Citizenship


I'm Elise and I'm American.
My brother in-law is Robert, he is Rwandan.
My friend Dominique, she's Canadian.
The precious girl I sponsor is Natasha, she is Zambian. 


Simple enough to say, right?


I've been working on this thesis thing of mine a lot lately. And in short, it has required me to tediously pour through the data I collected this summer in Nepal; reading, coding, and analyzing the life stories of Bhutanese Refugees. On a public blog like this, I cannot share much about their personal stories. But I'll share this: 


One concept that I really wrestled with as I got to know them, their lives, and their stories,

Was that of Belonging.

To Someone
To Something
To Some Place.


The ability to say, "I'm ____ and I'm [enter nationality].

These refugees were forced by violent means to leave their country, Bhutan. Stripped of their citizenship. Abandoned. Abused. Discriminated Against.

They've been living as refugees for twenty years in the Southeast of Nepal. Where, while they are provided their most basic necessities by various organizations, they are unwanted by Nepal and refused citizenship by the Nepali government. They share a language. A culture. Even a history with Nepal. But, they cannot be Nepali. They also can't repatriate in Bhutan because the Bhutanese government refuses them. They literally are just stuck. And they have been for 20 years. Just living in refugee camps. 


For 20 years.


But now, the camps are closing down. Within a few short years, all of the camps will be done, and the refugees are being resettled to six different Western countries.  Unlike the transition from Bhutan to Nepal, they will share few commonalities with their new countries. Not culture. Not history. And for many, not even language.

But there is one thing that this new country has to offer them that many of them have never had: Citizenship.

A sense of belonging.
But also, just actual, belonging.

Again and again we heard them speak of citizenship. Being allowed to stay somewhere permanently. Being accepted by a place, and allowed to make that place their home. Being legal to work for the first time in their lives.

Can you even imagine that?


Being a citizen of nowhere?


No country by which you can legally identify yourself?


To just be waiting, for 20 years, for a chance to someday become a citizen again. Somewhere. Anywhere. Even in a place that you have nothing in common with and have never been. Because it means that you no longer have to wear 


the tag of "refugee." 


I'd never really thought about what it would be like either, until I began to get to know the Bhutanese. I never really thought about the fact that simply being a citizen is not a given, not for everyone. Which makes me wonder, 


How many things really are givens? 


There must be far fewer than I even realized.


My eyes are constantly being opened.






I'm Elise and I am American. And that's something. 








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