Özlem Altan-Olcay, Evren Balta. The American Passport in Turkey: National Citizenship in the Age of Transnationalism. Democracy, Citizenship, and Constitutionalism Series. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020. 240 pp. $59.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8122-5215-6.
Reviewed by Annessa A. Babic (Bronx Community College)
Published on H-Diplo (July, 2021)
Commissioned by Seth Offenbach (Bronx Community College, The City University of New York)
Years ago, when visiting Turkey one fall, I was asked, “Are you an American?” Standing there in a rustic market in Ankara, I held my breath for a moment before answering yes. At the time, I was considering relocating to Turkey—stories for another day—but my real apprehension came from lessons long learned about Americans alone while traveling. In this instance, though, my affirmative on citizenship was met with a tale about a child leaving Turkey after college to work in the United States. Later that day, a similar instance arose again, and that story was identical with the added flair that a son had returned home with an American wife. As these travel stories go, they are not that unusual. Yet they provide a glimpse into the desire and nature of what American citizenship means. The reality and imaginary fruits of its fields often appear abundant and ripe with bounty for the taking. Yet, as Özlem Altan-Olcay and Evran Balta discuss in The American Passport in Turkey: National Citizenship in the Age of Transnationalism, boundaries and binaries of citizenship are more than neutral categories. Instead, they emerge as burdensome emotional processes highlighting the inequalities of citizenship itself.
Altan-Olcay and Balta provide a much-needed discussion and analysis of citizenship within the transnational eye, as they interviewed more than one hundred candidates during seven years. In the course of these examinations, these scholars explored vital categories of this citizenship diaspora: the mother giving birth to her child in the United States for the promise it can guarantee her offspring in the distant future, the US citizens—from the United States—relocating to Turkey, the skilled migration of Turks to the United States, and Turkish Americans returning to Turkey. The book’s first chapter sets up the side argument with a quick overview of mid-to-late nineteenth-century US missionaries in Anatolia who set up coveted educational centers. Then, the book moves to discuss the post-World War II period when the Marshall Plan opened doors for modernization in Turkey with the promise of American aid. The study then covers the 1980s shift of skilled/educated Turks leaving for the United States and concludes in the 2010s when political changes and divisions within Turkey led the secular, educated class to flee to the United States.
As the thesis explores the meaning and value of US citizenship, its actors, and those seeking to use their citizenship while living in Turkey and not in the United States, this study does the subject well. Within this fast-moving discussion, concepts of privilege, national belonging, and the need to rethink citizenship institutions prevail. The modern US empire spirals beyond its borders without regard for social realms, cultural contestation, and the unrelenting geological power it holds. The imagination of this citizenship card is vital, as the dominant image of the United States promises continual open doors and economic mobility. Senses of national belonging blur traditional lines of nationality. These transitional borders look at—and use—citizenship like imaginary gold cards to provide entry to finances, education, and middle-class and upper-middle-class life. The authors do not inherently discuss the reality of these issues, but that omission is understandable for the scope of the study. Finally, as the book concludes, the rethinking of national citizenship arises as the unbalanced power of states produces disparity of access, promise, and wealth.
At the beginning of the the book, the authors ask what US citizenship means outside of the United States and conclude the book with the same question. While that remains a query that cannot be fully answered, the resonance that US citizenship—even with the rise of fear, anti-immigration, and numbers of Americans seeking European passports—has transnational value remains. Americans may not be welcome everywhere because of their nation’s history and foreign policy, but they are wanted for the promise of what the blue book with gold letters means.
Annessa A. Babic is a freelance writer, adjunct professor, and lecturer in New York. She specializes in women's studies, American social and cultural history, public health narratives, and transnational studies, emphasizing the modern Middle East and US-Turkish relations. She is the author and co-editor of several books and has produced numerous book chapters, reference entries, book reviews, and journal articles. Her most recent book is America’s Changing Icons: Constructing Patriotic Women from World War I to the Present (2018). Currently, she is finishing a discursive project on travel literature and the perceptions of place and space (for academia) and working on a travel narrative book for the popular press.
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Annessa A. Babic. Review of Altan-Olcay, Özlem; Balta, Evren, The American Passport in Turkey: National Citizenship in the Age of Transnationalism.
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