For over seven years of my life, I’ve lived in Britain. I’ve earned a degree here; I’ve written books here; I’m raising my child here. But I’ve done all this as an American.
Now I’m American AND British.
My UK naturalization ceremony took place at Oxford County Hall yesterday. Besides me, it included people from Jamaica, Poland, Bangladesh, Canada, Somalia, China, India, South Africa, Hong Kong, and a number of other countries. It started out as a solemn occasion, and ended up feeling joyful, thanks to the generous welcoming speeches from the officials and the high spirits and happiness of us new citizens.
For all of us, this has been a long journey. In my case, it began with stories.
My first visits to Britain didn’t come courtesy of planes or ships, but from books. Growing up, I read lots of American authors, but also many, many British ones. Books like Tom’s Midnight Garden, A Little Princess, The Secret Garden, the Mary Poppins books, the Narnia books, and The Dark Is Rising cycle (and later, books by Dorothy Sayers, Jane Austen, the Brontes, and A. S. Byatt, among others) were part of my imaginary landscape.
When I first came to England as a graduate student, I felt as if I’d stepped through a wardrobe and discovered that my Narnia was real. Which isn’t to say that I understood everything here (I didn’t), or that I didn’t have misconceptions (I had plenty). But it does mean that there was magic for me in living here. There still is.
Thanks in part to books, my heart has belonged to two countries for a long time. Now it’s official.
My first act as a British citizen? I went to the library.