In 1845, John O’Sullivan wrote that it was America’s “manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” This idea was quickly adopted as a justification for unfettered westward expansion, including the annexation of Texas, the Mexican-American War, and the acquisition of western territories like California and Oregon. The ties to divinity and American exceptionalism in this concept have since spread to the rest of the world, creating an enduring and mythic promise of wealth and opportunity. This sentiment of course reached my parents, and others like them who immigrated to the United States on a singular mission of prosperity and security.
In considering my own journey from Tennessee to the Bay Area, there are fleeting glimpses of this instinct, as I follow in the tradition of westward expansion and the promise of new opportunity and experience. There is an underlying anxiety to this assumption, encapsulated perfectly by Joan Didion in her essay, “Notes From a Native Daughter”:
“California is a place in which a boom mentality and a sense of Chekhovian loss meet in uneasy suspension; in which the mind is troubled by some buried but ineradicable suspicion that things better work here, because here, beneath the immense bleached sky, is where we run out of continent.”