Cultural Nationality vs. Nationality and Citizenship

One of my best friends was born in Russia but came to the United States at a very young age.  She was raised in the United States, speaks English like a native speaker, attended and graduated from both American school and university and is now married to an American.  She celebrates Thanksgiving, Christmas and all the other US holidays.  The only thing about her that isn’t American is her passport: her citizenship.

According to this definition, both her nationality and her citizenship are Russian.  But what about her cultural nationality?  If you were to meet her on the street, you would think she is American.  She studied Russian at university and understands quite a bit more about Russia than the average American.  But if she were to go to Russia, she would more than likely be recognized as a foreigner, no matter what her passport says.

Now my friend has a younger sister who is about to finish university.  She’s in almost the exact same situation.  She holds a Russian passport but that’s where her ties to Russia ends.  She doesn’t speak Russian and, to my knowledge, has never studied anything Russian culture and considers herself an American.  Her cultural nationality is American.

While visiting my friend we began discussing her sister’s situation.  While she’s a student, she is allowed to remain in the United States.  But unless she continues to graduate school, finds a job and gets a work visa, or marries, she may have to return to Russia.

I’m not aware of all the details of her situation but I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like.  For her, her cultural nationality is American.  She has no ties to another country.  What would it be like for her if she had to return “home” to a place that she may not even have a memory of?  What would you do if your entire experience was of another country and then had to return to a place where you didn’t speak the language or understand the culture?

So I started thinking of cultural nationality.  No matter what your passport says or where your citizenship lies, cultural nationality is a strong force.  It’s also possible for the opposite situation to be true.  For example, someone immigrates to the United States, becomes a US citizen, but their cultural nationality still belongs to their home country.  No matter where they live, they haven’t adapted to the new culture and don’t feel like this is their home.

Is cultural nationality valid?  Can one indeed belong to one nationality but have a different cultural nationality, no matter what their citizenship?  Should cultural nationality be taken into account when deciding upon cases like my friend’s sister?  Should she be granted citizenship because she is practically an American citizen?

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2 Responses to Cultural Nationality vs. Nationality and Citizenship

  1. Robert MacDonald says:

    Hi Jo Ann,

    Cultural nationality is a valid concept for me. Sometimes it is a little blurred, but without a doubt I am an American.

    My mom had her citizenship derived at 18 (1928) as her parents by then were ‘naturalized’ Americans. Looks like your friend’s parents didn’t become citizens. She needs to invest time and money with a good immigration lawyer to solve this before the INS starts harassing her.

    I read all your posts and much appreciate your intelligence and enthusiasm!

    Rob

    • JMS says:

      I agree, cultural nationality is valid and can definitely be blurred. I’d say I’m mostly an American because now I’ve adopted some customs that I feel aren’t American so I don’t fit in 100% in America so maybe I’ve got dual cultural nationality!

      You’re right, their parents aren’t citizens but they still live and work in the US. Hopefully everything will work out for her though because I can’t imagine being forced to leave my home country.

      Thanks for your comment and compliments! I read all your posts too and enjoy them as well!

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