In the posthumously published A Nation of Immigrants, John F. Kennedy wrote: “This is the secret of America: a nation of people with the fresh memory of old traditions who dared to explore new frontiers.” Every Fourth of July since 2006, Carnegie Corporation of New York’s Great Immigrants Great Americans campaign has celebrated an inspiring group of men and women, naturalized citizens who enrich the fabric of American life through their lives, their work, their example. To date, more than 500 have been named Great Immigrants by the Corporation.

In the run-up to the announcement of the new class Great Immigrants, we commissioned acclaimed photojournalist Jennifer S. Altman to pay a visit to five past honorees — and we also get to meet a dynamic member of the dynamic class of 2018. Altman’s compelling and stylish portraits of these six extraordinary men and women capture something of their grace, their gravity, and their good humor. And each is — don’t forget — an immigrant to this great nation. They and the millions of other immigrants who have made, and who continue to make, our nation strong and vibrant are The Secret of America.

Photography by Jennifer S. Altman | Produced by Kenneth Benson

Gary Shteyngart:
2011 Great Immigrant

Gary Shteyngart by bookshelf

Gary Shteyngart: “I realized that when you write books, you don’t have an accent. The words on the page don’t have an accent. I would write down books with titles like Invasion from Outer Space and The Challenge…. That’s how I made my first American friends — by writing. The interesting part of [my] immigrant experience is that after a while I stopped being known as ‘The Russian,’ and I started … [being known as] ‘The Writer.’” Read more of Gary Shteyngart "In His Own Words."

Shteyngart’s family arrived in U.S. from Russia when he was seven.

2016 Great Immigrant

Sally Jewell Against Tree Backdrop

Sally Jewell: “Volunteering with NPCA for nine years before becoming secretary of the interior reminded me of the importance of advocacy in protecting the legacy of America’s national parks — the nation’s crown jewels — for generations to come. These are the sites that tell our stories, celebrate our incredible natural beauty, and remind us of our journey — painful and proud.” Read more of Sally Jewell "In Her Own Words."

Jewell served as the 51st secretary of the interior (2013–2017) under President Barack Obama.

Art Acevedo:
2018 Great Immigrant

Art Acevedo at HPD HQ

Art Acevedo: “I grew up wanting to be one of three things: West Point graduate, a police officer, or a deputy district attorney. I got my citizenship and I became a cop. It’s just where I was supposed to be. Everything happens for a reason. That’s the story I share with kids. I tell them, 'Always have a Plan A, a Plan B, a Plan C.'” Read more of Art Acevedo "In His Own Words."

Chief of Police Art Acevedo photographed at Houston Police Department headquarters

Arianna Huffington: 2007 Great Immigrant

Arianna Huffington at Home

Arianna Huffington: "I think that — first of all, even in this environment — we have to remember that immigrants are at the foundation of this country. Keep remembering that fact — and do not lose sight of the importance of immigrants for the American dream. We must remind people of our history — our rich history — and of our foundation.” Read more of Arianna Huffington "In Her Own Words."

Arianna Huffington in her SoHo home in New York City

Kwame anthony Appiah: 2017 Great Immigrant

Kwame Appiah

Kwame Anthony Appiah: “So why did I become an American? You have to be able to say — you want to be able to say — we not you. I’m talking about the country that I live in. My father was a politician, a member of the opposition in several parliaments. But what he taught us was: ‘I don’t require you to live in Ghana, but I do require you to be a good citizen wherever you do live.’ Truly invested in your country, wherever it is.” Read more of Kwame Anthony Appiah "In His Own Words."

Appiah photographed in Battery Park City along the Hudson River in New York City, the Statue of Liberty in the far distance

John Leguizamo: 2013 Great Immigrant

John Leguizamo at home

John Leguizamo: “What is an American now? I think an American is somebody who’s a citizen of this country and respects everyone equally. I think that one of the beautiful things about America is the freedom of speech and the opportunity or the belief that we were all fighting for equality. It’s still the greatest human experiment, this country. It’s still the best. It hasn’t been taken down yet.” Read more of John Leguizamo "In His Own Words."

John Leguizamo in his Greenwich Village home