T he well – known traveler and writer, Paul Theroux, described what he termed the ‘wish to travel’ to be ‘characteristically human: the desire to move, to satisfy your curiosity or ease your fears, to change the circumstances of your life, to be a stranger, to make a friend, to experience an exotic landscape, to risk the unknown.” As a South Asian American, born in Northern California in the early 1950s, what excited me most about my retirement approximately six decades later was my freedom to travel within the US and, embedded in that, my right to relocate to any state within these United States.

So, during my last year before retirement in 2012, I would spend whatever time I could spare from a pretty hectic professional schedule to research the internet to see which sun-belt states might be right for me – I didn’t want to suffer cold winters as I entered senior citizen status. I narrowed down my search to three potential states: Northern California, Florida and Texas. My main considerations were housing and general affordability (including no state income tax), a liberal civic and political life, potential for future growth, proximity to a good university, and a place with some hills, lakes or rivers, and biking trails with sort of a gateway to South America, a region that I had not seen much and wanted to further explore. I settled on Texas, primarily because I had friends in San Antonio and Houston. My research indicated that Austin was one of the fasting growing cities in the US with a well-educated and ‘millennial’ workforce, and it seemed to fit my preference list pretty well. So I decided on Austin, rather than any other Texas city.

But when I advised my mother of my decision to retire and relocate to Texas, she became a bit concerned. ‘Why Texas, my son?’, she queried, ‘they aren’t particularly progressive politically down there, are they?!’ she continued, adding ‘And I don’t think that place is safe. They are pro-gun and don’t welcome outsiders. In fact, I think they are pretty racist down there.” I nodded in acknowledgement, but then I tried to explain that Texas cities were more liberal, particularly places like Austin and San Antonio, and that she shouldn’t worry. “This is the US, Mother,’ I explained, ‘and the country has elected a half-black President – something that couldn’t happen without a significant majority of White votes going for President Obama. Things have changed now, certainly in most US cities at least, even in Texas. So let’s not get alarmist.”

But my mother’s comments made me reflect for a moment. Perhaps rural and small-town Texas would be essentially non-welcoming for Asians or other non-Whites but, then, all my research indicated that Austin was different from other parts of Texas – in fact, some commentators wryly noted that there was the ‘Republic of Austin’ in the State of Texas to clearly distinguish the two. And I kept reassuring myself that this was ‘America’, with constitutional freedom for all – including Asian Americans -- citizens to travel and relocate in any State of the Union. To be safe, I decided to check up a bit. First I asked my Asian (as well as Jewish) friends living in Texas about the ground realities in their communities and those responses were, in the main, positive and promising.

Second, digging further, I came up with some US Supreme Court decisions that confirmed the right of every US citizen to travel and relocate in any US State of his or her choice. Apparently, from what I read, the US Constitution protected, in fact, three separate aspects of the right to travel among the states: the right to enter one state and leave another, the right to be treated as a welcomed visitor rather than a hostile stranger (protected by the "privileges and immunities" clause in Article IV, § 2 of the US Constitution), and (for those who become permanent residents of a state) the right to be treated equally to native born citizens -- evidentially protected by the ‘Citizenship Clause’ of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution.

This was great, I thought. I knew German friends of mine who had told me that, to move from one city or location in Germany to another, even if you are a German citizen, apparently there is a requirement of registration with a local police station for everybody. This requirement was, I was informed, to ensure public safety. But, in the US, anybody was free to pack their bags and decide to move from one state to another for whatever reason, without the need to ‘register’ in this way or obtain any other type of government or local authority endorsement for any travel or relocation from one state to another – either at the originating location or at the final destination.

Imbued with a sense of privilege and gratitude that I, as a native-born American and protected by our ‘Citizenship Clause’ and other provisions of our Constitution, could exercise my right to choose where I wanted to reside, resolved to do just that: relocate to Austin, Texas. With assistance and support from a dear friend and former high-school classmate of mine, with bags and belongings fully packed in a moderate sized U-Hall truck, we set out from Evanston, Illinois to Austin, Texas early one morning in late June of 2013. We arrived in Austin a couple of days later. As time passed, my relocation to Austin proved to be both exciting and rewarding in many ways – and I met many super nice folks, as well as a handful not so nice, along the way.

Now almost five years later, I have no regrets about making that decision to relocate in retirement to Austin – at the very least, it’s enriched my appreciation for the many thoughtful and good people in all parts of this still wonderfully free country. As Jack Kerouac once said, ‘Better to sleep in an uncomfortable bed free, then sleep in a comfortable bed unfree.’ Let’s hope the wide freedom – including the right to travel and relocate in any state -- this country has offered its citizens, but specifically to Asian American immigrants and their progeny, since the progressive immigration and related reforms that were enacted as part of the Civil Rights legislation in the mid-1960s, is not eroded in coming years. This disturbing possibility, even if it seems relatively remote at this point, should not be summarily discounted given the recent increase in neo-Nazi type attitudes that discount the value and legitimacy of multi-cultural inclusion that has come to characterize post-Civil Rights America. And let’s not forget the ‘Asian Exclusion Acts’ that were part of mainstream US immigration law and regulation in the not so distant past.

Omar H. Tiwana
Evanston, IL
Photo Location
Austin, TX
Austin, TX
My friend and former high school and university classmate

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