Following up to my July 4th post, On Becoming a U.S. Citizen, lo and behold, to my surprise, my husband bought me “Citizen U.S.A.: A 50 State Road Trip” by Alexandra Pelosi, the book accompanying the HBO documentary produced by Ms. Pelosi and mentioned in my earlier post. The book is an excerpt of interviews in which Ms. Pelosi asked new Americans around the country:
- What are you bringing to this country?
- What do Americans take for granted?
- What did you discover when you came to America?
- What has America given you?
- What’s so great about America?
- What is the hardest thing to get used to in America?
- Why did you swim the river?
- Why did you choose to become an American?
- How to become an American
The responses are varied and enlightening. From people working on national security projects, finding the cure for AIDS, developing critical software, starting a business, to having more generalized hopes and dreams, of setting goals and achieving them, to seeking fame and fortune, or personal peace and freedom, the reasons people come to America are many. And what do they find here? Things most Americans take for granted: free soda refills, refrigerators and dish washers, automated doors, drive-throughs, malls, cheerleaders, tail gate parties and Oprah; critical things: medical care, affordable college or financial aid, gay rights, the right to purchase land, and free speech -“the right to dis my president”; and other benefits: funding for artists, ability to go bankrupt, men and women going to the beach together, career hopping, co-existence among races and religions, community service, charity, and more.
There are some amusing stories in the book about how and why people became U.S. citizens, such as a woman married to a U.S. citizen CPA who appealed to his wife’s “sense of cheapness” by encouraging her to naturalize to save on estate taxes, or the person who met her future spouse while standing in line at USCIS. New Americans give their advice about the many myths of living in the U.S. such as no, the streets are not paved with gold, and yes, there are homeless people here, plus tips on how to fit in: “work twice as hard”; “go to a baseball game”; “go with the flow”‘; “vote on American Idol“; “go to Costco”; “learn the Constitution”; and “don’t take democracy for granted.” A constant theme throughout the book is the interviewees’ experiences of having worked very hard from the moment of their arrival in the U.S.