Born to be raised a person of the world

Updated: 2012-04-10 09:16

By Dinah Chong Watkins (China Daily)

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Like most people from an industrialized nation, I was born in a hospital. Not in the backseat of a taxi nor in the check-out lane of Walmart or even at mid-day at the dim sum house while my parents were throwing back cups of jasmine tea and BBQ pork buns.

Yet, I'm asked more times than I can recall, "Where were you born?" That this is asked not only in China, but in my hometown too, raises the question of why? What is the significance of the place of my birth?

So, is it with suspicion that people give me the third degree as to "where I'm really from when I say I was born in Canada?" What do they honestly want to hear? My husband, who also hails from an industrialized nation, has never been asked that question at a cocktail party. What sets us apart? Only the color of our skin and possibly unspoken insinuations as to where our loyalties actually lie.

Born to be raised a person of the world

In the recent Web spying case that led to the suicide of American Tyler Clementi, Dharun Ravi was found guilty of invasion of privacy. The majority of US news reports described the felon, Ravi, as Indian-born. William Chi-Wai Tsu is under lock and key for illegally shipping to China integrated circuits which could be used in military radar systems. Again, in the news, Tsu was pointedly described as a naturalized US citizen, in other words "born elsewhere and not to be trusted". Even the US President Barack Obama has been dogged with issues surrounding his place of birth, with political opponents stating that he doesn't meet the requirement of a natural-born citizen - I guess someone should tell Hawaii it's no longer welcome as the 50th US state.

Since Adam and Eve begat Caine and Abel, one's birthright has proved to be more than a benign designation. Today, tangible government benefits are intertwined with one's birthright. Jus soli, Latin for "right of the soil" is a right by which nationality or citizenship is recognized to any individual born in the related state. There are 35 nations that follow jus soli, with Canada and the US being the only two industrialized nations to do so. There are no countries in Europe that offer birthright citizenship and only one in Asia - Pakistan.

Currently, Hong Kong hospitals are groaning under the burden of mainland mothers skipping over the border to give birth and receive, in addition to better maternity care, the right to permanent residency in Hong Kong, 12 years of free education, and unlike China passport holders, visa-free travel to many foreign countries.

From the suburbs of Markham, Ontario, to Queens, New York to Tucson, Arizona, birth tourism has turned out to be a money-maker for small mom and pop operations who wheel in watermelon-bellied mothers to the maternity ward and wheel out the "anchor baby" with a foreign passport and a promise in 21 years that the family will be back again - legally.

But is there any other time when you are in less control of your life as when you're born? Yet we attribute our authenticity to the whereabouts of our location at birth. Yes, I am loyal to my country, not only because I was born and raised there, but what it taught me in values, community spirit and how to start every sentence with "sorry" and end it with "eh!"

In the end though, is birthright no more than the luck of the draw? Does the litmus test of our allegiance hinge on a specific time and place? Should we not instead go through an assessment to show our loyalty? Well, in a way we do - once a year, I hear the auditors call it, "not cheating on your taxes".

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