Each year, nearly one million people from more than 150 countries become American citizens. Who are these new Americans, and why do they want to live here?
Inspired by her husband's desire to become an American, Emmy-winning filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi (HBO's Journeys with George) attends naturalization ceremonies across all 50 states and meets brand-new citizens to learn why they chose America as their home. The uplifting, thought-provoking documentary Citizen U.S.A.: A 50 State Road Trip reveals what she discovered. Pelosi's companion book of the same name will be published this month.
On her 50-state road trip, Pelosi discovers who really makes up America's melting-pot society, including: New York City coffee cart guys; a Buddhist monk in Utah; a nuclear scientist at Los Alamos National Lab; a Kentucky Paralympian from Nigeria; young refugees from Iraq living in Nebraska; and a Muslim mother with a dream to take a cruise to Alaska. Whether these new Americans arrived here through political asylum, online dating, adoption, student and work visas, or by swimming across the Rio Grande River (and remained long enough to be granted amnesty), they all came here in search of the American Dream. And though they are no longer visitors, these newest citizens still look at the country with an outsider's perspective, holding up a mirror to show other Americans how they look as a nation — and how much they take for granted, such as running water, the right to bear arms, the freedom to hold hands in public and the right to vote.
Citizen U.S.A.: A 50 State Road Trip opens with the swearing-in ceremony of filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi's Dutch-born husband, Michiel Vos. After the couple's children were born, Pelosi remembers him saying, "I can't be a foreigner in my own family." Her husband's example inspired Pelosi to embark on the road trip "to experience the moment new citizens take their oath, to find out why so many people are willing to renounce their birth country and swear allegiance to the United States of America."
The film intersperses stories of newly naturalized citizens with interviews with such preeminent first-generation Americans as: Madeleine Albright (formerly known as Marie Jana Korbeloa), Secretary of State under President Clinton; Arianna Huffington (Arianna Stassinopoulos), editor of The Huffington Post; Henry Kissinger (Heinz Alfred Kissinger), Secretary of State under President Nixon; and Gene Simmons (Chaim Witz), member of the rock supergroup KISS, all of whom echo the belief that their successes could happen "only in America."
Pelosi concludes that immigrants like her husband "are enriching this country. Seeing America through the eyes of our newest citizens makes you realize all that we take for granted. The American Dream still exists, and if we want to keep that dream alive and keep this country colorful, we just need to make sure that they continue to be welcome."
Citizen U.S.A.: A 50 State Road Trip is by Alexandra Pelosi, who made the 2002's Emmy winner Journeys with George and 2004's Diary of a Political Tourist. She shifted her focus to evangelical Christians in Friends of God: A Road Trip with Alexandra Pelosi (2007) and The Trials of Ted Haggard (2009). Also in 2009, Right America: Feeling Wronged - Some Voices from the Campaign Trail focused on Republican voters in the 2008 Presidential campaign, followed by Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County (2010), about California children living at or near the poverty level.
Citizen U.S.A.: A 50 State Road Trip was directed, produced and filmed by Alexandra Pelosi; produced and filmed by Michiel Vos; edited by Michael Levine & Andy Morreale. For HBO: senior producer, Lisa Heller; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.