"What kind of people? All kinds of people from A-Z."
Photo Project by Leah Voss
What does it mean to live in America? For Charlie Butler, it means the freedom to worship his God. For Monique Martinez, it means having to hustle on the streets to afford medication. For Josh Bennis, it means the opportunity to develop his own beliefs apart from popular opinion.
Over 300 million people call the United States of America home. Each person has their own stories and their own struggles, a past to remember and a future to look forward to, and inside their bodies and minds, a spirit to nurture.
Strip away the laws, the buildings, the vehicles… the heartbeat of this country comes from the people and the heart beats inside the body - the diverse, sprawling land.
Everyone must discover their own way.
"If you didn't have God, what would you do?"
According to the 2010 U.S. Religion Census, over half of the residents in Tennessee adhere to the Christian faith. Jackson, Tenn. antique store owner Charlie Butler remembers the day when he was baptized in 1965. Memphis Union Mission resident James smiles big when he thinks about the hope he has gained in the 6 months as a believer. No matter what arises, faith runs deep in Tennessee.
"I'm a firm believer what is says in the Bible that 'it is not completely finished.'"
Twenty dollars in a gas tank doesn’t go very far anymore. Athena Allen and Loren Poole, of Little Rock, know all about the financial struggles it takes to raise a family. “What I struggle with is basically having money for gas and getting to work and taking care of these kids,” Poole said. “All that keeps us going is looking at the smile on these kids faces every time we buy em something else, you know.”
Poole is an aspiring musician who is “just trying to get it off the ground.” When he has the money, he prints CDs and sells them out of the truck. He’s thankful to have his fiancée Allen and her daughter, Tiara Dunaway, by his side.
“She’s my housewife. When I get rich, she’s the one gonna have the luxury of being in the mansion,” Poole said, enticing much needed laughter from the woman by his side.
"In America you have the opportunity to do whatever you want, whenever you want."
"It's the survival of the fittest."
Hard work is necessary for survival for Liam Black of Bixby, Okla. Facing the challenges of student loans and taking care of his family, Black works two jobs. Though he completed flight school in Oklahoma, he cannot find a position available as a pilot. Despite the changes America is facing, Black hopes to raise his son, Jett, in the country where possibilities still seem limitless.
"Pride" and "Texas" are synonymous. Nothing is bigger and nothing is better, ask any Texan. Steaks are meant to be eaten in 4 and half pound form and old Cadillacs are meant to be defaced in bold ways.
At least in Amarillo.
Hosts and hostesses at the Big Texan Steak Ranch take a break at the end of the work day in Amarillo, TX on March 21, 2014.
Leaunna Hankins, 18, of Oklahoma City, Okla. traveled with her family to Amarillo to visit Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX on March 22, 2014.
Mia Campos, of Houston, TX spray paints her name on a Cadillac at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX on March 22, 2014. Cadillac Ranch is a public art installation created in 1974, featuring 10 mid twentieth century Cadillacs. Although there are Texas graffiti laws in place, patrons have been spray painting the cars for years without punishment.
A high school baseball player from Illinois participates in the Big Texan Steak Ranch 72-oz steak challenge in Amarillo, TX on March 21, 2014. Challengers must eat a 72-oz steak and sides under 60 minutes to receive the meal for free. "I'll probably never eat steak again," he said, after failing to complete the challenge.
The Land of Enchantment is also the land of the hard working.
Dara, an employee at Taste of India Buffet in San Jon, N.M. poses for a portrait on March 22, 2014. The business also doubles as a road service and fuel pump facility.
Emily Trujillo, of Chimayo, N.M. works as a candy-craftsman at Chocolate Dude Coffee & Candy in Albuquerque. "I love chocolate. I even wrote my senior paper when I graduated high school on the health benefits of chocolate," Trujillo said.
Monique Martinez, of Albuquerque, N.M., spends hours daily on Central Ave. offering services to wash vehicles, clean restaurants, or landscape in order to raise money for medication. Martinez was diagnosed with Leukemia 8 months ago and gets chemotherapy at the University of New Mexico twice a month. "I went from 230 pounds, I am 95 pounds now," Martinez said. "It is a hard thing to deal with and I do whatever I can to raise money for medications, whatever it takes."
"Whatever we can do, we'll do."
The desert and canyon lands of Arizona are some of the most famous scenes of the United States. Over 4 million people visit the Grand Canyon year after year, according to the National Park Service. It is a place where people come to connect to the earth, feel humbled by their small size, and have space to realize that no idea is too small.
"Here, you can't go up to cops and blow it in their face but they really don't bother you. Most people are smoking it, they have the card, they need it. People smoking marijuana be eating food, playing frisbee, playing with kids, playing with dogs. But people drinking alcohol tend to do other things not so nice. I'm very, very anti-alcohol." Bob of San Francisco, Calif. said on March 24, 2014.
Breno Aragon, of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil spends time surfing at Ocean Beach in San Francisco on March 24, 2014. "There were some whales hanging out, some dolphins always come by. There's a lot of life out here, it's pretty cool."
A nurse from Palo Alto, Calif. roller skates with her friends at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Calif. on March 24, 2014.
"Everything exists because of love and real love doesn't know how to hate."
Victoria Tovar, 18, of Atlanta, has been traveling the world on her own for several months. Her recent destinations include Poland, Germany and England and she was stopped in San Francisco in between trips snowboarding in Tahoe and surfing in Hawaii. "People have been too closed minded to leave their paradigm, but I understand because with people's paradigm it keeps the bad from improving but also keeps the good from deteriorating, so people like to stay in their own little bubble and I realize they're just not willing to explore as much." Tovar's life shifted after her house in Georgia burned down and she lost most of her possessions. "I realized it was probably one of the happiest times of my life," Tovar said, explaining that being released from her possessions gave her the freedom to travel.
"I figured out exactly what I wanted to do and I just did it, because everyone keeps waiting for the perfect time. There's never going to be a perfect time and it drives me crazy that people are going to miss out on this type of view."
Leah Voss, photojournalist
On March 19, 2014, two young friends from Bowling Green, Ky. set out on a long-standing American dream, to leave their home in the east and head west along Interstate 40 toward California.
I was one-half of this duo, allowing my thirst for humanity and my desire to share stories carry me through the changing landscapes and let my free-spirit fly in a way it never had the opportunity to before.
This idea of this fantasyland full of freedom and opportunity that as a child, I imagined the United States to be, had been corrupted as I’d gotten older. The harsh reality of unbalanced politics, brutal wars, and personal tragedy had me feeling bitter about what I had always been told was the greatest nation on earth. I desperately needed to reconnect with my home country and learn that the real spirit of America lies within the land and the people.
I was not disappointed in my discovery.
Since the 1800's, California has been a rich, lustrous place where people flee to for freedom and fame. With 38 million residents, the unique ideas are tenfold and the laws are progressive. The minds are open wider than the skies and the seas.