Scottish in Seattle

Jane McGrane on her first trip to the US, taken in 1976 in San Francisco. (Photograph courtesy of Jane McGrane)
Jane McGrane on her first trip to the US, taken in 1976 in San Francisco. (Photograph courtesy of Jane McGrane)

When was the last time you saw a cow? If you lived in Kilmaurs, Scotland, the answer would probably be “this morning.” The town of just over 2,600 people is ringed by dairy farms, manure-filled fields, and cows, making them part of residents’ everyday life.

My mum, Jane McGrane, lived in Kilmaurs for almost 30 years. When she did move, just before she married my dad, Sean, it was to his hometown of Stewarton– an entire mile away. She worked as a hairdresser, then at a factory which made famous highland sweaters from local wool. My dad recalls walking along the mile of train tracks to visit my mum’s town, which still only has one traffic light.

My dad found a job straight out of college at an American tech company with a branch nearby. But despite the many entry-level tech jobs available in Scotland, there were few opportunities to advance in the industry. Now he is a 13-year veteran at Microsoft and my parents have both become American citizens.

Listen: Jane McGrane describes her first day in the U.S. She was 14 years old, visiting her uncle and aunt in California.

According to the 2010 census, there are over 200,000 people of Scottish descent living in Washington, about 3% of the state’s total population. While many are second- or third-generation immigrants, many came directly from Scotland. At Microsoft, and elsewhere, my parents have met scores of Scots with stories similar to theirs: there just aren’t opportunities in Scotland, and American companies pay much better.

Unlike more visible immigrant populations around Seattle, Scottish immigrants have few cultural associations and events. When my parents became citizens, they were among a small minority whose first language was English.

Jane McGrane (middle, back row) and Sean McGrane (right, back row) with Sean's extended family. (Photograph courtesy of Ben Hatton)
Jane McGrane (middle, back row) and Sean McGrane (right, back row) with Sean’s extended family. (Photograph courtesy of Ben Hatton)

Despite the similarities between Scotland and the US, Scottish immigrants still face culture shock, not to mention isolation from their family and lifelong friends. My parents didn’t know anyone in Boston when they first immigrated. They came from Stewarton, with a population of just over 6,000 people, to a city of over 600,000. Less than two years later, they picked up again and moved to Seattle, where again they had no friends or family. They now live in Sammamish, in a house over twice as large as the ones they grew up in.

This story was produced in partnership with the First Days Project.

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