(People think it is easy for Wole Soyinka to return Uncle Sam's green card to him. Think again. Uncle Sam does not believe that any Third World holder of her green card is ever in the position to give it up - not even a Nobel laureate - so he is usually not even prepared to take it back. This excerpt from my memoir in progress will show you what American Embassy officials in Ottawa thought of my dumping America to become a Canadian citizen. Back in 2011, I had gone to the American Embassy to try and return my green card. Read on...)
“You want to give up your green card?” The American consular officer stares incredulously at me from behind his thick bulletproof glass cell in the maximum security prison that serves as Uncle Sam’s Embassy in Ottawa.
After 9/11, the Americans assured the rest of the world that the terrorists would not win. To deny the enemy their victory, they withdrew Lady Freedom from the streets of America and dumped her inside green zones of reinforced concrete walls, Jersey barriers, a thousand security cameras, electric fences, fortified bulletproof windows, and security perimeters manned by personnel who smile only when they get a memo.
In the US, Lady Freedom sends an occasional message to the American people from dungeons called Federal Buildings. Outside of the US, Uncle Sam’s diplomats preach freedom to the rest of the world from concrete and steel cages they call US Embassies, like the monstrosity they have at 490 Sussex Drive in Ottawa.
“Sir, you want to give up your American privileges?” he asks again, oblivious to my unsolicited sympathy for the inmate condition he calls a regular workday in the office.
“Yes.” I shove my American permanent resident card into the tray that glides under a little window, ferrying passports, visa application forms, and supporting documentation to him from anxious clients. I had been summoned to that window – the window of life! - from a waiting room swarming with Africans, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Arabs and the like: the usual suspects who hangout first in Canada before trying to cross to the US.
He examines the card for a long time, disbelief and consternation etching patches of sweat on his forehead. He looks at me again, mouth half-open, shock foreclosing the possibility of speech. My mind does the talking for him, racing through a checklist of unsayables that are probably scalding his tongue, wishing they could defy political correctness and burst out of his mouth in gusts of immigrant profiling.
He is er…er… bl…bla…black (✓)
He is er…er…Af…Afri…African (✓)
He speaks English…er…er…with a thick accent (✓)
Yeah, there is a check mark in every identity box! Something ain’t adding up! The way this consular officer sees it, I reckon, people like me don’t give up American privileges. We are from the country of Africa. We are hungry. We are poor. We die of AIDS if aid workers and charity organizations do not arrive quickly by helicopter. We die of malaria if mosquito nets donated by Jeffrey Sachs and Bono do not get to us in good time. We fight tribal wars, screaming in dialects. Those of us who are lucky not to be killed by disease or wild animals roaming our cities in Africa forge travel documents to escape to America where we contract fraudulent marriages with innocent white girls just to keep our piece of the American dream.
That is what the manual says. This African fellow, who wants to return Uncle Sam’s green card, is not in the manual.
“I was a Professor at Penn State from 2002 to 2006. That’s when I became a permanent resident of the United States.”
“A Professor at Penn State”, he repeats. Aha, that makes an impression. He relaxes a bit. Professor. Penn State. Two checked boxes that instantly transform me into a non-threatening exceptional black man, different from the rest of the pack from Africa.
“Yes. After completing my PhD here in Canada, I got my first job at Penn State and moved to the US. I came back to Canada in 2006 and have been teaching here in Ottawa since then. Initially, the idea was that I would go back to Penn State so I kinda hung on to my green card. Now, I have made up my mind to stay in Canada for good. In fact, I will swear the citizenship oath next month. I’m becoming a Ca-na-dian.” I say, stressing every syllable of my forthcoming brand new nationality for effect.
“Are you sure about giving up your American privileges?”
I probably didn’t say Canadian loud enough. I try again.
“Yes, I am becoming a Ca-na-di-an citizen next month. Caa-naa-diaan.”
“You understand that if you change your mind, you will have to apply all over again if you ever want to return and live in the United States? You cannot restore this green card once you sign off on it.”
I finally get it! I finally understand the American's problem.
I could stand there for eternity screaming Canada. The American would never hear me. Americans are so full of America they have no space to stuff their northern neighbor. Canada is just Toronto held hostage by igloos. Canada is what you remember when you need an ally to vote with you at the UN and make up the numbers on the Western front fighting in the Arab world. Canada is what you remember when you need your ally’s children to go and die for your causes in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s really all there is to Canada.
Who the heck then is this African who not only renounces his American privileges but also dares to compare Canadian citizenship with permanent residence in America? Didn’t elementary logic teach him that a single American green card is worth a thousand Canadian passports?
He calls a colleague. They whisper. The new man goes through the same routine of asking me endless questions, trying to ascertain that I do not need a shrink; that I am not out of my mind to want to opt out of America the beautiful. Who gives up a green card? I smile and give the same explanations all over again: I am becoming a Canadian citizen. I don't need a US green card anymore. I have come to return your card!
Beyond what I was telling my latest interrogator with a smile, I was thinking in full exasperated Nigerianese: I say I no want una green card again. Abi na by force?
At last, they begin the paperwork. Reluctantly. Their egos bruised. He hands over a form for my signature. The form bears a title: “US Department of Justice. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status”. In the form, the consular officer has scribbled:
“Mr. Adesanmi fully understands the consequences of abandoning his permanent resident card.”
Consequences? They sure believe that the sky will fall if I give up my green card.
“Signature and date please,” he barks.
I sign: August 17, 2011.
I return the form to him and walk out of the American family. The nape of my neck tells me that the stares escorting me out of the embassy building have a molten dagger point.