Mark Twain wrote in the conclusion of The Innocents Abroad a line that is now often used by those afflicted with wanderlust as a reason for why their passports are in such worn condition:
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.
Regrettably, my passport is not as worn out as I would like it to be. The constraints of my daily life obligations make dropping everything and dashing off on an adventure to somewhere like Nuuk, Greenland a bit unrealistic. Which is why I consider it a considerable blessing whenever I do get the opportunity to suffer the tedium of having to go through customs at a foreign port of entry. Of course, all of this is on hiatus at the moment as the world is going through the COVID-19 pandemic.
People travel recreationally for different reasons. For some, it is to just get away from their daily grind for a bit; for others, it is to acquire more selfies in their quest to become “Instafamous.” For me, it comes down to Star Trek and the Enterprise’s mission statement that was ingrained into me as a kid: “To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations.” I travel to see and experience new things, to meet and connect with different people and culture, and in doing so, hope to enrich and better myself.
Now that being said, the great thing about America–perhaps the greatest quality–is that it is a melting pot of different peoples and cultures, and as such, in some places, one can experience “strange new worlds” without having to interact with a customs officer. That is one reason why I ardently stand by my beloved Chicago, for while it may have its flaws, one of its strongest attributes is its diversity, its adherence to community and heritage, and the ability for an “outsider” of a given community to be welcomed as a guest.
So today, 16 September 2020, on Mexican Independence Day (to the philistines reading this, no, it is not Cinco de Mayo), I look back to one instance where, last year even before the pandemic, all I had to do to satisfy my wanderlust was hop aboard on a CTA bus to South Chicago for the Mexican Independence Day parade.
This to me is what makes America great, that we can celebrate our own and each others’ heritages, experience each others’ cultures, embrace our differences, and better ourselves from learning about one other, and in doing so become stronger together.
© Khoa Dao, K. Dao Photography, 80 Proof Photos