How my citizenship hit me in the gut

One day last month, when I was walking through Oakland on my way to meet a friend in Berkeley, I passed the old Paramount Theater. This is a gorgeous restored Art Deco theater that I had paused to admire every time I’d walked past that week.

daytime view of the Paramount
daytime view of the Paramount Theater in Oakland, CA

That day, though, the theater was open at 8:30 in the morning, and people were streaming in. Instead of continuing by, as I’d done every day before, I stopped and asked what was going on. Apparently, it was a citizenship ceremony: immigrants taking on American citizenship would take part in a ceremony to welcome them to their adopted country.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay to witness the ceremony itself without letting my friend down. I did go inside though, and was able to admire the lobby of the building and soak in the happy atmosphere for a few moments. I snapped a few quick photos.

People were standing around, talking in groups, or slowly making their way into the theater. An usher pointed and called, “New citizens in the theater, families upstairs!”

lobby of the Paramount
The beautiful art deco lobby of the Paramount Theater in Oakland, CA

Suddenly, I found myself choking up, overwhelmed by a rush of sadness. I nearly burst into tears in the middle of that lobby, and hurried for the door into the cooler morning air, trying to suppress the tears threatening to flow. Composing myself, I continued my walk, trying to figure out why I’d had such an upwelling of emotions.

I thought of a conversation I had had with an American in Amsterdam a couple of weeks before. He is the son of immigrants from Peru, and, in this conversation, I had brought up the possibility that I would renounce citizenship (see “Giving Up US Citizenship?” and “Republicans, Expatriates and FATCA” to read why I’m considering giving up citizenship). He pointed out that what he’d learned from his parents was how incredibly fortunate we were to have US citizenship at all.

At the time, I dismissed his comment as sentimental, over-patriotic Americanism, telling myself that my Dutch citizenship was just as fortunate, if not more so.

But now, standing in that lobby, the importance of US citizenship had hit me in the gut. Those people around me were absolutely joyous at receiving it, and had undoubtedly worked hard to get it, and here I was, contemplating giving it up.

nighttime view of the Paramount
a nighttime view of the Paramount Theater

It made me realize that I don’t really want to renounce my citizenship. It would be the most practical—and perhaps the most sensible—thing to do. It would appease my husband, who’s so unhappy about how our personal financial information has to be handed over to the US government under the FATCA regime. Once I finish withdrawing my money from US accounts, it would save me from having to file those onerous and privacy-invasive forms that are now required of expatriates. It would save me the money I’ve been spending to pay an accountant to fill in the forms for me. I could be treated for taxation purposes like everyone else in the world (other than Americans and Eritreans), who pay taxes where they live.

Nevertheless, this emotional attachment I feel to the US goes deeper than I thought. I love the US, despite everything that’s wrong with it, and despite my simultaneous emotional attachment to the Netherlands.

So what should I do? Go with the practical and renounce my citizenship? Or go with the emotional and keep it?

My whole US citizenship series:

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about Rachel

Hi, I’m Rachel!

Rachel’s Ruminations is a travel blog focused on independent travel with an emphasis on cultural and historical sites/sights. I also occasionally write about life as an expatriate. I hope you enjoy what I post here; feel free to leave comments! Read more...

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That sounds really, really harsh. It also sounds illegal to me: is there not a double taxation rule? Why should you be charged twice on your earnings?
I can understand your allegiance to your home country and loving it – it’s natural.
I would hold onto your anger and turn it into something positive though. It sounds to me there is bullying and punishment of Americans who have chosen a life abroad. How dare they leave the ‘land of the Great’!
When your own country punishes you for the lifestyle you’ve chosen to live, don’t bow down to them…you’re not doing anything illegal and in fact, you love your country – but won’t if it continues the way it’s going.
Thanks for sharing this post Rachel. I shall take it up with my American expat friends and see what they have to say. I’m intrigued.

Hello all
I am about to start down the renunciation road with terror in my heart. Like most of you, I don’t really want to do this. I love my country (although it is harder and hared to do) but I am fed up to the teeth with the tax situation. Recently I invested some money in the UK in what I thought was a safe and smart way to safeguard my future and that of my family. And hey presto! This year I had to pay a whack of tax not of the benefit of having any cash gain but simply because the value of my “US unfriendly” investments. I don’t even invest it- it gets done for me by the firm. I’ve lived in the UK 40 years. I\ve waited for the gut dread to hit….. but it hasn’t. Now I fear for my children. Again, in good faith we registered them as births abroad. They have US passports but they’ve never filed all the crap paperwork and aren’t about tp start now. I fear one day Uncle Sam will come after them. Never in my life did I ever think I’d feel scared and targeted by my birth country. I’m sooooo angry. And I’m soon mad. I feel complete let down by the US Government and I’s pretty sure I’m going to wave them goodbye as soon as I can arrange it.

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