This morning, at 8 a.m., I did something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember: I became an American.
I first applied for a visa in early 2011, and since then I have slowly worked my way through the system — first as a visa-holder, then as a permanent resident (green card), and, finally, as a citizen. It feels odd finally to be at this point. I decided that I wanted to be an American on my first visit here at age three. Sure, at that point it wasn’t quite clear to me whether there was an America outside of Walt Disney World. But on subsequent visits, of which there were many, I discovered that there really was, and that it was a giant, rambunctious, beautiful place. Since then, I’ve never wavered in my ambition to be of it.
Why? Well, how long have you got? I’ve been sharing my view that this is the last great hope for mankind for almost seven years now. It ebbs and flows as all experiments do, but America continues to serve as the last surviving incubator of the great classically liberal values. If you believe in human freedom, this is your huckleberry. But there’s something more than that to this — something ineffable. I tried to capture this in a cover story back in 2014:
Being asked to explain why I love America is sometimes like being asked to explain why I love my fiancée. There are all the tangible things that you can rattle off so as not to look clueless and sentimental and irrational. But then there is the fact that you just do, and you ultimately can say little more than that.
I don’t know why I love the open spaces in the Southwest or Grand Central Terminal or the fading Atomic Age Googie architecture you see sometimes when driving. I don’t know why merely glimpsing the Statue of Liberty brings tears to my eyes, or why a single phrase on an Etta James or Patsy Cline record does what it does to me. It just does. I have spoken to other immigrants about this, and I have noticed that there is generally a satisfactory explanation — religious freedom, the chance at self-expression, the country’s size — and then there is the wistful stuff that moistens the eyes. Show me a picture of two canyons, and the fact that one of them is American will make all the difference. Just because it is American. Is this so peculiar? Perhaps.
“My fellow Americans.” How sweet that sounds.