Beans & Rice for the Soul

teaching, learning and living around the world

Passports, Privilege & Presidential Eligibility

I was born in the United States and both of my parents are American citizens.  My husband was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and both of his parents are Italian citizens.   I often wonder, what will that mean for our future children?


Like any parent, I want our children to have all of the same privileges and opportunities as we have, regardless of where we happened to be when they’re born.

A lot of people have been talking about presidential eligibility and the meaning of natural born citizen.  The Texas lawyer suing Ted Cruz claims that his eligibility should be questioned because he was born in Canada.  I’ve heard people applaud the idea that in order to be considered a “natural born citizen” you have to be born in the United States or even that BOTH of your parents should be American.

It sure does hurt to think that anyone should deem my future children ineligible to run for President just because they weren’t born in the United States or because my husband isn’t American.  That would make me feel like I was being punished for using my passport. Punished for marrying outside my nationality.

Is it really necessary to seek further clarity on this?  I don’t think so.

The Harvard Law Review’s “On the Meaning of Natural Born Citizen” offers a pretty substantial and well cited explanation of the interpretation of the phrase since the founding until today. The article concludes,

Fortunately, the Constitution is refreshingly clear on these eligibility issues. To serve, an individual must be at least thirty-five years old and a “natural born Citizen.” Thirty-four and a half is not enough and, for better or worse, a naturalized citizen cannot serve. But as Congress has recognized since the Founding, a person born abroad to a U.S. citizen parent is generally a U.S. citizen from birth with no need for naturalization. And the phrase “natural born Citizen” in the Constitution encompasses all such citizens from birth. Thus, an individual born to a U.S. citizen parent — whether in California or Canada or the Canal Zone — is a U.S. citizen from birth and is fully eligible to serve as President if the people so choose.

The whole thing made me think a lot about how much I cling to my privilege and want it extended to my future kids no matter what, end of story, period.  I want them to be just as entitled as I am to live in this country, vote, have an American passport, and run for president if they so choose.


Then I thought about how strange it is that an arbitrary thing like where you’re born… carries so much weight, so much power.

This fantastic Freakonomics podcast, “Is Migration a Basic Human Right,” hit on every single one of my extended thoughts on this whole privilege and presidential eligibility thing.

I’ve driven across the entire United States AND the entire European Union.
That travel made me feel free. And powerful. Like I could go anywhere.
But isn’t it strange that I can so freely travel those large stretches but not others?
I think so.

Isn’t it even stranger that so many other humans on this planet can’t even access those large stretches?  I have to wonder- why me?

It’s been eerie reading about the refuge crisis on the Turkey-Greece border in Ipsala.  A border that when we crossed I was sent off to get my entire car X-rayed while Anga talked to a Syrian refugee in the bathroom and Peesta guarded all of our belongings which were dumped onto the sidewalk.

We all passed freely. But you have to wonder- why us? We weren’t even trying to get away from anything!  What a privilege it is to just… travel!  And to know you’re going back home at the end. To know that you’re not running away from a dangerous place, you’re simply exploring what else is out there to ‘expand your horizons.’


When I think about that adventure on its own and only in the context of my own life and my own privilege… it’s just another travel story.  But the more I think about that Syrian refugee in the bathroom…

It (our privilege)
becomes absurd.
And just kind of heart breaking.

The more borders that I cross, the more difficult it is for me to understand why some people are so afraid of immigrants and immigration.

Xenophobia and racism go hand in hand.

I love how this guy who created the first Slavery Museum in the United States says,

You’ve got two sides. Blacks are screaming prejudice to the white side. And the white side is saying, why can’t they just get over it? But the white people don’t even know what the ‘it’ is.

Unless you know what the ‘it’ is, don’t ask the question.”

Man, that really is a great way to also describe ugly Americans abroad. It’s simply Americans who don’t know what the ‘it’ is. They’ve got no sense of their privilege and most definitely no sense of how arbitrary their privilege is.

When I lived in Brussels, a few of my colleagues were exploring the idea of global citizenship.  And the question came up of whether or not being a global citizen required travel experience.

Could you be a global citizen if you’d never traveled?
Just because you’ve traveled, does that make you a global citizen?

In the end, it has nothing to do with travel
and everything to do with understanding the ‘it.’

Here’s a great example of how travel or even working in a diverse environment… doesn’t mean that you understand the ‘it.’

Yesterday on Facebook one of my former students shared this photo:


I was appalled to see that a much older white man had commented “Why do you have to say BLACK is beautiful? Why can’t you just say BEAUTIFUL? Same effect, right?”

He went on to say, “So black women are willing to commit the “sin” of racism just as they accuse others of doing? If you’re willing to use racism to feel self-empowered, well, there’s nothing to stop you.”

And do you want to know the WORST part?  His final comment was, “Hopefully you understand why I, as an international teacher of multi-racial kids, reacted to this. : )”

It just horrifies me, absolutely horrifies me to think about teachers, history teachers especially, who don’t even TRY to understand the ‘it.’

People who fear immigrants don’t understand the ‘it.’
People who fear presidential candidates not born in the United States don’t understand the ‘it.’
People who think that they are above even so much as talking about race, don’t understand the ‘it.’
Jimmy Kimmel sure doesn’t understand the ‘it.’

You know who gets the it?
Madeleine Albright.

She has a great story,
a solid perspective on immigration
and a deep understanding of the ‘it.’

I am drawn to people who get ‘it.’


4 comments on “Passports, Privilege & Presidential Eligibility

  1. Anga
    January 21, 2016

    Love “it”!

  2. Sara Rich
    January 22, 2016

    A former colleague of mine sent me a great response this morning:

    I read your post on privilege and passports and it resonates loudly with me. Good on you for writing about the privilege of not just what we happen to look like when we are born, but also our passport.

    This has been well illustrated for me by my boyfriend who is Colombian and not of Spanish descent.

    His is not well received, let me tell you! I’ve never seen such cultural prejudice as when he says, “I’m Colombian”. Number 1 voiced thought by 99 out of 100 people is: cocaine. Number 2 is: Cartel. Number 3 is: illegal activity of some other sort. Number 4 is: guns or para – military. And the list goes on. Nobody wants a Colombian entering their country nor is he trusted, even by our acquaintances–the Colombian cocaine, cartel, etc jokes never end.

    But he stoically bears the prejudice and tries to champion the salsa dancing and the lyrical poetic language they use as small efforts to improve his country’s tarnished image. But the prejudice is intense and he accepts that no one trusts him. This is not a problem I have with my passport…

    But on a different note, I wanted to mention the black is beautiful issue. I was recently part of a group exploring the politics of self-hate amongst African women. These ladies were decrying how the media in Africa promotes light skinned black women as beautiful when here in tanzania there are only those with Omani/Zanzibari descent who are lighter skinned. Otherwise TZ women have a much darker skin colour in general and I’ve now really begun to notice how true it is that the media here almost exclusively uses models who have light skin or photoshops them to be lighter. And in fact, when I first saw the picture in your posting (before I’d read the words below the picture), I imagined these TZ ladies saying, “Why aren’t there any dark skinned ladies in a ‘black is beautiful’ advert?” And they have a point, I was talking with two Black American friends of mine (both light skinned in comparison to Tanzanians) and they say they are regularly bombarded with questions about what products they used to bleach their skin.

    Anyway, clearly, your writing got me thinking this morning. Thanks for sharing it! And it made me remember that years ago I wrote a story about a trade out programme where we could trade our passports for a five or ten year time and allow someone else to go to the US or Europe or Japan in our place and we live elsewhere for that time. In my story it all went tremendously awry because people from the tropics decided to act like colonialists in the end and take what they liked and not play by the rules. Ah, yes, i enjoyed writing that story!! Karma!

    But I would consider trading out my passport, I really would. If I could be guaranteed a place to live and retire and own land and run a business, I would accept a different or even multiple nationalities. I would LOVE a global passport but alas, this idea is ahead of its time when so few people have actually ever even left their country and such ridiculous ignorance and fear run amok. But a passport trade out programme, I’m ready!

    All the best to you and look forward to reading more.

  3. monicaclear
    February 5, 2016

    Great post, Sara. Echoes of thoughts in my mind, articulated with clarity and spunk, as always.

    Today I thought of your post while sitting in the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, to apply for a renewed passport. The room was full of many different types of people, there for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was to obtain a visa to travel to the US as a foreigner. For some odd reason (or maybe not?), only one of the consulate booths was designed without a door, and therefore without privacy. Every individual called to that booth was a foreigner trying for a visa. And because of the design, every individual in the room couldn’t help but hear the questioning that went on.

    I heard:

    “How do you expect us to let you into the United States if you don’t speak English?”

    “Why did you choose the school to study in the same city your Mom happens to live?”

    “Shouldn’t the quality of the education matter more than the location?”

    “Congratulations, your visa has been approved. Have a good trip”

    “Your visa application has been denied. Here’s a letter explaining why”.

    I don’t begrudge the Consulate staff that has to makes those decisions, and I certainly don’t doubt that fishing for fraud is a necessity, but I truly felt the arbitrary nature of it all.

    And the privilege of my little blue book.

    Keep up the thoughtful posts!

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This entry was posted on January 21, 2016 by in Uncategorized.
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