On Becoming British

Two Passports“So which country is better?” The US Homeland Security Agent glances between me and my passport photo. I try to detect a smile. No luck.

I tell him what I now tell everyone — that no place is perfect, that living in the UK really suits us for now, and that each country could learn a lot from the other. He returns my blue American passport, and lets me back in to the country where I was born.

Today a second, burgundy-coloured passport arrived, embossed with the Royal Coat of Arms. It is the culmination of four years culture shock, driving lessons, memorisation tests, long nervous waits in the UK Home Office, and a small mound of both paperwork and money.

I have finally become British.

Not English, mind you. I was raised in the Sonoran desert. Culturally speaking, I am probably more Mexican than English. I am a citizen of the United Kingdom. I intend to remain a citizen of the United States as well. I have family in both countries, have now lived for a while in both lands, and so both places are, in their own way, home.

When I tell people in the UK that I have naturalised, they look at me almost as quizzically as when I first told them that I had moved from sunny California to rainy England. I suspect Adam might have had a similar reception fresh from the Garden of Eden. “You left where?”

The elements that many British people are convinced constitute paradise — warm weather, sporty culture, and affordable goods — are not driving factors for me. The elements of living in England that are less prominent in Southern California — including a widespread respect for the arts, and easy access to travel in Europe — are.

I like it here, and so would like to vote in national elections, and otherwise participate fully as a citizen, rather than just as a permitted outsider. So I have become British.

After the swearing-in ceremony, we did the only sensible thing. We celebrated with a drop of tea. Feel free to raise a cup in your own homeland, wherever that may be, to celebrate with me.


Three Poems in Iota 85

iota-85I received my contributor’s copy of Iota 85 today. It’s a beautiful and sturdy, perfect-bound volume with French flaps, packed with free-verse and formal poems and reviews from across the UK and worldwide. As I mentioned before, this is my first publication in a literary journal overseas.

I also happen to have recently made an audio recording for KPCC of one of my poems in this issue, entitled “Yellow.” That audio excerpt is available for listening on the Cyberfrequencies website. Another poem in this issue is dedicated to our son. It’s called “To Friends Not Knowing What to Say,” and explores how language fails us in times of loss.

I look forward to reading through this issue with interest. Copies can be purchased from the Iota website. They are also still accepting entries for their 2009 International Poetry Competition.