In the sixth month of the exodus, after small clusters and finally waves and waves of people had left its shores, the American state – and you have doubtless been told proudly by countless of its wretched countrymen that it was once the strongest nation ever to wash its feet in the oceans of the world – finally collapsed in on itself.
I don’t recall, during the period when the great masses of people were fleeing the continent, anyone giving much serious consideration to the phenomenon. It seemed a myth of the media, a trumped-up news story meant to increase viewership during a crucial marketing period, or little more than a word-of-mouth legend; the unprecedented events that make up the history of the exodus, at the time, were treated as isolated and humorous news items. Like any social development, these things did not become real to most people until they knew someone who engaged in them, or until they got involved themselves.
So the inability of most observers to fully comprehend the enormous nature of the thing made it seem both blindingly quick and too slow to notice. I found that the easiest way to view it (and, this, indeed, applies to many events, I have begun to realize) was as something resembling a pilgrim’s string of beads: a single, symbolic unit that can be separated and stretched into a hundred small aspects, neither form being its sole reality.
The last beads are vivid: a child screaming, her parents waiting for an ambulance to arrive after a nasty fall. The ambulance never came. A passenger jet fell out of the sky over Dearborn, Michigan, too, astoundingly crashing into a small oil refinery at which, on a Wednesday, only sixteen percent of the employees were present. It goes without saying that the devastation was total.
“Well, these are good, eh, hard-working American people, and I hate to see them go,” Missouri State Senator Harvey Bluffett (R., 3rd District) said at a small press conference at what would be the beginning of the exodus, “but the American people must do what they got to. Even, I suppose, if that means leaving our great country of ours. But they’ll always be American, and, by god’s grace, Missouriites. That is, Missourins. Or . . . right. Regardless. They’ll always be Sooners.” This selection calls for two clarifications: one, that Bluffett was asked to comment on a recent decision by the Missouri Association of Taiwanese Americans to fund the return of the state’s 16,359 Taiwanese residents to their home island, and two, that Bluffett was soundly defeated in the following week’s election, largely, it seems, for referring to residents of his own Show-Me State as “Sooners.” At the time, the story was anomalous but seemed insignificant, like a story about the President’s taste for ketchup sandwiches.
It soon came to light that the Missouri Association of Taiwanese Americans’ plan was just one of many such ventures announced that month, as ethnically-oriented associations of the MATA’s ilk began to appear almost spontaneously, then announce their imminent departure from the USA. During the first three months after MATA’s statement (“We love this country but feel that our people should return to fulfill our destinies in our own land”) over thirty such groups arose, expressing similar, equally illogical sentiments; among them were the American Federation of Siberian Expatriates, the National Flemish Organization, the Guatemalan Family Movement, the Pakistani Coalition for Return, and the Congolese-American League.
What was striking about all this is that, while ethnic reclamation became increasingly popular, no one could truly justify or explain its sudden prominence. Indeed, the American economy had shown a slight downturn in the period previous to the exodus, but it was certainly nothing of a depression, and the respective economies of all other countries, on the whole, showed little change in either a positive or negative direction.
As more numerous and well-represented groups departed and the country began to realize the gravity of the situation, intermittently popular and perennially revolting demagogues who preached isolationism made public demonstrations of joy at the country’s burgeoning ethnic purity veiled beneath talk of job openings and wage hikes. “Finally,” one member of the Clean America Party remarked, “the mud people have come to their senses. America’s future is bright!” These attitudes were, needless to say, quickly undermined as logic tumbled down the hill in its natural course. Industrial accidents quickly increased, most stores were left empty after a week as the nation’s shipping companies were shut down (not that there was much left to ship), and nearly every service industry was wiped out of existence.
By the fourth month, as the economy’s problems were showing signs of imminent disaster, the most significant blows were struck. The Great Land Movement encouraged all Chinese-Americans to leap across the Pacific. The African continent swelled with proud family long estranged. The demagogues called for a solution to be made: all the troops once guarding our borders from unwholesome foreigners were to be ordered to turn around and prevent anyone from leaving. At the Rio Grande, twenty members of the US National Guard were trampled as a million people crossed the border into Mexico in a one-hour period.
Not one future Mexican citizen was injured.
The United States by the middle of the fifth month was a nearly unrecognizable shade of its former self. Lit mostly by candlelight, the nation conducted its business in terms of barter after a week of stunning hyperinflation (the US dollar and the Mexican peso virtually traded exchange rates) and subsisted largely on peanut butter and other non-perishables. Horrible disasters of infrastructure and transit were utterly ruinous to morale. However, despite grim prognostications of Omega Man-style mayhem, there was surprisingly little crime aside from one particularly intense night of violence in which Boise, Idaho and Burlington, Vermont were burned to the ground. There was a remarkable show of communal effort toward survival for all which might, in better circumstances, have proven the key to some amount of sustainable life. Regardless, America was little more than a tired body waiting to die: its resources had been strained to a hopeless point, and the remaining Americans, would they have known how to salvage the capsizing beast, did not have enough strength to do so.
Thus the sun rose, on the first day of the sixth month of the exodus, to mark the last morning of the American state. After an announcement by the President (transmitted by messengers to each Central Crisis Committee) a final group boarded a thousand cruise ships at ports all along the east coast, grasping for any last morsel of dignity or patriotism left in the wreckage. As the vessels – grand, antiquated reminders – bounded outward, splitting the waves of the Atlantic into foaming white spray, seagulls laughed about their decks for a time but eventually returned to shore, leaving the melancholy trumpets and trombones of the ships’ bands to fade behind them.
And the Algonquin people, with tears in their eyes as they returned to their ancient places, were the first to welcome their sea-bird brothers home.