Originally published July 1, 2014
Peter Beston will celebrate Independence Day differently this year. Instead of observing the holiday as an “outsider,” as he until recently referred to himself, he will celebrate for the first time with his family and close friends as an official American citizen.Mr. Beston became a dual citizen of the United States and England on Wednesday, June 11. His new passport arrived in the mail just last week, solidifying the end of the process that began with the securing of a tourist visa in the late 1960s.
“I fell in love with America in 1968, the first time I stepped off the plane,” Mr. Beston, 65, recalled from his home in East Quogue on Friday morning.
On the table in the home’s foyer sits a bouquet of red, white and blue carnations, a copy of the Declaration of Independence, an Uncle Sam nutcracker, and three small American flags. Designed by Mr. Beston’s spouse, Vito Gentile, the table has been set up that way in their home since Mr. Beston received his citizenship papers.
A homemade “Congratulations U.S.A.-U.K. Citizen Peter Beston” sign still hangs from the wall in their dining room that runs adjacent to the foyer—again the work of Mr. Gentile.
Mr. Beston gleamed with pride when he spoke about the celebrations, both past and upcoming, regarding his new citizenship.
“My privilege is now to be able to share in that,” he said, referring to Independence Day this Friday. “And I will be celebrating with [friends and family] not as an outsider, not as a representative of King George III, but as a fellow American citizen.”
Mr. Beston, who had been steered by wanderlust for much of his time as a film editor, noted that traveling to the United States was like nothing he had experienced before. During that time, he was sent to America on behalf of his company, which was based in London, often to visit New York and Los Angeles, though he also made time to explore the Grand Canyon and a few Southern states.
He said the physical size of the United States, as well as the demeanor of its people, really drew him here. He grew up watching movies about New York City, and explained that he had always felt drawn to the Big Apple.
What he did not expect to find in the states, though, was love. He met his spouse, Vito Gentile, during one of his visits through mutual friends.
“The possibility of a trans-Atlantic relationship seemed impossible,” Mr. Beston said, “but, somehow, we knew it wasn’t going away.”
In 2002, the couple declared their love at a commitment ceremony in London. Mr. Beston applied for a work visa around that time so that he could stay in the states for longer periods. Tourist visas only last 90 days.
At the same time, the two gentlemen quit their jobs—Mr. Beston left his film company, and Mr. Gentile had, up until that time, worked on Wall Street—so that they could spend more time together, both freelancing in their respective fields.
In February 2009, much to his surprise, as he was not expecting an answer for several more months, Mr. Beston’s Green Card from the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services “popped through the letterbox.” It was at that time that Mr. Beston told his partner that he did not want to take him away from his family—Mr. Gentile is one of seven children and has about 30 first cousins—so, instead, they started looking for a home in the United States, even though Mr. Beston still was not officially a U.S. citizen
Their current home in East Quogue was the first house they found. The extended yards in front and back immediately drew the pair to the property, and the high ceilings and large amount of interior space sold them on the home. The two each had a large art collections and needed plenty of space to display their pieces.
In August 2011, the couple recited their vows in the foyer of their home, in front of a judge and a few close relatives, and were married.
But it was not until last November that Mr. Beston applied for citizenship. When married to an American citizen, a foreign spouse is issued a Green Card if approved by the federal government, but must wait five years before applying for citizenship. Since Mr. Beston had his card prior to getting married, he did not need to wait so long.
The final piece of the citizenship application is an interview and oral exam, in which applicants are asked questions about U.S. history and the government. Mr. Gentile quizzed Mr. Beston over breakfast each morning to prepare for the exam. By the time the interview rolled around on May 13, Mr. Beston said he memorized all 100 possible questions. Fewer than a dozen are asked, and the questions vary and depend on who is giving the exam.
“I think it’s a very good thing that everyone learns,” Mr. Beston said. “I was very lucky with my questions though,” he added, explaining that his were relatively simple and mostly related to geography and civics.
At a ceremony held in front of a judge last month, Mr. Beston was deemed a citizen of the United States. He can still recall the judge’s parting message: “Welcome to America. I know it’s been a very long process, and you’ll hear a lot of negativity about this or that, but it’s just noise. What this country is about is a sense of belonging, a sense of patriotism.”
Those words still ring true for Mr. Beston, more than 45 years after he first stepped foot on American soil.
“I haven’t come across any country where sense of belonging and pride for a country and respect for the government and office of the presidency, like him or not, was so strong,” Mr. Beston said. “It is very powerful. I’m proud to be British, but we’re not on the level of being the patriots that Americans are. I think patriotism is wonderful.”
Since retiring from the film industry, Mr. Beston has been working as an artist. Noting that he’s already turned 65 and, as of last month, now an American citizen, Mr. Beston is now looking forward to his third significant accomplishment of 2014: displaying his paintings for the first time in an exhibit.
Starting on August 1, his paintings will be on display at the Rosalie Dimon Gallery at the Jamesport Manor Inn in Jamesport. The exhibit is being sponsored by the East End Arts Council. Mr. Beston already has been featured in Dan’s Papers and in two other joint exhibits in Quogue and through the East End Arts Council. And, next Friday, July 11, he will be one several local artists painting on-site in those homes being featured in this year’s Westhampton Garden Club House and Garden Tour.
“My reputation has been building very slowly, and I’m content to take the time,” Mr. Beston said, noting that he considers himself a realist painter who does not dabble in the abstract.
Currently, he’s working on a series of portraits of his family members based on old photographs since most of his relatives are deceased.
Looking back, Mr. Beston said he never thought he’d end up in East Quogue, overlooking the vast array of flowers in the garden he planted.
“You need to know whether or not you feel confident enough to take the jump or stick with your old life,” he said. “The thought of upping sticks and moving to a different country was very exciting. It was an adventure, and it still is.”