At the 2008 Summer Olympics, when Spain played against the U.S. for the gold medal match in men’s basketball, most Spanish Americans rooted for the Spanish Team. When Brazil played against the U.S. for the gold medal match in women’s soccer, most Brazilian Americans rooted for the Brazilian Team. When China played against the U.S. for the gold medal match in women’s beach volleyball, most Chinese Americans rooted for the Chinese Team. Is there anything unusual or of concern to the U.S. about the above phenomenon? Shouldn’t American citizens be rooting for the U.S. teams? I think to discuss this issue and to answer these questions, we need to differentiate between cultural loyalty and political loyalty.
Cultural Loyalty: Except for the Native Americans, the U.S. is essentially a country of immigrants. Be definition, an immigrant has lived part of his/her life in another country before immigrated to the U.S., and therefore his/her life at least partially reflects the culture of that native country. That cultural identity may be manifested in his/her language, food, holidays celebrated, friends, sports, other extracurricular activities, religion, etc. If a person immigrated to the U.S. as an adult, then that cultural identity is very strong. If a person immigrated to the U.S. as a child, then that cultural identity is also strong, although not as strong as if the person had immigrated as an adult. Even if a person is a second-generation American, i.e., born in the U.S. but whose parents were first-generation immigrants, that cultural identity still exists, because he/she most likely was brought up in an environment that reflected some aspects of the culture of his/her parents. As a matter of fact, some non-negligible amount of cultural identity still exists for third-generation Americans. Only starting with the fourth generation would it probably become negligible. Of course, the amount of cultural identity is highly variable depending on the specific individual. It may also be partially dependent on whether the external appearance of an immigrant more likely suggests that this person is an immigrant or a descendent of an immigrant.
Such cultural identity is not surprising because the culture of one’s upbringing becomes an integral part of that person’s personality. A change of clothes may be able to alter the external appearance, but it cannot all of a sudden change long-embedded traits and characteristics. Not only this should not be surprising, it should be welcome, because we can then get the benefit of a mix, match, and selection of the best of both worlds. A cynic may argue that it could also result in a mix, match, and selection of the worst of both worlds. However, personally I believe in the innate goodness of humankind, and that one would select something that is good over something that is bad.
Such cultural identity leads naturally to cultural loyalty, which is often manifested in the type of sports team that one roots for during international competition. Therefore, it is not surprising at all that immigrants even after they have become American citizens still root for their native team during an international sporting event. As a general rule of thumb, most first-generation immigrant Americans would root for their native team, unless they were unjustly persecuted by the government of their native country. Second-generation Americans may root for either team, but probably more likely for the U.S. team. Third and subsequent generations of Americans would root for the U.S. team.
Political Loyalty: So far our discussion has focused on cultural loyalty. What about political loyalty? To which country should an immigrant or descendant of an immigrant pledge his/her political allegiance? If an immigrant is only a permanent resident and not yet a citizen of the U.S., then his/her political loyalty may be to his/her native country, unless he/she was unjustly punished by that native country. If an immigrant has become a naturalized citizen of the U.S., then his/her political loyalty should be to the U.S. Similar to cultural loyalty, this change may not happen automatically or easily. However, unlike cultural loyalty where which way to lean has no political significance, there is political significance with respect to political loyalty. Therefore, in the process of becoming a U.S. citizen, one should think seriously about this issue, and should conclude that part of the requirement of becoming a U.S. citizen is to have political loyalty to the U.S. This was manifested so clearly during World War II when the Japanese Americans fought so valiantly for the U.S. even though they and their families were uprooted from their homes, sent to concentration camps, and denied essentially all their rights under the U.S. Constitution.
This means that if war erupts between the U.S. and a U.S. naturalized citizen’s native country, then that naturalized citizen should pledge his/her political allegiance to the U.S. This, however, does not necessarily mean that the naturalized U.S. citizen should have blind political allegiance to the U.S. For example, if that war is unjust (as in the Vietnam War), then it is perfectly okay for that naturalized U.S. citizen, like any other U.S. citizen, to voice opposition to that war, including taking whatever action allowed within the U.S. legal system to protest that war. If he/she feels so strongly against that war and wants to take up civil disobedience to protest that war (as many did during the Vietnam War), then others should respect that conviction and action as long as he/she is willing to bear the full consequences of that conviction and action.
What about a person who was born in the U.S. but a descendent of an immigrant? This is more or less an academic question, because the natural political loyalty of second and subsequent generation Americans would usually be to the U.S.
One may ask who decides whether or not a war is unjust. The answer is that that particular individual decides. His/her decision may or may not be right. But other Americans should respect his/her decision as long as he/she is willing to bear the full consequences of his decision, and this respect should be independent of whether he/she was originally an immigrant or a descendent of an immigrant.
A naturalized U.S. citizen or a descendent of a naturalized U.S. citizen sometimes may appear to be over-sensitive to criticism of his/her native country or the native country of his/her ancestors. This over-sensitivity may be uncalled for part of the time, but sometimes this sensitivity is legitimate, because this reaction may be due to the fact that the criticism was based on a biased or incomplete knowledge of that other country, or due to the criticism having originated from someone who had an ulterior political agenda.
Cultural Loyalty and Political Loyalty: Now that we have discussed and differentiated cultural loyalty and political loyalty, we can answer the original questions posed in the first paragraph of this article. There is nothing unusual for various types of Americans to root for the team of their native country or the native country of their ancestors during an international sporting event. There is nothing to be concerned about for America for these people to exhibit such cultural loyalty, because there is a distinction between cultural loyalty and political loyalty.
It may be true that in terms of political loyalty, what one should do may be different from what actually happens, i.e., first generation naturalized U.S. citizens may take some time and may have some difficulty in quickly adopting the appropriate political loyalty while still keeping their cultural loyalty. This may require better education as part of the naturalization process. However, one should be careful in passing judgment on the political loyalty of a person based on his/her cultural loyalty, especially when we take into account that the cultural loyalty of certain nationalities may be more obvious than other nationalities. Otherwise, we may be performing another type of non-justified racial profiling.
 In this first paragraph, we are referring to first generation Spanish Americans (or Brazilian Americans, Chinese Americans, etc.). Later in this article, we will discuss differences between first generation and subsequent generation of Americans.
 This is still true, although to a lesser degree, for children of mixed marriages in which only one parent was an immigrant.
 This, however, by no means implies that humans don’t make mistakes.
 In this article, we do not discuss the complications introduced when dual citizenships are allowed.