Commentary: Native US Virgin Islanders should be entitled to Danish citizenship | Caribbean News Now
2017/04/12 Leave a comment
A history I was never aware of, and an interesting debate over Danish citizenship:
US Virgin Islanders who officially reside in the islands and can trace their ancestry back to the Danish era (1671 – 1917) should be entitled to automatic Danish citizenship, whether they decide to renounce their United States citizenship or obtain dual citizenship of Denmark and the United States.
Wayne A.G. James is a former Senator of the United States Virgin Islands and former Senate Liaison to the White House
The request of US Virgin Islanders for automatic Danish citizenship is separate and distinct from any claim for reparations or the redressing of past wrongs. To the contrary, the request is a claim for the redress of a present, ongoing wrong: Many US Virgin Islanders, in 2017, still feel part-Danish; many US Virgin Islanders are, by blood, part-Danish; and many US Virgin Islanders feel that they have earned the right to Danish citizenship because of the 246 years of service and contribution to the Danish nation. In essence, many US Virgin Islanders feel that Danish citizenship is their birthright.
But despite the undeniable connection between US Virgin Islanders and Denmark, islanders have never been offered, been deemed worthy of, or been declared entitled to Danish citizenship. And that deliberate disregard is fundamentally unfair and should be remedied. The world has changed. Long-held views about race, privilege, miscegenation, xenophobia, and colonialism, for example, have fallen by the wayside since the dawning of the new millennium. “Tolerance,” “multi-culturalism,” “political correctness,” and “inclusion” are the new order of the day. And Denmark should act accordingly vis-à-vis US Virgin Islanders.
Unlike people from many other nationalities who arrive upon Danish shores, oftentimes with no historical connection to the kingdom of Denmark, the people of the United States Virgin Islands do not need Danish citizenship in order to improve their lives. US Virgin Islanders are not seeking Danish citizenship in order to avoid political or religious persecution in their homeland or to improve their economic condition, further their education, or obtain better living conditions.
Americans have not historically been known for seeking asylum and refugee status in foreign lands. US Virgin Islanders are Americans. And as such, they are, by birth, citizens of the wealthiest country on Earth; the United States Constitution entitles them to the coveted civil rights of freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and movement; many of the world’s foremost universities and institutions of higher learning are situated in the United States; the separation of church and state as well as religious freedom and tolerance are hallmarks of American culture; the United States is one of the most industrially and technologically advanced nations on the planet; and Americans generally do not emigrate to other countries in search of opportunity.
To the contrary, Americans, because of their individual wealth, generally invest in foreign lands. And their pension plans and social security system are the envy of many nations. Furthermore, it is irrefutable that American talent has shaped the cultural arts and sports the world over. Americans tend to enhance, rather than detract from, the cultures they embrace. And the proverbial “American Dream” remains a beacon for people all over the world seeking success. But the fact that US Virgin Islanders are fortunate to be Americans should not negate their fundamental right to also be Danish.
The US Virgin Islands was owned by the kingdom of Denmark for just shy of 250 years. And it is just 100 years ago that the islands lost their official connection to Denmark. Consequently, there are still a few people alive in the islands who were born in the Danish era. And Denmark is ever-present in the islands: Most of the written recorded history of the US Virgin Islands begins with Danish colonization in the 17th century; the towns of Charlotte Amalie, Christiansted, and Frederiksted are all named in honor of Danish monarchs; the US Virgin Islands telephone directory is punctuated with Danish surnames such as Petersen, Larsen, Hansen, Ovesen, Jeppesen, Jensen, Rasmussen, Christensen, Fredriksen, and Johansen, all people who are today classified as black; street names in the three historic towns end in “gade”; Danish-inspired foods comprise and partly define the traditional local cuisine; Danish West Indies colonial furniture is considered one of the great US Virgin Islands contributions to the decorative arts of the world; the historic documents that connect present-day US Virgin Islanders to the sometimes-elusive ancestors are written in Danish hand upon Danish parchment oftentimes in the Danish language. Danish-era buildings are found throughout the islands and remain the foremost architectural monuments of the islands; Danish flags still fly atop flagstaffs.
Despite the passage of time and the international dominance of American culture, the Virgin Islands and many Virgin Islanders, in many ways, still feel as much Danish as American.