Becoming a Global Citizen: Building a Sense of Belonging
Updated: Jun 1
One of our very own Hardcover Hotties admin shares their perspective on citizenship and shares some helpful tips to help motivated readers build a holistic perspective on belonging and intercultural understandings.
“Conditional citizenship is characterized
by the burden of having to educate
white Americans about all the ways
in which one is different from them.”
Laila Lalami, Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America
The concept of citizenship, and pride in one’s citizenship, has been ingrained in us all from an early age. Every morning across the United States, each school day begins with fidgeting fingers placed on the chest’s of children as they recite allegiance to a country that they have yet to fully be acquainted with. I can immediately recall the pride I held in my American citizenship as my parents assured me that this would be the saving grace of our family of immigrants and for generations to come. I grew up in a community primarily comprised of migrants of all sorts: Mexican immigrants who proudly made made the voyage to the sister city of Durango, Mexico residing a mere half hour from the city of Chicago, Vietnamese immigrants who established long standing businesses that would enrich our neighborhood, Polish immigrants who prospered on familial networks largely based in religion, Central American immigrants who were promptly clumped in the category of “Mexican” but fought for their own spaces that honored the distinct makeup of their culture, and many more. Consequently, even as children, the concept of citizenship was readily discussed. It was commonplace for lunch table discussion to shift from after school plans to the sharing of court dates that would determine the future of their caretaker’s ability to remain in the U.S. Ultimately, citizenship was viewed as a gift naturally endowed to most of us, one that we must honor to make the sacrifices our parents made “worth it”. For those who were yet to reach the promise of citizenship, it was something that demanded a complete submission to the values and work ethic that would deem them “worthy” of calling themselves a U.S. citizen - even then it was often a promise that held no guarantee. A fine balance of “worth it” and “worthy” that carried us into adulthood.
In Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America, Laila Lalami argues that there exists an entire class of people who have been pushed to the margins of society due to their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or ties to another country. These markers of identity leave masses of people living in the United States ineligible for the full benefits of citizenship, and as a result, largely unprotected. Currently, there is a widely held presumption of a monolithic American culture, one that centers the experiences of White Americans. This means that marginalized people are expected to put in the work to assimilate, often through dress, language, mannerisms, or media consumption to fit in the mainstream "American" culture.
I remember sitting at the dining table with my father as he asked me to write out the Spanish translations of lyrics to songs by The Beatles and Neil Diamond, insisting that this would help him better relate to his landscaping clients. Years later, my high school psychology teacher would stand before me in disbelief that I knew who Neil Diamond was. The same teacher would later admit to the classroom that he didn’t fully understand what it meant to be a White teacher at a predominantly Latinx school until a couple years into his role where he learned what a tamale was and the cultural importance of a quinceañera. Yet, this distinction in the effort towards understanding other cultures is easily summarized by Lalami: Assimilation is primarily about power. Oftentimes, White Americans aren’t expected to put in the same level of work to understand the world around them because every system they are a part of affirms their position as a privileged member or society. However, this disconnect fuels the microaggressions that marginalized individuals are burdened with daily.
Taking from the final essay of Lalami’s work… Do not despair of this country! There is still hope, which for us as proud Hardcover Hotties is rooted in education. Education born out of the love for the U.S.? Not necessarily… Our community yearns to create citizens of the world that are adept to navigate any space with the utmost respect for the diversity of cultures and ideas that exist beyond our immediate circles. Here, I hope to share some steps that I have taken personally to align myself with the goal of becoming a citizen of the world.
Of course, this is where the journey begins! All literary genres have much to offer to their readers, moreso when these are rooted in a narrative different from one’s own. Unfortunately, many of the titles that make up the literary canon that schools pull their assigned readings from center stories of those who hold the most power at a given time period. Thus, it is crucial that we take the steps to branch out and explore books that draw your attention towards themes that you might not be familiar with. Learning more about a culture may at first glance seem like a task that requires careful consideration. In many ways, this thought holds ample truth which is why books serve as a powerful medium that allows a reader to build a level of intimacy with the author who so graciously took from their lived experiences and countless hours of research to educate others. Embrace this attempt to further cultural knowledge by checking out the select titles below:
With recent films such as Everything Everywhere All At Once receiving highly deserved praise from entertainment media and sweeping the Oscars with awards ranging from best picture to best actress (a category which Michelle Yeoh rightfully took over, becoming the second woman of color to do so following the beautifully talented Halle Berry almost two decades ago), it’s clear that movies hold the power to move audiences across a global scale. Cinema exists as an entrancing form of mass communication which has only become more accessible throughout the years with closed captioning of films that at one point could only reach neighboring towns, and movie theaters who offer the merited accommodations of hearing and visual aids. The first step into the world of global cinema can definitely feel overwhelming, but luckily movie connoisseurs have taken it upon themselves to curate selected titles containing themes meant to be carried beyond borders like Mubi’s Cinema of the World: A film From Every Country On The Planet, available for your reference! Here are some of my selections I’ve come to know and love:
From its inception, music was created to unite. Nowadays, people covertly search for their tribes by asking a variation of the age old question: What music are you into? Often, this is a complex answer that may leave you scrolling through your liked songs or curated playlists, desperately trying to find a common theme before you lose your inquisitor’s interest. Since we all know there is no one answer - why not complicate it a bit more by exploring new artists whose music often pairs with themes unknown and beats that move your body to unexplored territories? Given that the collection of world music is ever growing, a great place to spark your interest can be found in the Dust-to-Digital archives where researchers go out of their way to preserve world music recordings and performances to be later showcased on their Instagram page. Next, I would encourage you to check out our compilation of themed Book of the Month playlists which have been artfully assembled by our circle of Hotties.
When learning about a new culture, most will jump at the opportunity to put down a pen and pick up a fork (or chopsticks, or fingers – you get the picture.) Exploring diverse cuisines is a delicious way to try something new and support small businesses whose main purpose rests in sharing their respective country’s culinary strengths with their community. Nowadays, with much of world cuisine in the United States marketed as “progressive reimaginings” of a country’s gastronomy, it’s important to highlight the work of chefs and creators that aim to shed light on the cultural origins and significance of their food. This past December, we were excited to spotlight the work of Alice Wong, author of Year of the Tiger: An Activist’s Life, and her unique perspectives on Chinese food traditions as a disabled person. Here are some of my favorite chefs and foodies who have made it their life's work to share the power of world cuisine:
Saving the best for last, there is no deeper way to connect with the diverse experiences of our kin than through intentional community involvement. Of course, this might look different for everyone: Faith based organizations, sports teams, volunteering opportunities, attending protests, participating in your local arts cultural center, or … book clubs! The community that makes up Hardcover Hotties aims to bring people together from all walks of life under the curiosity we share as lifelong learners. If you are looking for a starting point at becoming a global citizen, I invite you to join us on our journey as we curate monthly book selections, film selections, music, and creator shout outs that can take you down a rabbit hole of novel resources!