Saturday, December 12, 2015

From Passports to Paz

Yesterday something stood out from the plethora (yes, I love that word) of articles that we all (except the smart people who run out the door to the beach or snow covered hills) wade through on a daily basis. It was an article on the history of passports, noting that it wasn't so very long ago we had no passports, that a person's identity was a private, unregulated issue. 

Maybe I hadn't had enough coffee or maybe I'm just a bit slow, but it took me twice a flash for the gist of the article to sink in. That passports were viewed as an insulting intrusion by governments world wide. I suppose growing up in an age where passports are the norm (in the islands, I'd say most every American I know has a passport, this isn't so in general in the states), I never thought about what it was like before passports or even how they came to be in the form they now have. With that awful photo included. Who likes their passport photo, raise your hand!

All quotes are from Atlas Obscura.

Earlier versions of the passports required that their bearer describe personal features such as height, forehead, and nose (most people listed “average”; a few listed “Roman”). In one case, a man described his face as “intelligent,” only to discover that officials had replaced the adjective with “oval.” This clinical self-categorization was considered a challenge to traditional notions of respectability and privacy.

Instead of proudly possessing a many countries stamped book of pages, passports were seen as "an affront to the dignity of the traveler."

"This was a time when driver's licenses were still rare; the concept of Social Security only came about in the late 1930s, and in 1942 nearly half of Americans still lacked birth certificates."

My grandfather's passport application - 1919
1942! Ok, I wasn't born yet but plenty of people I know were. Now we live in an age where certain segments of society are being further marginalized, their rights being questioned without some kind of photo identification. Mix it up with illegal immigration, calls for ousting whole populations based on religion and yes, we are in a vastly different world than the one in which Emma Lazarus penned The New Colossus.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

And then I went about my day.

By the talking tree, it was a quiet time of day

Do not even try to take my lollipop!

Peace, pilgrims
Filled with the joy of the season, Fede decorates The Spot.
I could swear he was muttering a holiday tune.
I was going to share a great story about the history of flour sack clothing, but I think I'll leave that for another day. It really is pretty fascinating though, if you are easily entertained by quirky history. And I am.

Put them in a different setting, say, laughing and playing on a large swath
of green lawn with a Lab or two and they'd look quite chic
Have a social strata straddling Saturday. Do something symbolically sporting.


  1. Interesting stuff reminding me of my father's 1950 passport replete with various island nations' stamps of admittance from cuba down to trinidad & tobago..... Fortunately my parents settled on St John..!

    1. Fortunate indeed. How cool it would be to see your Dad's passport pages.

  2. I recently read an article that stated soon all Americans will need a passport to fly domestic. We'll see!

  3. Well all Americans in 4 states if they don't upgrade their ID systems. I think everyone should get a passport when they are born but thats just me!

    1. I think that's a really great idea! Of course, posing for that photo might be a little difficult.