America, The Nation of Emigrants

A few years ago, after I graduated from college, I took a two-week road-trip across America. I jotted down a few notes along the way, and when I got back, I wrote a book. I called it, All Across America.

I dedicated the book to my family and friends, to Kerouac and Cassady for the inspiration, and “to America, the beautiful.” At the end of the dedication I wrote, “Finally, to the people of America – who have exploration in their DNA, pursuers of opportunity, change-chasers and risk-takers, critical doubters and faithful believers, leaders of the new world.”

I remain confident in all aspects of my assessment of the American people, except for perhaps the last part, “leaders of the new world.” I still believe that many Americans will be crucial leaders of the new world, but I am not so sure that they will be as dominant a part of that leadership as I had once imagined. I am even less sure that they will be leading from within the confines of America at all.

See, I still believe Americans have “exploration in their DNA”. I still believe they are “pursuers of opportunity, change-chasers and risk-takers, critical doubters and faithful believers”. It is for these very reasons that I believe within the next couple of decades we may see a mass emigration from America, similar to the exodus we are currently seeing from San Francisco, but on a larger scale.

In the last few years, staunch opposers of the Trump Administration’s immigration policies have been quick to point out that America is a country of immigrants. Regardless of where one stands on immigration policies, it is clear to see that this observation is correct. It is a fact that The United States has a larger immigrant population than any other country in the world. The US has 4% of the world’s population but about 20% of the world’s immigrants. Expanding beyond the immigrants themselves, these immigrants and their US-born children comprise approximately 28% of the US population. If we expand the classification of relative newcomers to also include people whose grandparents immigrated to America, the figure seems to be roughly between 40-50%.

Moreover, I would argue that even those whose ancestors came to America long before their grandparents were born may still carry a bit of extra inclination towards exploration in their blood. Since its inception, America has been viewed as “the land of opportunity.” Generations of the most ambitious risk-takers from around the globe have left everything they knew to pursue an opportunity they couldn’t find at home. They sought lives that could be better than any which many of their friends had ever imagined, and America was where they came to find it. These people helped build America into all that it has become, but it is important to recognize that they did not come here because it’s called America. They came here because of what America was, and in the eyes of some, what it still is. But it seems to me that America’s monopoly as the de facto land of opportunity is one which may be losing its dominance in a world that is ever more globalized, digital, and mobile. If that is in fact the case, America’s position may be up for grabs in the decades to come, a position which could be filled by an old country, or a new one, or a few ones, or many. If better options than America do become available to a meaningful number of Americans who recognize them as such, we may quickly be reminded that every individual with immigration in their history has emigration in their blood.

The question will become whether there is something unique about American Patriotism, or whether recent immigrants or their children, grandchildren, or more distant relatives will do the same thing they or their ancestors did when they came to America in the first place. I wonder how many would gather their things and go somewhere they can imagine living a better life. I wonder how many would pursue a freer life in some new land of opportunity, in some newer newest attractor of the American spirit — for that spirit is a part of the American people, not of the American land.