Monday, August 13, 2007

What I Don't Like about My New Passport

It was a relief to get my new passport/passeport/passaporte today. Fortunately I remembered that I needed to get it renewed this year for this first time in 10 years.

Since my driver's license and alien registration card both expire in September, I assumed it was the same for my passport. However, when I checked the expiration date a couple weeks ago in preparation for my trip in September, I discovered that it had expired June 29th. Yikes!

I immediately called the American Consulate in Sapporo to see if I was "legal." They assured me that, since I have a permanent resident visa, I'm fine. Relieved, I went about filling out the form (a synch with the new online system) and getting a photo. I had the latter taken by my neighbor and resized it and printed it out myself, a feat of which I'm rather proud - plus, for the next 10 years, I'll be able to carry a photo that doesn't look like a mugshot.

When I opened my new electronic passport, however, I was dismayed. On the front cover is a cannon! There's a quotation from "The Star-Spangled Banner," the so-called national anthem which I refuse to sing because I detest singing about "bombs bursting in air." I'd much rather sing about "spacious skies, "amber waves of grain," and "purple mountains' majesty above the fruited plain." At any rate, the embossed picture on the passport is one from a warship with soldiers checking to see if the star-spangled banner yet waves.

I don't suppose immigration would take it well if I whited out the parts I don't like (the cannon) and highlighted the parts I like ("the land of the free"). As a pacifist, though, I feel as though I'm compromising my values by being required by law to carry around even a picture of a lethal weapon.

A Japanese friend of mine, to whom I showed the new passport, was astonished at how militaristic as well as nationalist it is, not to mention sexist. All 10 pages for visa stamps have images of various national monuments (naturally, the four MALE presidents carved in stone on Mt. Rushmore in the Black Hills) and various scenes of Americana (a farmer, a couple of cowboys, and absolutely no women, unless one counts the Statue of Liberty).

The quotations, as well, are all by men except for one by an Anna Julia Cooper on the very last page (which makes it look almost like an afterthought). I had to look her up on the Internet to find out who she was. It turns out that she wrote a book that "was declared the first work of an African-American feminist." (See: I like the quotation: "The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class - it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity."

Other quotations are more predictable, including that "all MEN are created equal" [emphasis mine] from the Declaration of Independence. Furthermore, more than one talks about "America." For years, I've been teaching that my country is not America; it is the United States of America, better referred to as the U.S., since the Americas include North, Central, and South America.

I feel it's insulting to our neighbors to call the country America. On the other hand, I suppose it's too complicated to doctor quotations made by past presidents and politicians for the sake of being politically correct. Still, by continuing to use an inaccurate name for the country, it furthers the misnomer. (A question on another person's blog was, how does a person from another of the Americas feel when greeted with "Welcome to America," a continent on which that person has always lived.)

On the positive side, there is a beautiful quotation from the Mohawk version of the Thanksgiving Address, as follows: "We send thanks to all the Animal life in the world. They have many things to teach us as people. We are glad they are still here and we hope it will always be so."

Well, the second part of the quotation is rather bizarre, since if animals were not "still" here, neither would human beings. At least animals are honored (and with pictures of a bear, a seagull, eagles, buffalo, oxen, and cattle as well).

As for how improved this e-passport will be remains to be seen. No doubt it will work better at keeping non-citizens OUT of the U.S. It may also be an easier way for anyone caring one to be identified as a U.S. citizen, and I'm not sure I always want to be identified that easily. The State Department has assured us that "It will not permit tracking of individuals," yet I'm concerned whether the Homeland Securities Act will find ways around that in cases deemed possible "threats" to security. Basically, I don't feel that much more secure.

A final comment on a point I find intriguing: The new passport/passeport/passporte is now in three languages - Spanish as well as French, in addition to English. Granted that these are the languages used historically in the country since the Europeans invaded, and that they are the three languages most likely to be used by the bearers of the passport. However, there are so many cognates in the three languages that it's not really that difficult for Spanish or French speakers to guess the meaning of most of the words. However, those translations aren't going to be of much help in most Asian countries.

Well, at any rate, I'll now be able to re-enter my country legally and with, I hope, little hassle.