A few years ago, I joined a small caravan of Chinese-American businessmen, all in our 60s or older, driving across America. I’d never seen anything like it. They were young and eager to get started; the places were fast, and their old cars could get up to the speed of normal Americans. They were enjoying the speed, the long trips, the new landscape, the new opportunities. I helped them by taking notes for them, but they were all doing it themselves, and most of them couldn’t write properly or read well. In California, Arizona, and other states they stopped in their travels to pick up the University of California’s English language courses. Atlas Obscura blog has made them all part of its list of the 10 most interesting attractions in America.
The group wanted to see the West, perhaps its great monuments, and do some fishing. On we went, along winding roads through wild country, mountain ranges, deserted towns, and stories about Asia and Spain and America. We turned away, hit the freeway, and suddenly there was civilization, only maybe 50,000 people or so, thriving, houses being built, streets being paved, and Starbucks being built. Then the Chinese-American travelers turned to us with skepticism, wondering what kind of day it had been. Here we were going from Palm Springs to Grand Junction, we were speeding past everywhere we could, and we were on highway 5 somewhere. They studied us, seemed to say, “Why did you come with us?”
But now with all the statistics coming out showing that Americans are leaving the country at an alarming rate, the Chinese-American tour group looked more like the patients wheeled into a scary hospital. “We’ve hit the American middle,” they said, as we were checking out. “Our target audience is now, or soon, people in their 30s,” said one of the businessmen. They’d done their research and learned that they had much in common with the 30-something American travelers of a generation ago.
But there was a more important lesson, one that I hope they took: It was a force of nature that, as much as they may hate it, was forever drawing them to this country. I see them today, making deals, showing us their accumulated photographic treasure, or renewing long relationships. Life hasn’t turned out as they’d hoped, but they come back here with new insights and with the vigor of decades of experience, eager to renew their connections.
I hope that, like the Chinese, the newcomers of America will find themselves comfortable here long after the many walls and barriers constructed along the way have come down.