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What being an American means to this author, host and former British citizen

The Fourth of July weekend is a moment to celebrate the founding ideals of our republic and how our democracy inspires immigrants to journey toward a new life. Amna Nawaz talks to a British-turned-American author Roger Bennett about his unique perspective on what it means to call the United States home.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The July Fourth weekend is a moment to celebrate the founding ideals of our republic and how our idea of democracy inspires immigrants to journey toward a new life.

    Amna Nawaz talks to a British-turned-American author with a unique perspective on what it means to call the U.S. home.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, Roger Bennett is the co-host "Men in Blazers" TV show. But before he became a soccer commentator and American citizen, he was an '80's kid from Liverpool, England, obsessed with America.

    From "Miami Vice," to the Super Bowl Shuffle, to the Beastie Boys, America represented all the opportunities he felt were out of his reach across the pond.

    His new book is "(Re)born in the USA: An Englishman's Love Letter to His Chosen Home."

    Rog, welcome back to the "NewsHour." Always good to have you here.

  • Roger Bennett, Author:

    Amna, what a way to end this Fourth of July weekend, being with you.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, this obsession with all things America, where does it come from?

  • Roger Bennett:

    I grew up in Liverpool in the 1980s. It is a magnificent city, but, back then, it was in economic decline, the North of England. The coal mines had shut, the steel mills shut down.

    If you have watched "Billy Elliot," you kind of get the drift. And I didn't have belly dancing in my life, but what I did have was America, American soft power. And, as a teen, I inhaled every book, movie, television show, sports star, vinyl L.P. I could get my hands on.

    That's how I survived the darkness of Liverpool in the 1980s. But, really, I was an American trapped in an Englishman's body.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You had some ancestors early in your family who had also dreamt about coming to the U.S. and never made it. Did that influence your love for America too?

  • Roger Bennett:

    That is actually the gentleman over my shoulder, my great-grandfather, Harris.

    The myth of the Liverpool Jewish community is that they left Ukraine with thousands. He was a butcher headed to Chicago, the hog capital of the world. And when the boat docked to refuel in Liverpool, he saw the one tall building on the Liverpool skyline, thought he was in New York City, and got off the boat thinking, he was in the promised land.

    And so my own grandfather, who I was very close to, whenever things went wrong, he would pick up a tiny little tchotchke, a Statue of Liberty, from his fireplace, and look at it and stare at it and say: "Oh, we should have lived there. We should have lived there."

    So, I always felt, even though I'd never set foot in America, that was where I was meant to be.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, you spent so much of your childhood consuming every bit of Americana that you could in the '80s. Of course, we mentioned "Miami Vice." You grew to love American music, just soaked up everything you could.

    John Hughes movies, you mentioned as well, speaking to you on a very deep level. Why? What was it about those movies and music that spoke to you?

  • Roger Bennett:

    It seems so crazy on the surface, "Hart to Hart," "The Love Boat," "Miami Vice," "Moonlighting."

    But I was enjoying them and imbibing them in the same way, just like, say, "Animal Farm" is just a book about horses and pigs. Below the surface, the American color that you received, a life of possibility, a life of joy, a life where you can take your own future to into your hands, it was a complete contrast to the black and white in which I grew up with.

    And that's something that Americans often don't remember about their own nation. When you become America, and when you say the oath of allegiance we have 162 people from 42 countries, many of whom have escaped civil war or famine or worse to arrive here, all of us were animated by the American idea, that American dream.

    And that notion of America from afar gives the world such courage, such joy, such tenacity. It saved my life when I needed it, and thousands more.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And you tell that story so beautifully in the book about becoming a citizen in 2018.

    But you also tweeted a photo, I recall, after you became a citizen. A lot of people who sent you congratulations notes. You noted in the book too that some noted: We're so glad you're an American citizen. Thank you for taking the legal pathway, as it were.

    As you note in the book, though, you came here in 1993, and you overstayed a tourist visa, and then went on to become a citizen.

    And I wonder how you process that, the sort of reaction you got in becoming a citizen and pursuing American citizenship, as opposed to the ones others people get.

  • Roger Bennett:

    I grew up as a kid with the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline painted on my bedroom wall dreaming of living here, and ended up making that absolutely true. And it was the greatest moment of my life to become an American, to swear the oath of allegiance to this country.

    My whole life has been based around the notion of the American dream. The one I had as a child, who had not set foot in the country, it was rich, it was deep, it was built on a perception. It's very different to the American reality.

    And, Amna, I still love the American idea more than ever. Now I am here. Now I vote. Now I have four American kids. But the epigraph of my book is how I square the circle. It's the words of Langston Hughes, the great poet, who wrote, oh, let America be America again, the land that never has been yet and yet must be.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Rog, I have to ask you. You spent much of your childhood mass-consuming every bit of America you could.

    Now millions of Americans know you as their gateway to one of England's chief exports, professional soccer. Is there a little bit of irony there? Is that a full circle moment? What's going on?

  • Roger Bennett:

    I love two things in my life. I love football. I'm from Liverpool. It's like high school basketball in Indiana or high school football in Texas. It's how we understand the world. And I also love America.

    I have to say it's the joy of my life to have seen the sport I love when I came here. And on our show, we joke soccer, America's sport of the future, as it has been since 1972. But the game now, our women are world champions. And I will just say, our men, they're almost half as good as our women now, which may be good enough to make a lot of noise at the next World Cup.

    So that future, thank God, is now.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Roger Bennett, host of the "Men in Blazers" show and author of the new book "(Re)born in the USA: An Englishman's Love Letter to His Chosen Home."

    Rog, always good to talk to you.

  • Roger Bennett:

    Happy Independence Day to everyone, Judy Woodruff in particular.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we appreciate that, Roger Bennett. Thank you. Love hearing from you.

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