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Dear America: A Postcard from Abroad


David Cantor


July 12, 2023


09:41 AM

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Nearly ten-years ago, my wife asked me what I wanted to do for my 30th birthday. I told her that a high-speed rail conference was being held in Washington D.C., and that I wanted to attend.

We had recently returned from a prolonged stay in China that spanned nearly three-years. A high speed railway system interconnected this vast and diverse country as a convenient and affordable method of transport. I had enjoyed sipping oolong tea, staring out at the ever changing landscapes – from horizons of rice-fields into endless sprawls of urban development.

For us Americans, we can recall folklore music about building the railroad. Laying steel tracks in America’s soil seemed as much a part of our national identity as the bald headed eagle. The black and white photos of America’s sweat-of-the-brow laborers hammering spikes into God's Country. The sounds of whistling steam-engines and cutting of colorful ribbons that make way to manifest destiny.

This land is your land, this land is my land

The 19th century and well into the roaring 20s were monumental eras for America – there was a sense of pre-industrial revolution progress. America was bound to be the leader, for better or worse, that would ultimately serve as the model for a commercial and capitalistic nation entering a new global era.

At the high-speed rail conference in Washington D.C., I was excited to be in our nation's capital where everything seemed white, contrasting sharply with the red banner of the People's Republic of China. The monumental tributes to our youthful history surrounded us, serving as powerful reminders of a dense and permanent constitution. Who cared if I was turning 30-years old and delivering sandwiches to a bunch of men in dark suits. I was there for free, and excited to be surrounded by people thinking about the future of connecting our United States by means of a high speed interconnected railway system.

The conference would last three-days, but I only needed one-day to drive a stake into my dreams.

I rapidly learned that any national railway initiative represented multitudes of complex layers that can be called the United States. On a constitutional level, it was regarded as interstate – thus a perfect mechanical form of Federalism. This State and Federal divide opened up a whirlwind of political interests. Political debate was further mixed with our genetic code for capitalism, thus forming a unique bond between private and public stakeholders. This high-speed railway elixir is a profound symbol for governance, which a decade later still reigns.

us-railroad-labor.webp The building of the Transcontinental Railroad relied on the labor of thousands of migrant workers, including Chinese, Irish, and Mormons workers. On the western portion, about 90% of the backbreaking work was done by Chinese migrants (credit: Smithsonian Museum)

Instead of an interconnected high-speed railway that goes from the redwood forests to the gulf-stream waters, we now maintain a patchwork of “corridors”. Traveling interstate within the United States by railway, whether for business or pleasure, is far removed from our national identity. The spikes laid a century ago are rusting. The wood, partially decaying. A railroad that was built by the hands of hundreds of thousands of migrant laborers has been all but forgotten.

America, We Are Lost.

For someone who has travelled by railway into far flung regions of our earth, I can attest to the experience and sensations recalled by traveling close to the ground. Yet this article is not really about the privileged leisure of travel - albeit most of it done on a shoe-string - rather, it is a reflection from abroad that our national identity seems lost.

The diversity that embodies our nation is congregating into infinitesimal, interest-driven groups – threatening to transform the beauty of human diversity into category-based battles and self-serving wars of determination. The borders within our nation and media-infested political maps of blue and red States are lacking in neutrality. There is no white – not the white of race, of course – but the white of liberty that serves as our stars. The linear red and white stripes are only part of our national flag – how can we raise this towards the heavens without our stars?

United States of America I miss you – but in writing this, I realize that I am only missing the pretext of dreams and hopes for what I believed you to be. The white, blank tapestry that inspired our declaration of independence. Where are these ideals now? Where are our leaders? How can we become whole, again?

This Land Is Your Land - Words and Music by Woody Guthrie

Listen Here

This land is your land, this land is my land From California to the New York island, From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters; This land was made for you and me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway I saw above me that endless skyway; I saw below me that golden valley; This land was made for you and me.

I've roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts; And all around me a voice was sounding; This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling, And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling, As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting: This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there, And on the sign it said "No Trespassing." But on the other side it didn't say nothing. That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people, By the relief office I seen my people; As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me, As I go walking that freedom highway; Nobody living can ever make me turn back This land was made for you and me.

David is a dual US-Italian national living in Europe. He often advises clients on global immigration matters, including an increasing amount of US Citizens seeking relocation solutions abroad.

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