This post centers around a passport that Davidson visiting artist, Tintin Wulia helped me create. My passport reflected the citizenship of Algeria. I will discuss how legal language affects the rights and privileges people are either denied or granted.
Making this passport allowed me reflect on the privileges that having citizenship affords me. As I was working, I listened to the struggles of those who are stateless or have citizenship denied to them. There were stories of Jews who fled Germany during the Holocaust and had their citizenship revoked or the story of this woman whose own children were considered stateless by her home country. This forced me to reflect on my own life, and see how fortunate I am that I have citizenship. All of the rights and immunities that I have just come to expect are not guaranteed to everyone. The artist walked around and she told me that citizenship is like a membership. This makes sense because with citizenship you belong to a country and are entitled to the rights and ideals of the country. In addition to this I realized how different the acquisition of citizenship is country to country. For example, my passport is from Algeria. As recently as early 1996, Algeria only allowed citizenship to transfer from the father not the mother. If the mother is Algerian but the father is not, the child would not have Algerian citizenship. This passport will help me to remember how fortunate I am.
This discussion of passports and the benefits that they afford or deny people is an example of the effects of language through a legal perspective. Passports are defined as an official document issued by a government, certifying the holder’s identity and citizenship and entitling them to travel under its protection to and from foreign countries (Oxford Dictionary). Passports exist to prove that one’s identity is apart of or protected by a government. Thus, passports from differing countries use language to categorize one group of people as different or entitled different benefits than another. For instance, an owner of a Japanese Passport is given much more entitled to travel and exercise free will than an owner of an Algerian Passport. The intriguing part is that if a person once has a Japanese passport and gives it up in favor of an Algerian they lose many rights and freedoms they had under the Japanese passport. Is this person any less human? The person is exactly the same, but legal language used within passports defines that same person as different based on what citizenship they claim.