A red metal x rises out of the concrete in the distance. “That’s Juarez” Dwight says. Even though I know this, the way that El Paso and Juarez almost intermingle always surprises me. You could accidentally end up in Mexico if you take the wrong exist off the I-10. But that is an adventure for another day and another time.
As I stood and looked out the window of our hotel room, Juarez stretched out into the distance. A large American flag loomed large in the foreground on the side of a building, just across the I-10 highway as the cars barrel past. It feels like it encompasses where this journey is beginning – at the edges of America.
This trip is about approaching America as an outsider and seeking to listen, observe, and perhaps coming to an understanding of the beating heart that nourishes, heals, and grows the national enterprise that is the USA.
Let’s start with an admission: since the middle of last year, it hasn’t always felt good to be an expat or an immigrant here in the US. The rhetoric has given rise to increasing xenophobia (xenophobia means fear of foreign things or people) and a feeling of being rejected by a country that I am considering adopting through naturalization. I have listened, watched, and felt the way in small and big decisions, policies have arisen that make it clear that there is a definition of “american” that is out of the reach of any immigrant, legal or not – and disturbingly out of reach of even many “natural born” Americans.
I want to understand America. I don’t think I will be able to get my head around it all in just one month – I moved to the US for the first time 10 years ago (for Graduate School) after all – but I want to see the liminal spaces, the edges, in a new light. I hope to hear the stories of Americans from across the country. Hearing these stories will be an education in an of itself. I will be returning to some cities I first visited more than a decade ago, and I will write.
The butterflies swarmed in my stomach. The pink lillies in the flower vase seemed to nod toward the door as I wandered through the house taking it all in. For all the wanderlust that inspires and drives me, the desire to plant roots deep even if just for the time we are in each house runs deep. D smiled at me – he finds my sentimentalism amusing. I stand next to the wreath on our front door and he takes an “official trip beginning” photo – the small American flags adorning the wreath stiffly waving.
The butterflies swarmed again. D looked at me quizzically. “Are you nervous ?” He asked. I admitted that I was. He said he was surprised. I was glad he was able to come to El Paso with me for this last night.
The appearance of nerves as we left our home in southern New Mexico yesterday came as a surprise to me too. Was it excitement? maybe. I have spent most of the last 16 years or so traveling solo around the world – but this feels like a different journey than those I have done before. Even with all the work travel we both do we work hard to try and see each other every couple of weeks; I haven’t been away from D this long consecutively since the months we spent apart after our wedding when I was waiting in Australia for out initial immigration petition to be reviewed.
The logistics of a trip like this are many. The moving parts are probably the most daunting, yet also the part you can organize and control. Now, I step into travel mode – I go with the flow, and take each experience for what it is, even things like getting lost and things not going right.
I hadn’t let myself feel the emotions of anticipation, excitement, hope, or wonder about this trip until yesterday. Today, if you’re looking for me, I’m the one with the perma-smile on my face. I am excited about what this trip holds and making the most of each moment!
So here we go boys and girls – Game face on! Let’s do this!?
How can you be part of the American Identity Tour?
I’m asking a question each day on our Not a Pedestrian Life facebook page about national identity, living intentionally, and adventure. Please join us there – I want to hear from you! I’ll also be sharing photographs with the hashtag #notapedestrian life on Instagram and I’d love to hear your thoughts.