The immigrant experiences shared in these digital pages are most often those of people whose families came to this country seeking better economic opportunities, freedom from hunger, freedom from oppression, an escape from war, or all of the above.
But what about those who come here not out of necessity, but because they fall in love with a place, an ideal? Bestselling author Simon Winchester is one of these. On July 4, the British-born writer of historical epics such as Atlantic and Krakatoa will take his oath of U.S. citizenship.
In a piece in Newsweek, Winchester writes movingly about his decision and his love affair with the United States, which began with his family's near-move from London to Tulsa, Oklahoma after his father received a job offer there. He didn't take it, but Winchester later came on his own, first as a traveler, then as a reporter. He returned here to live in the late 1990s.
He writes about one of his transformative experiences, an early stay that began with an assignment to cover Richard Nixon's resignation from the White House:
For 30 months I watched transfixed as the ponderous machinery of America’s democracy cranked itself up to answer, it seemed, the ultimate wish of the public. To get rid of British heads of state had for centuries required execution, the head on the block. Here it seemed, and more properly, it was the people who enjoyed the greater measure of sovereignty. A people I now even more urgently wanted to join.
But there was more. I had come to Washington from Belfast, from reporting on three horror-filled years of hatred and killing. Stripped of its subtleties, the violence there stemmed from a mutual hatred between Ulster Protestants and Irish Catholics—so long as they were confined to Ulster. But then many Belfast friends moved away, to escape. I soon came to reconnect with some who had moved to America–couples who had loathed one another back in the Six Counties, but who now, in Chicago, Seattle, and Dallas, far from hating one another, had married, had produced children, had quite forgotten the need to hate.
And still others, people who had arrived here mired in the hostilities of other homelands—immigrants from the Balkans, the Levant, and Indochina were among those I came to know best—soon found their ancient animosities were fading into insignificance, too. Their experience only reinforced my feeling: the argument for my joining this extraordinary experiment in improving the human condition—an imperfect experiment at times, of course—grew steadily more powerful.
During his final exam for citizenship, Winchester was asked if he would be willing to give up a prestigious award bestowed by the queen, Officer of the Order of the British Empire. He said yes.
His essay concludes with a friend's simple congratulations: "America, he said: it takes all kinds."