Wing Young Huie Photographs Remind Us That the American Experiment Lives On
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
On this Fourth of July, photographer Wing Young Huie reminds us of what it means to be an American, taking time to remember the greatness of this dynamic cultural and social mix of strangers in a strange land.
“Growing up in Minnesota, ya know, people would ask me, ‘Where are you from?’ And I would say, ‘I’m from Duluth.’ People would say, ‘No, no, where are you really from?’ And I’d say, ‘Really, I’m from Duluth.’
It’s an innocent question, but implies a lot. It’s assumed that I must be a foreigner. I think there are times where my family, or myself, we felt that I wasn’t a true American, wasn’t a true Minnesotan, growing up in the land of Lake Woebegone. But, the realities of what I am and how I’m perceived bumps up into the perceptions of what Minnesotans are, on a regular basis.
So, for hyphenated people like me, there are hundreds of thousands of people who bump into this, the myths of the state. So, in a way, what I’m trying to do is create a new iconography. One that fills a gap between the perception of who we are and the reality.”
The child of Lake Superior’s shores spent more than four years taking thousands of photographs of a dynamic range of people who inhabit a stretch of six miles of road in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Titled the University Avenue Project, hundreds of Huie’s images became an urban street installation being displayed in storefronts, on the sides of buildings, in windows of houses. If you ever question whether the great American experiment lives on, Huie’s work will challenge your assumptions and most likely give you a sobering bit of hope.
Liberty as Inner Work
Trent Gilliss, online editor
As I mentally prepare for the annual Fourth of July parade in Mandan, North Dakota that will last hours, I remembered Krista’s enlightening interview with Jacob Needleman, a philosopher who spoke about the spiritual and moral ideals of the American founders — and how these ideals resonate in our culture today.
Democracy, Needleman says, is inner work, not just a set of outward structures. And, as we as a society reassess our priorities during these uncertain economic times, his conversation from several years ago seem particularly prescient, and wise:
“It’s become so trivialized, freedom. It’s wonderful to be able to go where I want and do what I want and buy what I want, buy and buy, and get and get, and talk and talk, and I have no constraints. We certainly need external liberty. God knows that’s one of the most precious things this country has to offer the masses of humanity who have come here. I don’t mean to put that down in any way. Without that, without that, the rest is just academic. But without the inner meaning of freedom and liberty, we have to ask, ‘Well, what is this freedom for?’ It’s not just a freedom to get a big house and a big car and a lot of goods. So inner freedom is an idea that has gone out of our conversation. Inner freedom means inwardly to be free from these egoistic, selfish cravings, which make our life turn around into chaos. It’s an interior freedom which maybe you can say is mystical or certainly spiritual, but without that dimension to the idea of freedom, the idea of freedom becomes purely external and eventually selfish.”