The working title is The Forgotten States of America: In Search of the Territories, Islands, and Far-Flung Specks of American Soil. From the book proposal:
When you get right down to it, the United States of America is not merely a nation of states. We are also comprised of those scattered shards of earth and populace that make up our territories. They’re filled with US National Parks and US post offices and people as proudly red-white-and-blue as any Daughter of the American Revolution.
And yet for most Americans, the territories are a mere curiosity. They’re extant but inconsequential, like poppy seeds or the Lifetime Network. Pop quiz: Name the US territories and tell me just one thing about each. Heck, just tell me how many territories there are. No, really. Try it. I’ll wait.
The Forgotten States of America is a long-overdue introduction to the United States beyond the states, by way of a decidedly different sort of all-American road trip, to the five inhabited territories (there’s your answer: the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa) and other quasi-American points beyond.*
It’s a globe-hopping travelogue—with no visas or currency-exchanging necessary—examining the complicated histories of how the USA acquired each place (spoiler: military action, manifest destiny) and their ongoing role in the American Experiment (spoiler: military preparedness, manifest destiny). Most of all, the book showcases the here-and-now of modern life in the territories, with their diverse mix of millennia-old indigenous groups, opportunity-seeking immigrants, military personnel, and an eclectic array of dropouts, schemers, and dreamers.
Through the lens of my own experiences, I’ll show why the territories matter: How they made the USA what it is today and what they can show us—from their quasi-outsider position—about what it means to be American.
From bustling cities to quiet back roads to Lost World jungles of the we’re-definitely-not-in-the-states-anymore variety, I’ll be your guide as we seek answers and attempt to connect the dots between the territories and our nation of united … places.
Pictured above, clockwise from top left:
- The Liberation Carnival on Guam, celebrating the decisive July 1944 battle when the USA defeated the Japanese Army, which had captured the island (then a USA territory) in 1941;
- the sign outside Hollywood Shooting on Guam, where Chinese, Japanese, and Russian tourists go to shoot guns and dress up like cowboys and feel Oh So American;
- a crew of National Park of American Samoa summer interns taking a break from clearing paths on the Mount Alava trail;
- probably the world’s most idyllic tropical-wonderland hotel, not telling you where because the owner doesn’t want publicity.
* Hello, people in Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands. I know. I hear ya. “We’re commonwealths, dammit, not territories!” Check. I’ll explain the differences in the book. But that’ll require a bit of explaining, as you know. So for purposes of this post, I'm using “territories” as a catch-all term for “The parts of the United States that are not the states or DC.” Okay? We’re cool?