Up until about a week ago, my son was state-less. While he had a birth certificate, he had no documentation proving either Chinese or American citizenship. This was due partially to negligence and partially to foolishness, as I assumed getting my son’s American passport would be a huge hassle. Granted, I had my reasons for this misguided belief, since the forms on the embassy website basically say you have to bring physical evidence that you lived in America for over 5 consecutive years, at least 2 of which had to be over the age of 14.
If you’d lived in America for all of about 23 years, give or take a week here and there, it seems like this would not be a huge problem. But it was! I had surprisingly little proof of my life in America lying around in Beijing, but I had a solution, or so I thought. I asked my parents, who, as you may recall, came and visited in July, to bring over some documents. I was told that transcripts from school would work, so I asked them to go over to my old high school and procure my transcripts, and bring anything else they thought might help. Surely, I thought, this would be easy with my parents helping.
Except again, it wasn’t. My parents brought over a truly unique assortment of “documents,” such as my high school honor roll certificate, a letter stating I’d been admitted to a creative writing program, my financial aid receipts, vaccination records, and even a middle school report card. These had dates, some of them even had addresses, but none of them proved I’d lived in America for five straight years. I knew my parents had meant well, but I was worried that the documents they’d brought would prove useless.
And so I procrastinated. In the middle of moving and changing jobs, it was also hard to find a weekday afternoon free. Finally, it was my husband who put his foot down and said that our son couldn’t just go stateless forever, and that we had to do something. And so I made an appointment with the embassy to apply for his passport. I figured that if the documents I had weren’t good enough, then at the very least the embassy would be able to point me in the right direction and let me know exactly what more I needed.
So last Wednesday we went to the embassy, the day before Thanksgiving, which I think had the officers in good spirits. It took us ages to find the embassy (which, I know right? How can an embassy be so freaking hard to find? But it took us about a half an hour of driving in circles because the thing had moved earlier in the year and damned if we couldn’t find the new one), and we were afraid we’d missed our appointment. Luckily they let us in, and things went pretty smoothly from there on out. Our photos were too small, but my husband was able to take Dylan to a place across the street and get new ones made while I worked on the paperwork. I was a bit worried that my husband would be mistaken for one of the hundreds of Chinese citizens lined up outside the embassy waiting for visas to the States, but apparently our son was pretty good proof otherwise and he was allowed back in the embassy, proper pictures in hand.
Although everything had been going smoothly, the real moment of truth was yet to come. The consular officer called us into a small room for the interview. This was where I would be asked to sign my affadavit of physical presence in the US, and present my “proof.” Except I wasn’t. I signed the documents. The officer mildly chided me for having waited so long, but I explained that I’d lived in Kunming, which was far from Beijing, and that frankly I’d had some trouble with the documents. She nodded, and then asked me whether I grew up in Georgia, where I was born, and where I went to high school. I’m sure these questions were probably part of some sort of a test. Maybe if I had faltered on the answers, she might have asked for that proof, but instead she didn’t. Instead, she wished me a happy Thanksgiving and said I would be notified by e-mail when my son’s passport was ready. My folder full of documents never left my bag.
As I left the embassy I wondered if I’d just experienced some form of white privilege. If I hadn’t looked so American, if I’d spoken with a “foreign” accent, might things had gone differently? Frankly, at that point I was simply relieved that things went so easily, although if I had known it was that easy I would have applied for Dylan’s passport sooner. Although as a one-year-old he hasn’t needed photo ID so far, I figure it is good to have a nationality, and this is at least one less thing to worry about should we decide to go back to America at any point. So whether it was white privilege or the Thanksgiving spirit that made it possible, my son is no longer stateless, and is the proud owner of a blue passport. I’m sure it’ll come in handy someday!