Forty years after arriving in America, my father got his American citizenship today. After years of wrangling with his immigration status, he deserves to soak up every bit of national stability now. I wish him all the best with being officially American.
I grew up in America. Everything about my family at that time was about embracing it. We were so lucky. My dad had been hired as a telecommunications engineer from England and we arrived in the land of plenty. My dad even used to sing the lyrics from West Side Story to highlight our fortune: ‘I like to live in America, everything’s free in America.’
Of course that was some tongue-in-cheek, but it was a good feeling in my house. I remember being told we were moving there, and imagining America as an empty Western town complete with blowing tumbleweed. When we arrived instead in a very modern Washington DC, my dad picked us up from the airport in his new, wood-panelled, green-striped station wagon. My brother and I scrambled over the beige vinyl and plush to the boot of the car. I was as excited as I can ever imagine being. It was so exciting I wondered at the time if you could actually explode from it. A small, British, female combustion.
You know when the beginning of a person’s life is so good, it’s hard to top it for the rest of their life? Uh-huh. I spent my childhood outside when possible, suburban Maryland, woods at the back of our house, fireflies at night, watermelon growing under our porch. Every Christmas, my mother would get a real Christmas tree and afterwards, plant it in the backyard so it wouldn’t suffer a needless death. We ended up with a fair-sized number of pines sprouting in the yard. The Eastern Seaboard in the summers, tanned legs, crabs for dinner, picking ticks out of knees.
Because of this, nowadays sometimes I feel I have a split personality. My family split – some stayed in America and some moved back to the UK. I was part of the moving-back brigade. I’d never had an identity which was based on living in the UK. Britain was the old world. It was never supposed to be the present. We’d been on a journey of being American. And I ended up in Mid-Wales. This is about as far as you can get in Western Europe from a typically American culture. Wales speaks the oldest language in Europe – and it sounds like the oldest language in Europe.
Still, after my dad left, my mum didn’t want to stay in America any more. I couldn’t leave her. The journey ended for me. There were times when I had the opportunity to return to life in America, but they were never to be. Something always placed itself in the way. Mid-Wales on the other hand, was a clear path. It had me with open arms. Which is strange, since it doesn’t generally like strangers. When I close my eyes, I remember America. No. Not just that. I can still smell the excitement.