citizenship.
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    Which, to me, is our
    responsibility to each other.
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    So consider your own personal narrative
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    and ask yourself,
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    where did you come from?
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    How did you get here?
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    Who paid?
Title:
3 questions to ask yourself about US citizenship
Speaker:
Jose Antonio Vargas
Description:

more » « less
Video Language:
English
Team:
TED
Project:
TEDTalks
Duration:
08:48
  • It seems to me that the speaker says "believe" and not "live" below:

    0:24.64
    I live in stories.

English subtitles

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