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

John Leguizamo: 2013 Great Immigrant

John Leguizamo on street

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."

Leguizamo at the Washington Square Arch: “I personally take a lot of optimism in the kind of marches and the kind of organizing that’s going on. Look at how the youth are politicized. These kids are sacrificing their lives. So eloquent, so politically savvy.”

Kwame anthony Appiah: 2017 Great Immigrant

Kwame Anthony Appiah outside in New York City

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