Six and a half years, I’ve been here now.
This is where my children have spent ten of their aggregate twelve years on this earth. This is where my wife was born. This is where I work, live, and play. While I was apparently looking the other way, my roots have been burrowing quietly into this soil, and it seems fair to conclude that I’m in the United States to stay.
My mother, who moved to England nearly fifty years ago (sorry, mum), still refers to New Zealand, where she was born, as “home”. But America is my home now. When I return to England, I don’t feel homesick, just oddly misplaced. Perversely, it’s the one place where I feel self-conscious about my accent. I feel far more at home as a foreigner in a small Midwestern town than back where I came from.
So, here’s the thing. I’m thinking about becoming an American citizen. I’m already committed to the place in all the ways that matter. It seems silly to be contemplating spending the rest of my life here with a different passport in my pocket. Not much will change, to be honest, except I’ll be able to vote (and they won’t be able to kick me out any more.) I’ll still speak funny and listen to cricket matches that go on for five days. What matters, I hope, is who I am, not what I am.
My new book tells the story of an immigrant family arriving in the United States from Germany. The process of writing it helped crystallize much of this for me. I know it’s insufferably obnoxious to quote from your own work, but writing passages like this can’t help but have an effect:
Frederick loved America. He loved its big open spaces, the sunsets that drenched the evening sky in blistering color. Above all, he loved the smell of promise that hung in the air. Europe, he could see now, was slowly suffocating under the weight of its own history. In America the future was the only thing that mattered. Frederick turned his back on everything that had gone before, and looked ahead into the bright lights of the young century.
A hundred years on, that’s me.
I wrote here about my admiration for the Declaration of Independence and the ideals upon which America was founded. Nowhere else on this earth are the principles of freedom and democracy so passionately believed in by its citizens. And you gotta love that.
Am I sure about all this? Not completely. After all, I could have applied to do this years ago and never did. America has its faults. (Sean Hannity, health insurance companies, the NRA, jello salad, take a bow.) Yes, I will have to take a deep breath when they ask me to say the pledge of allegiance, but I’ve never been one for looking back. Nostalgia has always struck me as a rather redundant emotion. I’m here now. I must look towards the future, and the promise and hope that lies in each new day.