M y sister and I have childhood pictures from roadtrips all across the country, all different corners of the vast country well trafficked by South Asian tourists - San Francisco and Sequoia, the Carolinas, Chicago, and it goes without saying, Niagara Falls. The photo of our mom shepherding us out of a windstorm at the Four Corners Monument is permanently stuck in my brain. Our dad was trained in photography and each of these pictures were methodically framed and artfully composed, and hard to forget.

Our parents' love of the American open road into lonely natural expanses was effortlessly passed on to us. So effortlessly that it took me a very long time to see that's who I got it from. I think my sister and I used to be surprised to find ourselves explaining to Americans, white Americans who were supposed to be the ones hiking and climbing and adventuring, how amazing national, state, local parks are and all the ones we planned to go to. *Their* national heritage we would be justifying the specialness and awe of!

What I have come to realize is that our generational distance from new nationhood brought us closer to these places, even though it wasn't the same nation that we were living in. Our parents were children in India when independence was brand new, was precious and to be cherished every day. And part of that is witnessing the beauty of one's country, one's land and territory. When my sister and I were teenagers our dad made us wake up to watch the sun rise over the Grand Canyon. And upon recalling that, our mom is always very quick to tell the story of when her father made them wake up to watch the sun rise over the Kanchenjunga from Darjeeling (It was probably 1967). You have to see it to believe you could belong somewhere so grand, and that it many ways, it is yours, to enjoy, but also your responsibility to protect.

Daily appreciation for self governance, the practice of civic participation as gratitude for democratic self determination, is deeply ingrained in our mother's worldview, and as a result, ours too. We love our country, we believe in its democratic infrastructures, from voting to buses to public education, and we struggle to find our roles in making it better for for everyone.

One of the stranger ways that love has manifested is my mild obsession with post offices. In 2013 I began recording all the places I had been by getting a photo with the local post office. A lot of people thought it was a completely bizarre project, but my family completely understood and had a blast joining me. One trip home my sister drove me all around Bucks County, Pennsylvania where we grew up, my mom directing her to a mental list of post offices - in general stores, in stone houses from two centuries ago, in little shacks - that she had kept a mental list of. All of our cousins across the US started sending me "post office pictures" from their trips. Eventually friends joined in too, and I created a map of the eventual hundreds of pictures I was receiving: http://arcg.is/0OXbPH.

The picture attached is one that my sister took of me on our roadtrip from Boulder, CO, to Los Angeles in 2015. It is at the post office in Springdale, Utah, on the road into Zion National Park. It was the trip of our lives - we stopped at 4 national parks and went through 4 states, and visited every post office we could find. We would do it again in a heartbeat because of how much more we could have squeezed into the trip. But we have embarked on others since then - most recently, on Alaska 1 from Seward to Anchorage to Denali. The endless open road continues to be a place we find ourselves with each other and with the people whose values we share - among them, stewardship and appreciation for public land, and equal access to all it has to offer.

Sonya Rao
Boulder, Colorado
Photo Location
Springdale, Utah
Los Angeles, California
My sister (also the sole driver - I never learned!)

Share your story.

Help us reimagine this American tradition by sharing your photos and memories!

Get started