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Foreign born soldiers and the ambivalent spaces of citizenship Lee, Elizabeth


Foreign-Born Soldiers and the Ambivalent Spaces of Citizenship examines the interlocking politics of immigration and citizenship, labor and militarism, and race and gender. I explore two cases of militarized citizenship: Filipino recruits in the U.S. military and Nepalese Gurkha soldiers in the British Army. The bulk of the thesis engages the lives of Filipino migrants who enlist in the U.S. military as a collective pathway to American citizenship for themselves and their families. Filipino nationals comprise the highest percentage of foreign-born military recruits, a trend enabled by the fact that U.S. citizenship is not required to serve in the armed forces and promoted by the colonial history of the U.S. in the Philippines. Filipinos are the only foreign-born nationals permitted to enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces without having to immigrate to the United States. Filipinos, in other words, are the exception to the permanent residency requirement necessary to join the U.S. military. Citizenship is, however, granted posthumously to any “alien” or “non-citizen national” whose death occurs on active duty, providing a legal “death dividend” for surviving relatives. I observe how the working lives of these migrants illuminate the new mobility of global (militarized) labor, a form of economic discipline facilitated by the state in the era of flexible accumulation. Over a period of twelve months, I conducted a series of in-depth interviews with Filipino military families in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the cases under study, the families of U.S. military personnel killed in action refused – in political protest – the offer of posthumous citizenship. These testimonies illuminate and juxtapose mundane and spectacular instances of state violence against agents of the state and their next of kin in a way that reveals conflicts inherent to incorporation and resistance internal to enlistment.

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