Military spouse Anna Rabe is a wanderer. A traveler with a purpose. And she has impeccable follow-through. While chasing curiosities about the world around her is nothing new, she recently set out on a different sort of journey to answer the question: What does it mean to be an American?
The Air Force wife permanently moved to the United States from Australia in 2014. Prior to that relocation, she served in the Australian military, attended college in Texas, and lived in Scotland and France. In fact, within the span of 2007 to 2012, she lived in four different countries.
See? I told you she likes to roam freely.
Currently, Rabe resides in Alamogordo, New Mexico where her husband works on Holloman Air Force Base. She has reached a sort of pivotal moment in her life where she is considering applying for American citizenship. Before she could make such a commitment, she told her husband she wanted to find out just what it truly means to belong to this country by asking the very people who live here.
“At the beginning of this year , I turned to him and said, I really want to understand more about the US. If I’m going to become a citizen, I want to understand more about this country, and I want to have seen more of this country and understand, what is it like in Montana — or North Dakota?” she explained. “And really to ask the question of people, ‘what does it mean to be American?’ What does that mean, especially at the moment?”
‘The American Identity Tour’
Rabe chose to test herself — personally and professionally — by setting off on an 11-city tour, which included Washington, D.C., Portland, Oregon, Chicago, Illinois, and Louisville, Kentucky. For the trip, she coordinated meetups with rotary clubs and elected leaders, along with attendance at a conference for female entrepreneurs with a military-affiliation. Plus, she did a lot of traveling by train.
The ‘American Identity Tour’ is part of her larger book project, titled “Not a Pedestrian Life.” In it, she describes conversations with fellow travelers that paralleled several divisive moments facing the country. People engaged in conversations with her easily, Rabe said.
“I think my accent helps. Strangely, I think ‘yes, I’m a stranger,’ but I think it would be different if I had an American accent because they … realize I’m genuinely asking,” she said. “I had a few people tell me, like the 5th grade answer. The 5th grade answer is, to be American means to be free. And that’s one of top answers. The second most common answer I’ve gotten is, it means to be privileged … and what’s been most surprising to me is that the majority of people who give that answer have been from minority and marginalized communities.”
Establishing a voice
In addition to running her own business and working on attorney licensing issues for Military Spouse JD Network (MSJDN), Rabe is hoping to see a louder voice emerge from other immigrant-born military spouses, like herself. She believes in the power of storytelling to achieve this.
“That’s the other part of this for me. One of the voices that I think doesn’t get heard a lot within the military spouse conversation are those voices of those of us that are not American-born,” Rabe said. “I feel like I’m part of a long line, I’m literally a modern war bride. You have this voice that isn’t always being heard, and you hear it every now and then, but that experience is so diverse. I can’t even talk for every one of us because my experience is so vastly different from the spouse that I know who was born in Iran, immigrated to New Zealand, and then ended up marrying a guy in the U.S. military. That is a real person. And so, when the country is having debates about immigration, you have real military spouses that are impacted by those debates.”
Rabe says the immigration piece is contained within her book project through many conversations with Uber and Lyft drivers. The compilation of stories is part of the larger American story she is unraveling through this unique research.
“I have challenged myself with this very personal project. Everyone has a story. I am passionate about sharing meaningful stories and empowering those who build communities,” Rabe said. “As an immigrant, a military spouse, and a business owner, I am inspired by those I meet and those I haven’t met yet.”
Rabe is near completion of her book and anticipates its release by 2019.
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