Birth Certificates and Excluders

President Obama made history by holding a press conference to produce his long-form birth certificate. It is undoubtedly the first time ever that a sitting leader of any nation felt compelled to prove that he is, indeed, a native of the country that elected him.

Will this persuade the 25% of Americans who still doubt Obama’s U.S. birth? Probably not. After all, Obama has already produced the short-form birth certificate and sworn affidavits of witnesses attesting to his birth at the Kapiolani Community Hospital in Honolulu on August 4, 1961.

Why did Obama choose to dignify the issue? Certainly it wasn’t because he was worried about a possible presidential challenge from Donald Trump, the clown-caricature of a capitalist who precipitated the latest iteration of the birther issue. In any case, Trump is already shifting his focus to his contention that Obama didn’t deserve to attend an Ivy League school based apparently on rumors that Obama’s grades weren’t very good at Columbia from which he got a BA in political science, and Harvard from which he got his J.D.

President Barack Obama produced this long-form Certificate of Live Birth on April 27, 2011 in response to the persistent questions of Donald Trump and his ilk.

Some suspect that Obama held the birth-certificate press conference to dignify Trump’s allegations and build up Trump as a possible GOP candidate, thereby fending off worthier opponents. After all, Trump’s chances of being elected President — especially against Obama — are about like his chances of proving that Obama isn’t an American.

But I suspect Obama’s motives aren’t quite so cold-bloodedly cynical. To understand what was going through his mind, it helps to ask ourselves how we feel when we are treated as foreigners on the basis of our race.

Regardless of whether we were born here or are even fifth-generation Asian Americans, we are always confronted by those people who question our right to be in this country or to be attending some university or holding a particular position of trust. And of course the issue can’t finally be put to rest with anything as simple as a birth certificate or a certificate of naturalization or a transcript of our grades because the issue really resides in the minds of those sad people who regularly substitute wishful thinking in place of reality.

If only so many foreigners weren’t usurping their rightful place in society, they would be so much richer and more successful!

It was in hopes of proving themselves loyal Americans that thousands of young Japanese Americans volunteered to fight for the United States even after it had caused their families to lose their homes, businesses and personal belongings and be forced into concentration camps. Who among us doesn’t recall shunning Asian lunches and pretending not to speak Asian languages in vain hopes of being better accepted by the other kids?

Of course this impulse to prove that one belongs to one’s own nation is an irrational one because it seeks to change the minds of people who don’t want to change their minds, are determined not to change their minds, because their spurious notions of belonging are all they have to cling to. But the irrationality of wanting to show that one belongs is as persistent as the irrationality of those who want to exclude them.

“We do not have time for this kind of siliness,” Obama said as he produced his long-form birth certificate. “We’ve got better stuff to do.”

It’s hard to imagine a more convincing token of acceptance than being elected President. Yet I suspect that, at bottom, Obama too was lured into this new installment of the birther drama by the irrational urge to show that he actually belongs to the country that elected him president. As we Asian Americans can well empathize, it would be hard to grow up in these United States with the name Barack Hussein Obama without developing a reflexive sensitivity to those who wish to exclude.