The following was written as a meditation introducing the theme of a luncheon conference on Expatriate Citizenship in a Connected World. The United States Consult General, Diane Kelly, was our featured speaker.
To paraphrase the French adage, “pour faire la République, il faillait faire des républicains” let me suggest that to create a global community we must first cultivate global citizenship.
I am a professional expatriate. Thirty-four of my sixty years have been spent overseas:
I was born and raised in Brazil (where I survived three “revolutions” or moments of high national tension and political turmoil: President Getulio Vargas’ suicide in 1954, Janio Quadros’ resignation in 1961 and succession by left-leaning João Goulart, and finally, the 1964 military overthrow of João Goulart.) I then lived 26 years in the United States (New York and New Orleans) and I am now in my 17th year in France.
My childhood years provided a ringside seat on the early stages of globalization. Indeed, my parents, brothers, sister and I were the embodiment of liberal capitalism, enjoying the fruits of diversified country risks and free trade. Our neighbors and friends in the local community could easily see and admire in us, ad hoc ambassadors, in my father’s words, the benefits of modern consumerism and the apparently unlimited benefits of the free market.
We watched as the promise of a new era and a grand “Alliance for Progress” inflamed passions and hopes in Latin and North America (1961). Then came the Great Society, the Vietnam War, the first energy shock (the Arab Oil Embargo of 1974) the Iranian Revolution and the overthrow of Somoza regime in Nicaragua.
As a young adult in New Orleans I watched as communities were torn by internal strife (Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador) and then rebuilt through multilateral, US-led programs administered by the United Nations.
As parents of teenaged children completing their education in Europe, we watched as the Stockholm Declaration (1972) became the Earth Summit (1992) and these found their way into a pragmatic discussion of object-oriented development strategies and environmental management. The OECD’s “International Development Goals” were reformulated as the United Nations’ “Millennium Development Goals” to become a road map for multilateral cooperation and community development.
There is no doubt these changes are at least partly the result of improved communications, from transportation and mobility to telecommunications, 24-hour news cycles and the now ubiquitous Internet.
But it is not obvious that these changes have all been for the good.
Globalization has meant the shifting, transformation, blurring and even elimination of traditional barriers, those lines of demarcation that define self and set apart the other. For it is barriers that define community geographies whether political and administrative, cultural or ecological.
Such geographies are universal, the exist everywhere. But everywhere they exist they are different, they are expressed differently and experienced differently. My Americanness, Frenchness or Dutchness is really nothing more than a descriptor for the frame of reference I bring to my experience of the local community. We may be Sunni or Alawi, Christian, Muslim or Jew, but in a deeper sense we are first citizens and participants in a local community, sharing in the transformation and trade in local environmental outputs, and that by choice and by virtue of friendship and mutual respect is what makes us citizens.
And so we are French, American, Dutch, German or Canadian. But it is because we live in peace that we are not obliged to choose.