I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about my Scottish identity. On this Fourth of July, I’d like to talk about my American identity.
I am a Chicago Scot. I was born and brought up in Scotland. In 2018, I became an American Citizen. My American wife, Aisha, and I have two sons, Bobby and Langston. They’re great lads. Each shares a name with a poet – one Scottish, Robert Burns and the other American, Langston Hughes. We are a Scottish American family.
Today, I would like to share my journey from Scotland to America inspired by the incredible Langston Hughes poem “Let America Be America Again.”
I call this story ‘The Boy in the Boots.’
“Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where she herself is free.
But America never was America to me.”
On the morning of 16th of November 1992, I laced up my favorite pair of boots and I walked out of my family’s house in Scotland. I hugged my Mum and Dad at the airport and we all cried as I left my home on a one way ticket to Chicago. Nine hours later, wearing my boots, I stepped into a new life in America.
“Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white man, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from my land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek”
Fast forward 3832 days. I realized I’d spent one day more of my life living in America than I’d spent in Scotland. That was a major identity trip.
“Who am I?”
“Where do I belong?”
I found the answers in the back of a closet. The boots still fit perfectly.
“I’m the one who sailed those early seas
in search of what I meant to be my home
I’m the one who left dark Scotland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand
I came to build a “homeland of the free.”
On the 19th of April in 2018, I laced up my boots again and went to Chicago’s Immigration and Citizenship center, to become an American citizen. In the room where people wait to become Americans, there is a big rug. On it there is a large, colorful map of America. Each state is represented by a different, vivid colour. In the moment immediately before I swore my oath of allegiance, I looked at this rug. Upon it there were children, whose skin and hair and personalities were as colorful and varied as the map below their feet. The children were playing peacefully. One of them was my son. My friends, this is America.
It’s not about blood running in veins or the places written on birth certificates. It’s about values in hearts, ideas in minds and fires in bellies.
I chose to become an American. Why? So many of the things happening in America are bad and wrong. But let me tell you that when I swore my Oath of Allegiance I felt the tide of hundreds of years and the hope of millions of dreams. It felt assuring and inspiring. It felt good and right.
I became an American because I owe it to the boy in the boots. And I owe it to my wife and my sons, who give me a shot at living out the dreams that I brought from Scotland.
Life in America is about creating yourself. She may be imperfect, but let us never forget America’s purpose nor her promise. They are perfect. They are worth the fight. They are worth your fight. You owe it to the little boy or girl in the boots that lives inside each one of you.
So, America….as I put my Scottish shoulder to the wheel, I say this…
“Let America be America again
The land that never has been yet, and yet must be
The land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine — the poor man’s, indian’s, negro’s immigrant’s, ME
Who made America, whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring our mighty dream again.
O, yes, I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath —
America will be!”
Happy Fourth of July. Please accept my love.