New Americans' Stories Told In 'Citizen USA' Each year, nearly a million people from all over the world become U.S. citizens. Who are they, and why do they want to be American? Host Scott Simon talks to filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi, who explores these questions in her new documentary Citizen USA: A 50 State Road Trip. It premieres on HBO on the Fourth of July.
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New Americans' Stories Told In 'Citizen USA'

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New Americans' Stories Told In 'Citizen USA'

New Americans' Stories Told In 'Citizen USA'

New Americans' Stories Told In 'Citizen USA'

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Each year, nearly a million people from all over the world become U.S. citizens. Who are they, and why do they want to be American? Host Scott Simon talks to filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi, who explores these questions in her new documentary Citizen USA: A 50 State Road Trip. It premieres on HBO on the Fourth of July.

SCOTT SIMON, Host:

Nearly a million people a year become Americans. They come from all over the world seeking freedom, the chance to vote, find work, or give their families better lives. And each of them has a story that's worthy of a movie.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "CITIZEN USA")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: For me, it's, you know, I can take my family around the block for a walk with a stroller and I don't have to be worried about being hijacked. Sometimes you forget that every day's a blessing. You woke up and it's a gift.

SIMON: Alexandra Pelosi has done a new film that premieres Monday, July 4th, on HBO: "Citizen USA: A 50 State Road Trip," in which she attends naturalization ceremonies in every state. Alexandra Pelosi joins us from member station KQED in San Francisco. Thanks so much for being with us.

ALEXANDRA PELOSI: Thank you for having me. I'm honored to be on the show.

SIMON: And you certainly have a personal reason, don't you?

PELOSI: Well, my husband is Dutch. He came from Holland - legally. And I went to his naturalization ceremony. And when I was there, I realized you watch so much on the news about immigration fight, this and that, but you never really celebrate the people that come here and go through the process the right way. So, I thought I should try and make a film about all the people who actually go through the process successfully and have these great stories that they're contributing to our country.

SIMON: Help us appreciate some of the range of things that the people you spoke to say they just love about coming to the United States.

PELOSI: Well, I think that people assume that when you become an American, the first thing you're going to talk about is freedom and free speech and democracy and all these things that we celebrate. But really it's a quality of life issue for a lot of people. So people would say things like, oh, you have 911.

WOMAN: I love it because you just dial the number and then they come right away for your rescue.

PELOSI: They don't have that in the Philippines. Or you can go into debt in America, because in Korea you have to have the money up front to go to school. And if you don't have that money in cash, you can't go to school. It's these little things that people love so much about this country.

SIMON: Among the people you have in this film: Gene Simmons of KISS who was born in Israel, Madeleine Albright born in what was then Czechoslovakia, Henry Kissinger born in Germany, Arianna Huffington born in Greece. I almost can't think of any group of people...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: ...more different than that quartet, and yet they have very similar feelings about their love for this country.

PELOSI: And they've brought such different things. Gene Simmons, he's brought something to popular culture. Arianna Huffington, what I like about Arianna Huffington, why included her was because she has made herself into a multimillionaire by criticizing America. And Madeleine Albright...

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: My name isn't Madeleine Albright at all. It's Marie Jana Korbelova.

PELOSI: She tells the story of how when she came to America her father...

ALBRIGHT: He said when we were in England, people couldn't have been nicer. They said, you know, your country has been taken over by a terrible dictator, you're welcome here. What can we do to help you, but when are you going home? When we came to the United States, people were very, very nice and they said your country has been taken over by a terrible system, and you are welcome here. What can we do to help you and when will you become a citizen?

PELOSI: What's interesting about America is we welcome people and that's what makes us such a beautiful country.

SIMON: What are some of the things that a lot of the people you spoke with treasure about America that maybe you had taken for granted yourself?

PELOSI: You could travel from town to town by yourself. So still, it's such a luxury to be able to live the lifestyle that I live and I was constantly reminded of that.

SIMON: In this time of economic distress, why do people from all over the world still come here?

PELOSI: The immigrants that I met, they all said: If you work hard in this country, you can get a job, you can buy a house and you can live the American dream.

WOMAN: Is there any country in the world that has it enshrined in their constitution that you have a right to be happy? Any country?

PELOSI: Whether or not we still believe in the American dream, these new American citizens do.

SIMON: Alexandra Pelosi, thanks so much.

PELOSI: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: And you're listening to Weekend Edition from NPR News.

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