In attempting to convey the significance of Obama’s victory Tom Brokaw stated: “There is a re-enlistment of citizenship in this country.” Indeed, the meaning of “citizenship” is–and was–a theme underlying these elections, even though neither candidate articulated a clear definition of this concept. From our anthropological perspective, one of the most important moments in the election occurred when Obama reflected, during a debate, on the way in which President Bush lost an important opportunity after 9/11 by responding to the heartfelt desire of citizens to aid and serve their country: he encouraged U.S. citizens to shop–to be consumers.
Anthropologists pay attention to the ways in which our society privileges consumerism as an act of citizenship. Indeed, you can read a wonderful set of literature on how consumerism imbricates itself into every level of our social experience, and some argue, at the expense of broader and more meaningful citizenship practices. Latino/a scholars are at the forefront of theorizing citizenship not only as a set of legal rights but as a mode of civic participation that generates a sense of belonging and accomplishment. This model of “cultural citizenship” sees cultural difference not as a threat but as reinforcing the social fabric since it both affirms core democratic values and articulates respect for heterogeneity. The Rio Grande Valley, with its heightened sense of patriotism and pride in Texas-Mexican hybrid culture, exemplifies these complex interactions between citizenship, belonging and culture.
Over the last two months, we (Miguel Diaz-Barriga and Margaret Dorsey) have interviewed residents throughout the RGV about what it means to be a citizen.
We have heard from many about service in the military, willingness to sacrifice, the importance of being a hard and good worker, respect for rules and helping one’s community. We have engaged in in-depth discussions about the need to return to the ideals of our founders, the moral imperative of voting and the need for greater accountability in government. While it is too early for us to analyze these results, we welcome your comments on what it means to be a citizen of the United States.