In the movie “Coming to America”, Prince Akeem, played by Eddie Murphy arrives in New York with an almost naïve sense of wonderment and child-like enthusiasm for this great nation despite a less than warm welcome from his new found neighbors. While he marveled at his new surroundings, the locals were full of disdain and anger. What he found amazing about America, they seemed to take for granted with a sense of bitterness rather than appreciation. It can be argued that this is what America has become today…we have forgotten why we are special and why the way our nation was founded and formed is so special and continues to be. With that complacency of forgetting what united us in the first place comes a divide causing us to stray from what makes this a great place to live and be part of.
My perspective on America as an immigrant was quite different to the one portrayed in the film but it’s something that as I’ve grown, has evolved. Admittedly, I was not given a choice on moving here. Surprisingly a 13 year old’s opinion holds little weight with parents when faced with a decision to move to another country. Nonetheless, moving was to be my lot. An Indian born, English raised schoolboy now on his way to the USA. That was in June of 1992, over 23 years ago.
Coming here from the UK, there was no language barrier to speak of outside of the unexpected English accent coming from an Indian. The first thing I noticed were the flags. There were flags EVERYWHERE. I wasn’t used to seeing flags on houses, offices, stores, and anywhere else imaginable. I was a little taken aback and more so at the time, it made me yearn deeper to go home, back to England.
This feeling wasn’t helped with the “We kicked your a** in the Revolutionary War” related comments, which at the time I barely understood. It may or may not come as much of a surprise, but the U.S. War for Independence isn’t something that had been widely taught, at any depth in English schools. It was more so, “We owned them, they fought us, they won (we let them have at it)” high level type overview on the subject. Then came high school American History class and that’s when I started to understand.
During these classes, I learned about the beginnings, the colonies, slavery, the policies and sparks to revolution, the Declaration, the war, the Constitution, the Civil War, the industrial boom, innovation, world wars, the rise of a superpower. This context was important. It provided an appreciation of what it took. How and why the success of the nation could still be traced back to its founding roots. It’s Constitution. It boiled down to a group of people in a far off colony being mistreated by those they considered countrymen and believing in something better. If I may paraphrase, it went a little something like this…
“This is not how you treat those you consider your own. Let’s start our own thing based on these principles: That we should all be allowed the chance at success through freedom we innately are born with and that is the freedom that should be protected at all costs from tyranny in any form. And under this promise, we will unite together as a nation.”
…Sure, it’s a little more nuanced than that, but it was an important moment. It made me feel like I was now part of something rather than an outsider in a foreign land still grasping and clinging to a homeland he no longer lived in. I was an American now. This is where I would grow up. This would now be my home. There will always be sentimentality towards England. There are many fond memories but, it’s important to make the distinction between that and hanging on too tight because you don’t feel like you are part of something or somewhere new. Now when I see the abundance of flags, I don’t feel overwhelmed and alienated, it makes me feel proud.
As the years have passed and the accent has faded, I’ve realized that it was an important distinction for me to make, to have this realization early on. Rather than fighting a feeling of not being home, I now knew I was already home, an American, and from there I could embrace everything it is, has to offer, and needs me to be. It’s made me brave. It’s made me believe in and find myself. And that’s why I will never regret moving here. Like Prince Akeem in the movie, I feel I haven’t lost that sense of wonderment. It’s important to remind ourselves not to forget, to resist complacency, and always keep that sense of awe.
To Akeem’s point…
Lisa McDowell: So why did you come here?
Prince Akeem: To find something special.
Lisa McDowell: It’s a long way to travel.
Prince Akeem: No journey is too great when one finds what he seeks.