Blog | Outside In

Behind the façade

Evidently, the research bug hasn’t left me since I went in search of Sarah’s story for “Old New Worlds.” The other day I took myself on a walking tour of Earls Colne, where my sister settled about twenty miles from where Sarah’s husband grew up in the early 1800s. The earls in question in this little village on the banks of the river Colne (you don’t pronounce the “l”) are the twenty successive Earls of Oxford who were Lords of the Manor from 1141. Their heraldic symbol was a five-pointed star, which you can see in strategic places around the village, like this board on the village green.

At first glance, the buildings along the High Street don’t appear to be as ancient as the tenure of the earls would suggest, but the “House Detectives” Trail devised by the Earls Colne Parish Council guided me to clues of the true medieval period. The local grocery store, for instance, is made up of two medieval houses, and when the Co-op was last refurbished in 1983, a section of the ceiling was left open so that the rafters are clearly visible if you know to look up—as here, in the produce section.


Inadvertent selfie in this medieval windowpane!


A little further east from the Co-op is a little alleyway where you can see, set into the side of the building, a small medieval window, which is the only clue to the 14th century timber frame that has been covered with plaster cladding over the rest of the wall.




Across the street, is this attractive Regency terrace—but it was converted from an Elizabethan mansion built in 1585, and when I explored behind the façade (I hope I wasn’t trespassing!) I found a nest of old roofs—and dovecote!—from the earlier period. A little further east on this side of the road is the only early building in Earls Colne that looks pretty much as it did when it was first build in 1520, aside from the windows and door. Notice the projecting “jetty” of the upper floor, which was typical of the period.

The focal point of the High Street is St Andrew’s Parish Church, built on the site of a church that had stood there before 1100. The impressive tower of the present church dates from the time of John de Vere, the 15th Earl of Oxford (c. 1482 –  1540) who was the first Protestant to take the title. He was knighted by Henry VIII and attended the king in battle, but Henry’s imprint on Earls Colne is a destructive one. He didn’t only play fast and loose with his six wives, he also suppressed the Catholic monasteries in the 1530s and took their land. This was the fate, too, of the Earls Colne Priory, which had been built during the time of Aubrey de Vere in the early 1100s, and, over time, it gradually fell into ruin. Unusually, though, the lands were returned to the de Veres—possibly because of John de Vere’s service to the king, possibly because the family tombs were there. Above this small doorway in the boundary wall of the old priory is a fragment from the tomb of the Eighth Earl of Oxford who died in 1371.

The title of the Earl of Oxford, the second longest in British peerage, is now dormant, but the de Vere family held the entitlement for more than five and a half centuries, until the death of the 20th earl in 1703. It’s fair to say I think that the most famous Earl of Oxford was the 17th, Edward de Vere, because of the Oxfordian theory, which claims that the earl was the author of William Shakespeare’s plays. The dates coincide—Edward de Vere: 1550-1604, Shakespeare: 1564-1616—but I’m not a subscriber to that theory. As Dominic Dromgoole, the former artistic director of the Globe Theatre, facetiously wrote in The New York Times Book Review, “In the world of these high priests [of Shakespearean arcana], nothing can be what it seems … and finally, of course, we tumble into the monumental blindness to reality of the authorship question. Shakespeare cannot be Shakespeare, because he was.” Still, I have to say, learning that Edward de Vere was from this line of Earls of Oxford made my exploration of Earls Colne that much more intriguing.

Today, I am American 18 times over

…for the judge who presided over my citizenship ceremony, it was his last day before he retired, and he teared up as he told us that swearing in new American citizens had been one of the best parts of his job.

“This is a land of immigrants,” he told us. “Even as you become new citizens of these United States, you must never lose the unique cultures that you have brought from your countries. They contribute to the rich tapestry that is America.”

Is it any wonder that I was thrumming with the auspiciousness of it all?

—quote from Old New Worlds


It was on May 4, 2001, four months before 9/11, that I became a naturalized American citizen before this inspiring judge, and every year when the anniversary rolls around I feel it as a gift. I stubbornly hang on to that sense of wide-eyed wonder, no matter how contentious the issues churning around immigration become, and it always makes me think about the myriad immigrants who have left their imprint here. This is the story of one of them.


In 1864, a gangling 6’2″ Hungarian immigrant arrived in the United States at the age of 17 as a draftee for the U.S. Union Army. After the war, he made his way down south, where he scrounged a living as a muleteer, baggage handler, and waiter before he was offered a job at a German language daily newspaper. There, he built such a strong reputation as a tirelessly enterprising journalist that he was offered a controlling interest in the paper. By the time he was 25, he was a publisher. Six years later, he became a newspaper owner, spearheading the kind of investigative journalism that exposed government corruption and wealthy tax-dodgers.

Finding himself in New York in 1883, he bought up a newspaper that was in financial straits. In its pages he continued his crusade against public and private corruption; he used the paper to raise public subscriptions to build a pedestal so that the Statue of Liberty could be put up at the entrance to the New York harbor; and the newspaper led with largest circulation in the country.

In 1904, this immigrant who had arrived in America 40 years before, advocated for the founding of a school of journalism. In 1912, one year after his death, the Columbia School of Journalism was founded, and the first prizes—given annually in his name ever since—were awarded in 1917. The immigrant’s name was Joseph Pulitzer, who who had become a naturalized American citizen on March 6, 1867—just one of the countless migrants who have made a contribution to the very best that is America. How can we not be proud?

The world’s oldest paper

My publisher at Green Writers Press is floating the idea of printing Old New Worlds on hemp—and my instinctive response of “oo!” has quickly turned to Google.

“Hemp hurds are favorable in comparison with those used with pulp wood.”

– Jason L. Merrill, U.S. Department of Agriculture chief scientist in 1916

Cultivation of industrial hemp for fiber
Photo credit: Aleks

So what on earth is a “hurd?” Actually, let’s go back even further, what exactly is hemp? Oh! Hemp is part of the Cannabis species. But before we get too excited, industrial hemp is evidently a different strain from the Cannabis-as-a-drug variety, which has greater amounts of that chemical that causes marijuana to affect your mind and/or behavior. And the industrial hemp hurd, then, is the inner core of the hemp plant stalk or stem, which they pulp to make paper.

Now, here is the really big takeaway: hemp is hugely environment friendly. It requires minimal care; it can adapt to most climates; and it is much more eco-friendly and sustainable than tree paper because it can be produced more quickly than trees—hemp stalks grow in 4 months, whereas trees take 20-80 years. This absolutely ties in with the ethos of Green Writers Press, whose mission is to print sustainably. Even now, their books are printed with soy-based inks on paper made from pulp that comes from post-consumer waste paper. The GWP motto is:

“What the localvore movement did for the food industry, we want to be for publishing.”

Declaration of Independence, draft one
Public Domain

And here’s the part I also really love about printing on hemp paper: it was the world’s first paper! The Ministry of Hemp site tells me that the first identified paper dates back to the early Western Han Dynasty—around 200-150 BC—and that, since then, hemp paper was used all across the world. The Gutenberg Bible, the first and second drafts of the Declaration of Independence, and the novels of Mark Twain were all printed on hemp paper. Then, in the 1930s, big synthetic textile companies and newspapers—going against the wisdom of Jason L. Merrill, quoted above—lobbied to prohibit the cultivation of hemp in the United States. And they succeeded.

So, let that not only be a lesson to us about dubious lobbying practices; let us also see if we can be part of the movement to turn the tide towards hemp paper again—along with indie publishers like Green Writers Press. I’d love to be part of that journey.

Outside In: Vince Lupo

This picture from September 1994 shows professional photographer, Vince Lupo, and his father at Tybee Island, GA. Just one month before, Vince had moved from Toronto, Ontario, in Canada to attend graduate school at the Savannah College of Art and Design. “It was a pretty stressful move for me,” he says, “moving to a new country, a new school, new teachers, new students, and living on my own for the first time in my life – and at age 28.” His father had been a bit hesitant to support Vince’s grad school venture, but an influential undergrad teacher had written an encouraging letter of support, and this photo pretty much sums up his dad’s eventual embrace of Vince’s new life in the US, particularly in Savannah. “He loved the area, the town, the people,” says Vince, “and, as you can see, the beach.” 

Vince had been awarded a Presidential Scholarship to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design (“How could I refuse?” he deadpans) and, after he graduated with an MFA degree in Still Photography Studies, he found that he didn’t want to go back to Canada. “I had this taste of ‘freedom’ and didn’t want to squander it by going back home, so I applied for an ‘Optional Practical Training’ through my student visa.” This option is a one-year work permit for foreign graduating students. Through that, he got a job in Annapolis, MD, and ended up building his own business as a commercial photographer and owner of Direction One, Inc., a commercial photography firm. 

This next photograph shows Vince and his American-born wife in New Mexico. Vince remains a Canadian citizen but, through his marriage to an American, he has a Green Card. It was quite a process to get, he says – a mound of supporting paperwork, a lawyer, a fair amount of money, various medical exams, background checks, fingerprinting, letters of support from neighbors and friends, interviews – but it was entirely worth it. The interview process to verify the veracity of Vince’s marriage turned out to be pretty funny. “Our lawyer first conducted a ‘mock’ interview to prepare us for what we might encounter,” says Vince. “He asked questions like ‘Mr. Lupo, can you tell me how many steps there are up to the front door of your house?’ ‘Can you tell me if your wife has any brothers or sisters?’ ‘What are their names?’ ‘Where do they live?’ ‘What does your wife keep on her bedside table?’” When it came time for the actual interview, Vince, his wife, and their lawyer went to the Fallon building in downtown Baltimore, and they were called into a small office, where the interviewer sat behind her desk. Her first question to the couple was, “How did you two meet?” “So my wife started to tell the story,” says Vince, “then I broke in to correct her about some detail, then she corrected me about another detail. After about two minutes of this, the interviewer stopped the interview and said ‘Okay, you guys are married, you pass.’” The best part of immigrating to America, Vince says, is that he has a wonderful marriage.   

The most difficult part is to maintain his ‘life’ down here and to maintain his ‘life’ in Canada. Sometimes, the pull to spend more time in Canada with his family can be a bit tricky when he also has to keep up his family life down here. He misses being closer to his Canadian relatives and his familiar surroundings – even though the city of Toronto has changed quite a bit since 1994. He also finds that not being with his fellow Canadians (“my people!”) can be a bit of a challenge, even though he is quick to add that Americans are okay too. So, although home for Vince is currently just south of Baltimore, MD, he and his wife have just bought a piece of property near Ottawa, Ontario – so home could possibly change in the coming years.


Outside In: Sujata Massey

Sujata Massey is the award-winning author of the Rei Shimura mystery series set in Japan, and of suspense and mystery fiction set in late British colonial India. In the fourteen novels that Sujata has written over the last twenty years, she’s been interested in sharing the experience of other places, and her new book, The Widows of Malabar Hill, which is coming out in January, is about a Zoroastrian Indian woman – a tiny minority within the country – who is even more different as she’s one of the country’s first women lawyers in early 20th century Bombay. These exotic settings and storylines give a hint of the intricate threads in Sujata’s own life that have led her to make her home in a Victorian summer cottage in the Wyndhurst neighborhood of North Baltimore.

Sujata’s father came from India and her mother from Germany. After they met in England, they had fall-outs with both families who didn’t want them to marry outside of their culture. But they did – and happily were forgiven, and their three daughters are welcome whenever they visit India and Germany. Sujata was born in England, and she describes this as an invisible marking that made her immigration experience quite different from that of her parents.

It was his scientific specialty in geophysics that facilitated Sujata’s father getting a visa for the whole family to come first to California and then to Pennsylvania for work. While working at the Franklin Institute of Science in Philadelphia in 1969, he and others were tasked with examining the moon rocks from the Apollo 11 space mission. He let his daughters hold the plain gray stones in their hands and explained where they’d come from. “I felt special knowing I was one of the first children in the world to touch part of the moon,” Sujata says. “And the moon rocks also express for me the tremendous change in destiny we all had through immigration.”

Sujata was five years old when the family left Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England to come to the States, and she didn’t want to leave her friends and familiar neighborhood. “I proudly told everyone who asked my origin that I came from England. It may have looked cute – the brown girl with long black braids speaking in a Geordie accent for the first year – but it turned into a long-ranging difficulty for me integrating into school.” Her social situation really became difficult after the family moved to Minnesota in the early 1970s, when her father joined the faculty at the University of Minnesota. “This was the Twin Cities in the 1970s, which meant diverse social contacts in the university world for my parents to enjoy. However, I was ostracized from grade 2 to 12. My foreign name, brown skin, different interests, and refusal to conform were the problem.” The struggle of growing up in a very racially prejudiced school environment changed her forever.

Based on an instinct that the East Coast would be better for her than the Midwest, Sujata moved to Baltimore to study English at Goucher College when it was still an all-women’s school, before transferring to Johns Hopkins University and earning a B.A. in the Writing Seminars. Her instincts about the East Coast were right: “It was easy to make friends at Hopkins, which was very international,” she says.

Sujata’s whole family got green cards very easily due to her father’s desirable immigration status as a scientist in the 1960s. “It was a special time,” she says, “when the U.S. government was eager to build its science capabilities to compete with the Soviet Union. In those days, South Asian immigrants were few and far between – most were doctors or scientists.” It would be many years before Sujata decided to turn her green card status into U.S. citizenship. In 1998, she and her American husband were preparing to adopt a baby from India. “Looking at the immigration paperwork, it became clear that things would go more smoothly for our family if both my husband and I were citizens.” Now, she’s very glad that she did it. She’s active in voting and also supporting candidates she believes in. “My status as a citizen makes me feel safer, given the recent turn of events in this country,” she says. “We are tremendously blessed to have been able to adopt our children, because immigration rules have changed making it more difficult now. I made quite sure that our adopted kids have their certificates of naturalization and U.S. passports so they don’t face the risk of deportation.”

As a naturalized U.S. citizen, Sujata thinks of herself an American who will always stand up for immigrants. She tells the story of speaking on the phone to a tradesman about coming out to do a fix-it job in her house. “In a knowing voice, he said to me, ‘I’m not going to send you any foreigners.’ I stopped him right there and told him that I was a foreigner ­– my whole household was made up of immigrants – and his comment had offended me. He went even deeper into things, saying that certain immigrants had come into his industry and didn’t know what they were doing and were ruining the business. Of course I cancelled the job. People need to know that just because someone has an American accent, it doesn’t mean that they will be complicit in racism.”

For Sujata, the strangest part of her immigrant’s story is that she realizes she appears to most people as Asian American. She uses that term for herself occasionally. But when it comes down to it, she wonders if that is technically true. “What happens to the German part of me, and the British?” The Victorian summer cottage in Baltimore – the home she shares with the husband from Louisiana whom she met at Hopkins and the children they’ve adopted from India – is furnished with a mix of American, English, and Asian furniture and art. “A real mashup,” says Sujata, “just like all of us.” 

Outside In: Maria Lucia Silva Jaimes

Although you wouldn’t know it to look at it, this photograph was taken shortly after Maria Lucia Silva Jaimes had gone through a difficult and scary health episode. She was living in the U.S. at the time, and she went through it without telling her family back in Colombia because she didn’t want to make them worry. So, for her, this image means strength, resilience, and independence.

Maria Lucia comes from Bucaramanga, Colombia, which she describes as “a lovely mid-city on top of the Andes Mountains.” She left Bucaramanga to learn and experience more life than she knew there was in the town, to be able to live in a more inclusive society. And, she made her way to America because of that age-old driving force: “Love.”

Love has a way of taking on a life of its own, and Maria Lucia has reveled in meeting “all the wonderful beautiful people I now call friends and family.” Still, love also needs some down-to-earth practicality to help it along at times. And so, Maria Lucia, who is a scientist, secured a position as a Quality Manager at one of America’s largest and most successful companies specializing in advanced plastics compounding systems. The company sponsored her H-1B Visa, which allows U.S. employers to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations, and she worked first in their headquarters in Baltimore and then moved to their facility in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Her status as an immigrant has made Maria Lucia feel very fortunate, she says, because she has been able to broaden her knowledge and her way of seeing life. For her, the strangest part of it all has been realizing that, even though she wasn’t born here, she feels she belongs here. “I feel more normal and comfortable with myself than at my hometown,” she says. “I have grown to love this country and feel a part of it.”

And yet, being an immigrant has given her anxiety at times. “Being away from my nona (grandmother), and missing her last years of awareness, has broken my heart. I’ve never been the same since then.” Perhaps that is why, when you ask Maria Lucia where home is, her simple answer is, “I don’t know.”


Outside In: Minás Konsolas

This quintessential photograph is a strong reminder – both literally and symbolically – of where Minás Konsolas came from. It is of his mother, in a moment that can never be recreated, in their family home in Olymbos Karpathos, Greece.

The phrase, “Go West, young man,” attributed to the founder of the New York Tribune, Horace Greeley, was always in Minás’s plans in his early years. So, after he had completed his mandatory service in the Greek Army, that is exactly what he did. In fact, he followed in the footsteps of a procession of family members who had gone west. His uncle was a World War II volunteer; his older sister was married to a Greek-American; his younger sisters followed; and Minás’s turn came in 1976. Back then, it wasn’t as tough as it is now, and he was able to come legally, with a green card. Within five years, as soon as he was eligible to apply, he became a U.S. citizen, and he “feels great” about his status. For him, the strangest part has been that the community he left behind in Greece recreated itself in Baltimore. As he says, “I was not the only one to leave the Village…”

The full quote by Horace Greeley is, “Go west young man, and grow up with the country,” and it’s what Minás has done in the 40 years he has lived in America – the longer part of his life. Minás is a painter. After he graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art – the best part of being here, he says, is that he went to an art college and met his wife of 20 years, Peggy Hoffman – he established Minás Gallery, one of Baltimore’s alternative art spaces. Situated above his vintage clothing boutique in Hampden, his gallery was a gathering spot for local artists, writers, and performers to find an outlet for poetry, both visual and verbal.

When Minás closed down the gallery after 22 years, it was so that he could devote himself to painting full time. “I am most at home in front of my canvas!” he says. This, of course, begs the question of where home is for him now. “My adopted home is here in the city I love for it’s diversity, Baltimore.” But he adds, “Greece will always be a big part of me. I miss family, friends, and all things you cannot recreate.” Like that moment with his mother in their family home in Olymbos Karpathos.

Outside In: Kwame Kwei-Armah

When Kwame Kwei-Armah was invited to become the Artistic Director of Baltimore Center Stage six years ago, the thing that struck him most about moving to Maryland was the colors. “The colors of the sky,” he says, “the colors of fall, in particular. The leaves are so beautiful, the colors are so vibrant.” He remembers snapping this image and seeing the snow, which really shouldn’t be in it. “Snow and fall, in my humble opinion, are two separate things. But in the middle of fall, we had this snowstorm and it feels a little bit like my life. Like the immigrant’s life, actually. So many things are surprising about living in a new country. So many things catch you off guard.”

Another thing that struck Kwame, one of the things that has been the best part of being here for him, is the energy that is America. The engine of optimism. “Without a shadow of a doubt, it is a can-do country,” he says. “In my experience of this country, from my privileged position, if you have a good idea here people say ‘how can we make it work?’ It’s geared towards that kind of entrepreneurial spirit. That’s very exciting.”

Kwame was born in London to immigrant parents, so he is a first-generation British born. The country he was born into really saw him as an immigrant, probably up until about fifteen or twenty years ago. And he felt like an immigrant. Then, post 1997 in Britain, there was a real push towards inclusion, and he began to feel British for the first time, as if England was his home. “And then what did I do? I up and made myself an immigrant again. And as an adult being an immigrant, I understand how bold it was of my parents, who were in their 20s when they left Grenada to come to England, what a big bold experience it is.”

His immigrant status is really, really fascinating for Kwame. “As a natural born, there are critiques you can make of your country, critiques you can make of your government, that as an immigrant you think twice before you … not think it, but before you articulate it. You find a different way of framing it,” he says. “Because, quintessentially, someone born in a country can say exactly the same thing and it can be perceived as love for the country, and the exact same thing from someone foreign can be seen as hate for the country.” So, he believes, there is an insecurity about being an immigrant that affects you intellectually; that makes you have to think more than you normally would about the way you see the world and what you can do to solve it. So the experience of being an immigrant has made him more empathetic. “I count my blessings a bit more. It’s made me, I think, slightly wiser.”

Kwame still has family in London, and missing the people he loves is the most difficult part – his family, and the friends that have been his friends for twenty and thirty years. Still, he got here when social media was exploding, and it’s revolutionized his connection to home. “I can get on the phone and call someone and it doesn’t cost me anything. And I can see them via FaceTime, and that’s fantastic.”

Evidently, Kwame has picked up the “can-do” element of America. Likewise, the energy that he pours into being a multi-talented theater practitioner – playwright, director, actor, and Artistic Director at Baltimore Center Stage – is a good fit for this country. The strangest part of being an immigrant in America, Kwame says, has been not being able to vote – but, given his can-do energy, one has the sense that even that has the potential to change.

Outside In: Najwa Al Amin

When Najwa Al Amin arrived at the Iraqi border after a ten-hour drive from Baghdad ­– the only way in or out for anyone in the 1990s was by land because of the UN embargo – she came face to face with an Iraqi customs officer, who could easily have said, “Go back!” She passed through that first gate. The second gate was in Jordan, where the Jordanian customs officer could also have said, “Go back!” The third gate was the Sanaa /Yemen Airport – Yemen, Jordan, and Libya were the only three countries back then that took an Iraqi passport holder. The fourth gate was the most difficult; it was the American Embassy, where Najwa applied for a visa to the U.S. to visit her mother and two siblings, who were living in America. The fifth gate was at Jeddah Airport in Saudi Arabia, where the officer confiscated Najwa’s passport containing her American visa . . . for hours, without a word. He, too, could have sent her back. The sixth gate was at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., July 2000. The immigration officers pulled Najwa out of the line to a separate room, took photographs, and fingerprinted her, before letting her in. Behind the seventh gate, stood Najwa’s mother, her sister, whom she hadn’t seen for 10 years, and her sister’s family. The eighth gate Najwa had to pass through was when the immigration officer decided whether to grant her permanent residency or not.

Najwa Al Amin “gates of hope”

This image is one of Najwa’s paintings. It represents every gate she had to pass through to come the United States.

Back in Baghdad, in the mid-1990s, young professionals would secretly talk about migrating. Baghdad had become a lawless, dangerous city after two wars and a brutal UN embargo that took its toll on innocent civilians, with no end in sight. The migration options these young professionals talked about were Australia, Canada, New Zealand . . . and they would always say to each other that the U.S. was the best place to migrate to for a reason; it is made up of immigrants, and one will fit right in.

According to immigration law, Najwa says, anyone who comes into the U.S. on a visitor’s visa from a “war zone” or a troubled country can apply for asylum, if they can prove that it is too dangerous to go back and have no residency anywhere else. Initially, Najwa was going to send an immigration application to Canada, but her sister said to her, “America is a great country, you will love it here.” So Najwa hired a lawyer and applied for asylum, and she was granted asylum status in the States. Coming just fourteen months after Najwa arrived in America, 9/11 stirred up feelings in her that were amongst the strangest of her whole immigrant experience. “I foolishly thought I left such tragic events behind,” she says.

Najwa makes her home in Baltimore now. She subsidizes her artist’s life by being a licensed childcare provider, and she says that being in the States has changed her. “I was able to just be me,” she says. “The best part was freedom, and independence, self confidence, safety, kindness of the people.”

But it was hard won. By the time Najwa had passed through the eighth gate of her migration, when the immigration officer decided whether to grant her permanent residency or not, she was so tired of officers’ interviews, not to mention the anxiety, the worry about the eleven-year-old son she’d left behind in Yemen, the marriage that had collapsed, and working two jobs, seven days a week, to pay rent and support herself.

Four years after she came to the States, Najwa was able to bring her son to join her, but she didn’t travel outside the U.S. herself until she had an American passport. “I remember thinking, the magic of what a piece of paper can do . . . gates just seem to disappear for a while.”

Outside In: Alison Woodall

When Alison Woodall was 24 years old, she set off from England to travel the world, stopping over briefly in America. It was a country she had little interest in; it was simply a stop on the way to New Zealand and Australia. Four days into her trip, she met an American at the Grand Canyon, and knew she had to come back to the States and marry him. She spent a year desperately searching for an American company to employ her and, after nearly two years, one job offer, and at least $7000 in lawyer and visa applications fees, she was back in the States. “I loved my job and the U.S.A.,” says Alison, “but not the man I moved here for!” After two years working for a consultancy firm and seeing all 50 states, just when she was ready to move back to England, she met the man she would marry.

Alison had a good role model. Her mother was born in South Africa, and moved to the UK to marry an Englishman. Having lived in England for over 45 years, Alison’s mother is proudly English. “She is my role model for assimilation,” says Alison, who grew up in England and was always English – never British and definitely never European – but loved having South African heritage. “I knew I never wanted to marry someone English. I wanted to marry someone from somewhere else, but who shared my values, as my Dad had done.”

When Alison first came to the States, she managed to get an H-1B temporary work visa, even though she was told she had less than a 20% chance of getting it because she had the ‘wrong’ degree for the job she was applying for. As soon as she married, she applied for her green card, a procedure that took over two years and thousands of dollars. In the middle of the process, when she was four months pregnant, an INS official told her that it would be all right for her to visit England. He was wrong. Alison’s green card application was invalidated. She was stuck in England for six weeks, and had to pay for an emergency visa to get back to the States. Then, she had to apply all over again for her green card, and the second time they switched her fingerprints with those of a Vietnamese man, so that delayed the process still further.

In November 2015, Alison became a U.S. citizen (the strangest part was being one of only a handful of people who knew the words to the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem), and it was the easiest, quickest, and cheapest part of her immigrant process. But the whole experience has given her definite opinions about immigration. “It was incredibly expensive and stressful, but I accepted that it was just the nature of the immigration process,” she says. “I have no sympathy for the people who are here illegally and expect special treatment, or those who come from countries with a history of terrorism and can’t understand why they aren’t welcomed with open arms. The rules are here to keep the country safe. If you are qualified enough or lucky enough, you will get in, and if you aren’t that is just life!”

Alison is fully assimilated into the American culture, and she is “intensely proud to be an American.” She doesn’t cling to English things, and probably the only weird part was changing her date of birth from 8/3/75 to 3/8/75, because of the month going before the day. She says that her life is a million times better than she could ever have imagined it would be, largely because of the place she lives, in Atlanta, Georgia. “Not only am I proudly American, I’m especially proud of my husband’s southern heritage,” she says. “I’ve kept my English accent simply because it takes too much effort to change, but if I spoke with an American accent it would be a very southern accent. I’d say “all a y’all” at every opportunity! I hate it when movies use actors with southern accents to portray someone stupid or prejudiced, because the south is the most welcoming place I’ve ever lived.” Alison also loves the opportunities that her children have here. In fact, the only thing that she misses is “not having family and several high school friends here enjoying my journey,” which has turned out to be a completely different journey from the one she started at 24 years old, when America was a country she had little interest in.