Former Medill dean, alumni launch new ebook about 14,000 mile journey
The parable of Hank Yang
What started as a travel blog run by a Medill professor and his students turned into an American research book.
“Genus Americanus: hit the Road in Search of America’s Identity,” Medill author Dean Loren Ghiglione and alumni Alyssa Karas (Medill ’11) and Dan Tham (Medill ’13), were released on Oct. 25.
In 2011, Ghiglione decided to create an opportunity for Medill students to cross America with him on the Fall Quarter. The group turned journalist Mark Twain’s travels on the streets of the country during the 1850s and 1860s, asking Americans who were on the way.
“I’ve always loved the passion and the travel that comes with it,” Ghiglione said. “I’ve always believed that trips can be educational transformations.”
Karas was nearing the end of his teenage years when he received an email from Medill’s list of candidates. Although he hoped to graduate before the trip, he still enrolled.
Now Vanity Fair’s co-director, Karas spent a long time in the summer at the Indianapolis Star before embarking on a three-month tour.
“Loren is asking students… and I look forward to delaying real life as much as I can,” Karas said. “But I just think it sounds good and I appreciate it every day.”
Tham, now a producer of CNN International, had just returned to the US after studying abroad in India when he received an email. He said the opportunity “was too exciting to deny.”
The trip was a way for Tham not only to find out about other Americans but also to find out about himself, he said.
“I’m Vietnamese, I’m American, I’m gay, I grew up a Buddhist,” said Tham. “The way I grew up – mostly white, Mormon, gay, and lesbian – I thought, ‘I’m thinking of what we can call’ something else, ‘” Tham said.
It is known that Tham was not identified during the trip. When members of the group arrived in Marion, Indiana, where history was well documented in the 1930’s, they met a historian at a Japanese restaurant.
Tham, the only Native American member, is the only one who has been given chopsticks by all whites.
“It made me unhappy,” Tham said. “It seemed like he was labeling me as someone who was different from the friends I traveled with.”
Learning to better understand why he was there was why Ghiglione followed this journey. For Ghiglione, from Italy, he wanted to connect with his distant relatives and learn more about the experiences of Italian American Americans.
Ghiglione also enjoyed the American Commonwealth, created by the colonial age, and worked for the Native American Outreach and Inclusion Task Force. The group also wrote about the diversity of the region, its challenges, and its importance in the United States.
“China (the carrier) was a lasting force of racism… does not seem to be ending,” Ghiglione said. “Likewise, I think America is a concept of a country that is trying to be better… and future generations have the tools to deal with the challenges of competition.”
Together, the team met with various sources and revealed forgotten histories. The group analyzed many of the dark forces in the past in the United States, many of which still affect American politics today.
“It’s always good to know what happened and reduce our ignorance because I think it can be dangerous if we forget it,” Tham said.
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