Citizenship’s Insular Cases, from Ancient Greece and Rome to Puerto Rico
2. The Island Condition
Smith’s summons to attend to the complex interactions of differentiated citizenship and territoriality has become newly relevant in the wake of Hurricane María, which leveled Puerto Rico’s infrastructure on its way to killing nearly 3000 people. The public recognition that Puerto Rico’s residents are profoundly unequal before the law of American citizenship has received weekly confirmation with every news report on the ineptitude and paltriness of relief efforts on the island, and with every exhibition of callous disregard from senior federal officials who are intent on minimizing the scope of the devastation. These officials take their cue from an American president who shrugged off criticisms of the relief effort’s sluggishness with the comment that Puerto Rico is “an island surrounded by water—big water, ocean water.”3In those [insular] cases, as in others of the Progressive Era (including ones scrutinizing race and gender classifications), the US Supreme Court upheld legislative powers to create what scholars have come to call ‘differentiated citizenship.’ Several of the most important forms of differentiated citizenship then sustained have since been repudiated as systems of unjust inequality.But in the twenty-first century, many are contending that various contemporary forms of differentiated citizenship are necessary to achieve meaningfully equal membership statuses. These include distinct forms of territorial membership. And though all claims for particular types of differentiated citizenship are in some respects unique, they also make up a more general pattern that controversies over territorial membership can illuminate. That is because here—perhaps more starkly than in any other area of modern American citizenship laws—some of the most basic, enduring, and still unsettled questions of civic equality are again being explicitly contested.2
This episode brings into focus a concern that has not lost its edge in the millennia since Livy wrote: under what conditions does the state’s assignment of second-class citizenship do double work as a species of punishment? For the Aequi, the punishment inheres in the denial of choice, the obstruction of their copia legendi.11 The sentiment would not be unfamiliar to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait communities in Australia, or other Indigenous and First Nation communities elsewhere throughout the settler-colonialist world whose agitation for genuine opportunities to practice self-governance and self-determination is regularly met with velvet-gloved denials of choice.12… temptationem aiebant [sc. Aequi] esse ut terrore incusso belli Romanos se fieri paterentur; quod quanto opere optandum foret, Hernicos docuisse, cum quibus licuerit suas leges Romanae civitati praeoptaverint; quibus legendi quid mallent copia non fuerit, pro poena necessariam civitatem fore.…The Aequi responded that the demand was patently an attempt to force them under threat of war to suffer themselves to become Roman: the Hernici had shown how greatly this was to be desired, when, granted the choice, they had preferred their own laws to Roman citizenship. To those to whom the opportunity of choosing what they wanted was not granted, citizenship would of necessity be a type of punishment.10
3. Definitions of Citizenship: Binary and Bimodal
4. The Repeating Island and the Repetitive Refugee
- “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
- With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
- Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
- The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
- […]” (vv. 9–12; emphasis mine)
|Therefore apart from you, dear child, I would not be willing|
To be left behind, not were the god in person to promise
he would scale away my old age and make me a young man blossoming
as I was that time when I first left Hellas, the land of fair women,
running from the hatred of Ormenos’ son Amyntor,
my father; who hated me for the sake of a fair-haired mistress.
For he made love to her himself, and dishonoured his own wife,
my mother; who was forever taking my knees and entreating me
to lie with this mistress instead so that she would hate the old man.
I was persuaded and did it; and my father when he heard of it straightaway
called down his curses, and invoked against me the dreaded furies
that I might never have any son born of my seed to dandle
on my knees; and the divinities, Zeus of the underworld
and Persephone the honoured goddess, accomplished his curses.
Then I took it into my mind to cut him down with the sharp bronze,
but some one of the immortals checked my anger, reminding me
of rumour among the people and men’s maledictions repeated,
that I might not be called a parricide among the Achaians.
Then I fled far away through the wide spaces of Hellas
and came as far as generous Phthia, mother of sheepflocks,
and to lord Peleus, who accepted me with a good will
and gave me his love, even as a father loves his own son
who is a single child brought up among many possessions.
He made me a rich man, and granted me many people,
and I lived, lord over the Dolopes, in remotest Phthia,
and, godlike Achilleus, I made you all that you are now,
and loved you out of my heart…
|ὡς ἂν ἔπειτ᾽ ἀπὸ σεῖο φίλον τέκος οὐκ ἐθέλοιμι|
λείπεσθ᾽, οὐδ᾽ εἴ κέν μοι ὑποσταίη θεὸς αὐτὸς
γῆρας ἀποξύσας θήσειν νέον ἡβώοντα,
οἷον ὅτε πρῶτον λίπον Ἑλλάδα καλλιγύναικα
φεύγων νείκεα πατρὸς Ἀμύντορος Ὀρμενίδαο,
ὅς μοι παλλακίδος περιχώσατο καλλικόμοιο,
τὴν αὐτὸς φιλέεσκεν, ἀτιμάζεσκε δ᾽ ἄκοιτιν
μητέρ᾽ ἐμήν: ἣ δ᾽ αἰὲν ἐμὲ λισσέσκετο γούνων
παλλακίδι προμιγῆναι, ἵν᾽ ἐχθήρειε γέροντα.
τῇ πιθόμην καὶ ἔρεξα: πατὴρ δ᾽ ἐμὸς αὐτίκ᾽ ὀϊσθεὶς
πολλὰ κατηρᾶτο, στυγερὰς δ᾽ ἐπεκέκλετ᾽ Ἐρινῦς,
μή ποτε γούνασιν οἷσιν ἐφέσσεσθαι φίλον υἱὸν
ἐξ ἐμέθεν γεγαῶτα: θεοὶ δ᾽ ἐτέλειον ἐπαρὰς
Ζεύς τε καταχθόνιος καὶ ἐπαινὴ Περσεφόνεια.
ἔνθ᾽ ἐμοὶ οὐκέτι πάμπαν ἐρητύετ᾽ ἐν φρεσὶ θυμὸς
πατρὸς χωομένοιο κατὰ μέγαρα στρωφᾶσθαι.
τὸν μὲν ἐγὼ βούλευσα κατακτάμεν ὀξέϊ χαλκῶι:
ἀλλά τις ἀθανάτων παῦσεν χόλον, ὅς ῥ᾽ ἐνὶ θυμῶι
δήμου θῆκε φάτιν καὶ ὀνείδεα πόλλ᾽ ἀνθρώπων,
ὡς μὴ πατροφόνος μετ᾽ Ἀχαιοῖσιν καλεοίμην
φεῦγον ἔπειτ᾽ ἀπάνευθε δι᾽ Ἑλλάδος εὐρυχόροιο,
Φθίην δ᾽ ἐξικόμην ἐριβώλακα μητέρα μήλων
ἐς Πηλῆα ἄναχθ᾽: ὃ δέ με πρόφρων ὑπέδεκτο,
καί μ᾽ ἐφίλησ᾽ ὡς εἴ τε πατὴρ ὃν παῖδα φιλήσῃ
μοῦνον τηλύγετον πολλοῖσιν ἐπὶ κτεάτεσσι,
καί μ᾽ ἀφνειὸν ἔθηκε, πολὺν δέ μοι ὤπασε λαόν:
ναῖον δ᾽ ἐσχατιὴν Φθίης Δολόπεσσιν ἀνάσσων.
καί σε τοσοῦτον ἔθηκα θεοῖς ἐπιείκελ᾽ Ἀχιλλεῦ,
ἐκ θυμοῦ φιλέων…
Much has been made of this passage’s glorification of the migrant presence as foundational to Rome’s future attainments, and of the historian’s insinuation that, in a deep sense, all claims of civic autochthony and communal rootedness in the soil are simply a sleight of hand—a rhetorical transmutation of a motley assortment into bona fide citizens. All this and so much more can be slotted with little difficulty into Andersonian schemes of imagined community.56 My objectives in citing this passage, however, are rather different.Deinde ne vana urbis magnitudo esset, adiciendae multitudinis causa vetere consilio condentium urbes, qui obscuram atque humilem conciendo ad se multitudinem natam e terra sibi prolem ementiebantur, locum qui nunc saeptus descendentibus inter duos lucos est asylum aperit. Eo ex finitimis populis turba omnis sine discrimine, liber an servus esset, avida novarum rerum perfugit, idque primum ad coeptam magnitudinem roboris fuit.In antiquity, the founder of a new settlement, in order to increase its population, would as a matter of course shark up a lot of homeless and destitute folk and pretend that they were ‘born of earth’ to be his progeny; Romulus now followed a similar course: to help fill his big new town, he threw open, in the ground—now enclosed—between the two copses as you go up the Capitoline hill, a place of asylum for fugitives. Hither fled for refuge all the rag-tag-and-bobtail from the neighbouring peoples: some free, some slaves, and all of them wanting nothing but a fresh start. That mob was the first real addition to the City’s strength, the first step to her future greatness.
5. The Fever Dream of Civic Belonging
This gruff wisdom is unmasked over the course of the novel as a spectacular deception, trotted out by Bubakar—himself an immigrant—in an attempt to keep the spigots of his customers’ payments turned on. At every turn, Jende and his spouse Neni are tantalized by the specter of that ever-elusive adjustment to legal status; meanwhile, the experiences of the novel’s secondary characters undermine the notion that citizenship will open the door to a shimmering future of anxiety-free stability. The best-case scenario in store for them is the “citizenship in question” that has lately elicited comment from political theorists.64 But Jende and Neni are denied even this. With no happy ending to the couple’s migratory travails and no redemptive culmination to years of waiting and praying and bureaucratic maneuvering, they are eventually forced back across the Atlantic to Cameroon.We’ll keep on trying our own way, and you keep on sleeping with one eye open, eh? Because until the day you become American citizen, Immigration will always be right on your ass, every single day, following you everywhere, and you’ll need money to fight them if they decide they hate the way your fart smells. But Inshallah, one day you’ll become a citizen, and when that happens, no one can ever touch you. You and your family will finally be able to relax. You’ll at last be able to sleep well, and you’ll begin to really enjoy your life in this country.63
- do you know what it’s like to live
- on land who loves you back?
- no need for geography
- now, we safe everywhere.
- point to whatever you please
- & call it church, home, or sweet love.
- paradise is a world where everything
- is sanctuary & nothing is a gun. (“summer, somewhere”)66
- … once, a white girl
- was kidnapped & that’s the Trojan War.
- Troy got shot
- & that was Tuesday. are we not worthy
- of a city of ash? of 1000 ships
- launched because we are missed? (“not an elegy”)67
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As quoted in (Hernández et al. 2017).
(Burbank and Cooper 2010) offer a highly original survey.
Modeling the number of imperial residents whose lives were affected by the Antonine Constitution (Lavan 2016).
Which is not to say that our knowledge of every single particular is complete: for an overview and discussion of the settlement, see (Sherwin-White 1972), a précis of his magisterial monograph on Roman citizenship.
The Livian representation of “differentiated citizenship” as implicated in a reward-or-punish scheme may be anachronistic: thus (Stewart 2017), proposing an alternative model. But his text would still at the very least mirror the concerns of the period in which he wrote; for the imprint of Augustan Rome on Livy’s work, see the conclusion to Section 4 below.
The lead-up to and aftermath of the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart in Australia (Wahlquist 2018).
“The Black Aegean” (Goff and Simpson 2007), thus christening the space of productive tension in which African and African-American adaptations of ancient Greek texts have unfolded.
For one such history, see (Gray 2018a).
On “nesology”, see Balasopoulos’ (2008) study of postcolonial geopoetics. Australia’s notorious offshore processing site for immigrants (Harrison 2018); for writing from this carceral site that lifts its gaze from islands to mountains, see (Boochani 2018). Denmark’s recently announced plans to warehouse “unwelcome foreigners” on an offshore island (Sorensen 2018).
For a study of this text, see (Goff and Simpson 2007, chp. 6).
(Kotef 2015) is excellent on this paradox.
(Kasimis 2018). I reference one of her more pointed insights into the heuristic value of the metic below.
For pithy comment on chattel slavery as “sea-centered and seaborne phenomenon,” see (Shaw 2017, p. 49), with (Fynn-Paul 2009) on maritime regions and “slaving zones.” The interrelatedness of Greek notions of freedom (a sine qua non for the exercise of citizenship) and chattel slavery (Finley 1981, chp. 7).
For trailblazing studies of the “birthing” of modernity in the islands of the Black Atlantic, see the essays in (Márquez 2010).
Quotations: (Shklar 1991, p. 16).
(Walzer 1989), commenting on several features of citizenship that had been previously singled out for scrutiny in (Walzer 1970, chp. 10). Though cited regularly by political theorists, Walzer’s handling of citizenship in these and other publications has come in for heavy criticism: see, e.g., (Honig 2001, pp. 82–86) on the immigrant myths that subtend his account. Kasimis (2018, p. 168, n. 2) usefully pinpoints the genealogical debts of Walzer’s encounters “with Athenian political thought.” Alternatives to the Walzerian approach include a more robust application of the positive/negative freedom model: for engagement with the rapidly proliferating literature on this front, see (Campa 2018).
For a full explanation one would need to turn to an assertively marxisant critique of political labor and socioeconomic inequality, to which Walzer is allergic.
For agency and politics within the spaces of “displaced agency”, see (Isayev 2017).
For interrogation of the term “migrant”, see (Gettel 2018) in this volume.
See, e.g., (Padilla Peralta 2015b)—but note the reservations at n. 53 below.
Programmatic sketch in (Padilla Peralta 2017a).
I thank Phiroze Vasunia for first opening my eyes to this reading of Lazarus’s poem.
For some pertinent comments along similar lines, see (Alexander 2018). On the anguish experienced by those immigrants who recognized in the monumentalization of (an ideal of) civic inclusion, their own endlessly reiterated estrangement from citizenship, see (Song Bo 1885), written in response to the fundraising for the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal.
For a snapshot of this framing (and awareness of its limitations) in the United Kingdom, see (Bagelman 2016, pp. 17–19).
This self-indoctrination is a correlate of the “drama of election” through which the host country continuously re-enacts its claims of merit on the backs of those immigrants who choose it; see (Honig 2001) on the Book of Ruth for a sketch of the discourse’s basic components.
Il. 9.444-63, 478-86 (tr. Lattimore); I quote from the Munro-Allen Oxford edition. Lattimore (1957) followed the lead of editors who placed 458–459 after four lines that were first obelized by the Hellenistic scholar Aristarchus and that I have therefore italicized (see n. 38); as the placement of 458–459 is not important to my argument, I have omitted their translation. At 478, Lattimore’s rendering of εὐρυχόροιο as “wide spaces” assumes that this choral adjective’s choral resonance had given way to conflation with εὐρύχωρος already in the period of the epic’s composition, but we have no way of confirming this: see (Hainsworth 1993 ad loc).
Aristarchos’ position on these lines: Plut. De aud. poet. 8.
(Griffin 1995, ad 9.447ff).
Lattimore’s translation of ἐριβῶλαξ as “generous” unrolls the compressed signification of the verse—whether by choice or by accident (cf. Carne-Ross 2010, chp. 5 on Lattimore’s practice as translator). The “probably formular” (thus Hainsworth 1993 ad loc.) collocation ἐριβώλακα μητέρα μήλων capitalizes on the synergy of flock-keeping, manure collection, and fertility; see (Padilla Peralta forthcoming) for more extensive commentary on this feedback loop in archaic and classical Greece.
For a list of “obligatory exiles” in Homer, see (Hainsworth 1993 ad 9.479–84). The interweaving of criminality and sanctuary is showcased in another textual production of the Iron Age Mediterranean and Levant, the Hebrew Bible: see Joshua 20 for the Israelite “cities of sanctuary”.
Perhaps the most infamous episode is the tragedy of Adrastos: Herodotus 1.35. On classical Greek tragedy’s handling of this theme see (Isayev 2017, pp. 80–84).
E.g., Attius Clausus and the Claudii: Liv. 2.16.5; Dionysius of Halicarnassus AR 5.40.5. For the historical mobility of elites in archaic and Republican Italy, see now (Terrenato 2019).
The literature on this subject has metastasized; of recent publications I have found (Eberle 2017) exceptionally good to think with. For imperial recourse to denaturalization, see the remarks of (Ando 2016b, p. 185). On the imprint of the Caesarian and Augustan colonization/forced resettlement programs in the construction of Rome’s civic imaginaries, see Jewell (2019) in this volume.
(Bayoumi 2008) on Arab-Americans, channeling W.E.B. Du Bois.
See (purely, e.g.) (Cornejo Villavicencio 2017) on the psychological costs.
Exemplary for their exposition and interrogation of this concept are the papers in (Lawrance and Stevens 2017).
See (Elden 2013) for an audacious and sweeping genealogy.
For the concept of the “disposable subject” and the artistic strategies that emerge in conscious resistance to its interpellating manifestations see (García 2019).
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Peralta, D.-e.P. Citizenship’s Insular Cases, from Ancient Greece and Rome to Puerto Rico. Humanities 2019, 8, 134. https://doi.org/10.3390/h8030134
Peralta D-eP. Citizenship’s Insular Cases, from Ancient Greece and Rome to Puerto Rico. Humanities. 2019; 8(3):134. https://doi.org/10.3390/h8030134Chicago/Turabian Style
Peralta, Dan-el Padilla. 2019. "Citizenship’s Insular Cases, from Ancient Greece and Rome to Puerto Rico" Humanities 8, no. 3: 134. https://doi.org/10.3390/h8030134