I love America. Or perhaps it's the idea of America that I love. I still believe in the America that welcomes strangers with open arms and where anyone can make it with sheer grit and determination. I'm not sure whether the America I believe in and love still exists, but I'm very sure that's not the America much of the outside world sees.
I'm also aware that much of my contact with America and Americans is viewed from a military perspective, and that is not the America that many Americans know. The America of military bases is almost a return to an earlier era, where neighbors gather together for grills and games and teenagers know that any misbehavior will get back to their parents. Again, it's only one side of America, but one I know well and, for the most part, peopled by caring, well-meaning individuals. But how typical is that of the country as a whole?
I've joked with American friends that I often get mistaken for a "loud American" and often that assumption comes with animosity toward "us" all. One friend asked why Americans are so disliked and I think it's because all that much of the world knows about the country is its politics and big oil/big tobacco/big business concerns. Which many of the Americans I know are just as concerned about as those of us outside of the country.
There's also a shocking ignorance on the part of many Americans about the world outside their personal borders, whether that be their ranch, their town, their state or the continental USA. I've noticed that same mindset most places I've traveled in the world, however. What makes it more shocking is that America keeps playing world sheriff, interfering in other countries' politics with little forethought or end game in sight. Interestingly, some of the freer thinkers I have met have been part of the military forces - putting your life on the line for somebody else's decisions tends to clarify a person's priorities and opinions.
All of which is probably a very long way of saying I'm not sure what the "real" America is, or if such a thing even exists. But I'm very interested to know and aim to spend three months trying to find out. The plan is to travel the country having conversations with real Americans about their hopes and dreams, their aspirations and disappointments. To ask each one what America means to them. Obviously there will be a number of military personnel I speak with, but there will also be ranchers, Hell's Angel bikers, storekeepers and students. I'll be flying into Norfolk, VA, on May Day and will base myself with my US whanau there, working out a schedule to ride the highways and byways of the country and trying to take the pulse of America, as felt by those who live there.
I'll blog about the journey here as I travel, but also record the conversations to possibly publish in longer form at a later stage. People I speak to are welcome to anonymity if they desire.
So, coming soon to a town near you, "Korero Amerika" ("American Conversation"). If you want to take part, drop me a line, either here or on my Facebook page.
Let's talk . . .