Monday, September 27, 2010
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
If I’d been tasked with the assignment of examining the greater pop cultural significance of birth certificates, say, in 2007, I wouldn’t have thought there was any at all. Birth certificates in political discourse? No way. Then things got ugly during the 2008 election cycle. Mud was being flung in every direction and Barack Obama, young political phenom from Chicago, had his citizenship called into question via the validity, or lack thereof, of his birth certificate. Was he secretly a Kenyan, not an American? Was it illegal for him to run for President of the United States? Conspiracy theorists first claimed Obama had no certificate at all. Once the Obama camp provided a Hawaiian certification of live birth, the document’s legality was then interrogate. Claims were bantered about that Obama’s documentation was forged. Why wasn’t the state seal visible? (Turns out Obama’s was stamped on the reverse and only the front of the document was scanned; the stamp didn’t render well for this reason.) The Obama camp blacked out the certificate number when they released the scan as proof of his citizenship. This was taken as sure proof the document was a fake. It couldn’t have possibly been an attempt to protect the future President’s privacy. Verifications of Obama’s legal citizenship came from all corners: judges ruled in his favor; the Hawaiian government confirmed he was born in their state; the Honolulu Advertiser and Star-Bulletin offered up the Obama birth announcements published in their papers in 1961. Obama was proven an American citizen, but birth certificates earned a place in pop culture and political history. Obama launched a still-running “Fight the Smears” website with a page dedicated to the validity of his documentation. Popular internet myth-busting site Snopes.com has an extensive page defending Obama’s status as an American. A simple Google search for “birth certificate” gives extensive results regarding the Obama birth certificate controversy. However, no matter how many voices join the chorus to proclaim Obama’s American citizenship, conspiracy theorists cling to the idea that Obama’s presidency is illegal.
Birth certificates represent the responsibility of a government toward its citizens. If one can prove one was born in a particular nation, one is entitled to certain government privileges and services. Birth certificates prove one has the full rights of citizenship in the issuing country, thus making a forgery a valuable thing in places like the United States. A real birth certificate, however, is a basic building block of one’s identity, a symbol of rights and privileges, even status. As is the case with Amy’s birth certificate, the real thing means different things to different people and even has the power to validate one’s person. Or not.
Monday, September 13, 2010
Monday, September 6, 2010
As I mentioned, I have not had a firsthand experience of Amy’s birth certificate, but from the photograph I’ve seen, the record appears to have been printed on a fairly standard sheet of paper measuring about eight-and-a-half by eleven inches in my estimation. However, there isn’t anything to provide a frame of reference in the image I received, so the page could be smaller or larger than that size. This would make its weight fairly negligible. The document is unadorned save for an official stamp. The text is typewritten, though a few fields were filled in by hand. The object dates from 1947, when paper was a mass-produced, inexpensive material. Every birth warranted a birth certificate, so the government would have had plenty of the forms on hand. Therefore, the cost in making the object was negligible. Additionally, the form wouldn’t have cost anything monetary to receive.
The document is written in German, a language in which I am not fluent, unfortunately. Also, the picture I received is blurry, so the text is illegible despite my lack of prowess with the German. However, the image makes very clear that the birth certificate has been handled often. The document is dog-eared and beginning to tear along the creases as though it has been folded and unfolded many times. Bits of the edges are missing. Obviously, this piece of paper has meant a lot to its owner and symbolizes more than a mere demographical document.