Divided Loyalties

Forced to choose between native ties and the American Dream, Filipinos like S.F. court clerk Rene Pascual are fighting for dual citizenship

"The context has changed," Gonzalez says. "Right now, the Philippine economy is relying a lot on overseas remittances -- it's 5 percent of the country's gross national product.

"The Philippines should not think of human capital as something to export. But unless they have a solid economy, politicians have no choice but to approve of exportation. It's better than facing the wrath of your constituents."

Philippine congressional staffers justify the about-face in dual-citizenship policy by drawing distinctions between allegiance and citizenship. "The constitution specifically forbids dual allegiance," says Queenie Evangelista, a staffer for Senate President Franklin Drilon, who sponsored the current bill. "There are certain definitions and interpretations of jurisprudence in regard to allegiance. If you voluntarily served in the armed forces or chose to run for public office, then you have in effect renounced your allegiance."

S.F. court clerk Rene Pascual has been tireless in lobbying Philippine leaders for dual citizenship.
Paolo Vescia
S.F. court clerk Rene Pascual has been tireless in lobbying Philippine leaders for dual citizenship.
Former Philippine president Joseph Estrada greets Pascual during a 2000 S.F. visit.
Courtesy of Rene Pascual
Former Philippine president Joseph Estrada greets Pascual during a 2000 S.F. visit.

Some academics also say that the Philippine Senate bills are part of an international trend, and nationalism can no longer be equated with loyalty to a single country. In the wake of globalization, "long-distance nationalism" has emerged, where economic, social, and sentimental ties to a home country remain especially strong. Currently, more than 80 countries offer dual citizenship.

"We don't want to claim that leaving home and still trying to connect with it is new, but we do think that the kinds of ideologies of home, and the kinds of political actions that people are taking now, are linked to globalization," says the University of New Hampshire's Shiller.

"The U.S. has a long-term ideology of being a land of immigrants, but these immigrants are supposed to uproot and leave the homeland behind to form a new life. Dual citizenship is legal and you can have dual nationalities. It's just not ideologically comfortable in the U.S."

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service says it does not have a stance on dual citizenship -- it is simply not recognized. "The INS does not take any position at all," the agency's spokesperson, Sharon Rummery, says. "To us, you're just American. If you can say all that [in the Oath of Allegiance] and continue to be a citizen somewhere else, then it's a personal decision, and it's up to the other country."

But opposition sounds from the Philippines. "As far as I'm concerned, you can only be a citizen of one country," asserts Rudy Quimbo, the chief of staff for Philippine Sen. Juan Flavier. "You cannot have the best of both worlds. It's a matter of pride."

To practice law in the Philippines, there are three requirements. First, you must attend nine years of law school. Second, you must pass a 24-hour bar exam held over the course of a month. Third, you must be a citizen of the Philippines.

Rene Pascual has met all of the requirements, and after living in America for nearly 20 years, he still does. It is largely because of his passion for law -- and not because he doesn't want to vote in U.S. elections or doesn't enjoy living in America -- that Pascual remains a green-card holder instead of a full-fledged U.S. citizen. Dual citizenship would finally pull Pascual out of limbo.

If things had gone according to plan, Pascual would have considered becoming a U.S. citizen long ago, as soon as he acquired an American law degree. But, he reflects quietly, life changes your expectations.

After quitting his attorney position in a huff, Pascual arrived in New York in late 1979. He found a job as a paralegal and began thinking about practicing law in America, which has an "effective and ethical" legal system he admires.

After five months of New York living, he flew back to marry his fiancee of seven years (he had remained single so it would be easier for his sister to petition for him to come to the U.S.). Even as he tried to build a second law career, Pascual returned to the Philippines often to see his wife, who was waiting for her own immigration visa.

Soon, his wife gave birth to their first son, and Pascual, a self-described family man, was joyous. He had a renewed sense of purpose -- providing for a wife anda growing family.

He was equally happy when he received the news that his wife was pregnant with their second son. But the "traumatic" delivery of their second child would swiftly dash Pascual's ambitions.

When Pascual's wife went to the local hospital to deliver the baby, her doctor was late, leaving only a midwife to assist her. Though Pascual's wife needed a Caesarean, the midwife tried to force a natural birth, using metal forceps to pull the newborn out by his head. The infant suffered from lesions on his head, and he was diagnosed with permanent brain damage. The doctor never showed up.

"There was no way to save the child," Pascual says. "The only way was through immediate surgery. The only hope was to bring him to the United States. They said he only had a year to live."

When Pascual got word of the complications, he went back to the Philippines for a month. On his way east, he stopped in Milpitas to stay with family for a week. He was worried about not having medical insurance, and his family introduced him to the owner of a tech company in Silicon Valley. He was offered a job as a shipping and receiving clerk, which he accepted on the spot.

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