I’m exciting about being a new citizen, and happily anticipating my first vote in my adopted country.

Good books for newcomers. (Kathleen Kenna photo)

I’ve been poring over books about the U.S. constitution, history, and civil rights this year, learning more about this place that adopted me.

While I’ve been congratulated by most Americans about my new citizenship, I’ve been puzzled by a few who have asked, in all seriousness, “Why?

They’re saddened by the high unemployment rate, foreclosures, and record numbers of Americans on food stamps.

Me too.

But that’s all the more reason for us to be dedicated to helping those who are most vulnerable, and for working together to make this country stronger. As a new citizen, I’m committed to helping others.

I celebrated my new citizenship this weekend with good friends, drinking made-in-America wine, in sunshine, by the Pacific Ocean. The scenery, and the company, were glorious. We were surrounded by flowers and hummingbirds for two days.

My friends gave me two books to help with my education as a new American: Presidents of America and The American Experience.

I’m really grateful: I need that timeline of U.S. leaders to remember which president did what and when.

Both teachers, my friends wanted to be certain I knew more about the history and culture of their native country. They asked questions about my native country too, and it was wonderful to share our across-borders ideas about education, health care, and social policy. Our political philosophies might differ, but we share common ground on wanting a good future for children.

I like to think of our friendship as “without borders”, because we met through the U.S. military, on another continent. I’m grateful for the kindness of their entire family, who adopted Hadi and me with unconditional love when we most needed it.

Returning home, I found this in The American Experience:

… this great God hath written His law in our hearts, by which we are taught and commanded to love and help, and do good to one another, and not to do harm and mischief one unto another.”

It was written by William Penn, the Quaker leader who was granted a land charter by British King Charles II in 1681, for property that is now Pennsylvania. Penn wrote a lot about peace and justice, while he helped relocate those persecuted in Europe for their beliefs.

The man known as “America’s first great champion for liberty and peace” wrote about kindness and goodness as the cornerstones of citizenship in the New World.

More than three centuries later, his immigrant voice speaks to me, another newcomer.

I’m grateful to my American friends for accepting my Canadian self, to their home.

Recommended reading: The American Experience, edited by Erik Bruun and Jay Crosby (Black Dog & Leventhal, publishers); Presidents of America, by Prof. Jon Roper (Hermes House).

The first book is 894 pages, and has no photos. It includes essays, letters, speeches, poems, stories and songs. The second is packed with illustrations and photos, and crammed with stats and background.

Quick, what was the presidential salary in 1861 and who was president? Abraham Lincoln earned $25,000 a year; 10 states seceded from the union in the first year of his presidency.