I think D and I will always have a great love for maps; geography, or information overlaid on geography, explains or helps me understand SO MUCH of human history. D has an excellent almost-pocket sized atlas, which we carry around many places, and will probably follow us wherever we move until it falls apart. We whip out this atlas whislt watching TV (documentary about hummus? film about Estonia between the World Wars? Avatar the Last Airbender? Everything on TV is better with corresponding maps) and at parties during interesting conversations (show me EXACTLY where you went on your holiday) and when telling stories to each other about our lives (Isa lives here, and Liz went to school there, and my grandmother comes from there....).
Recently, I came across this map of the predominant ethnic roots of every American county. I find it particularly interesting because I'm sure I participated in the census with which this was produced (though, if it's made with the question "what is your race" I ruined their results by writing in Star-bellied Sneetch). It's also useful to show D these sorts of maps based on fuzzy ideas like race, to help him start to learn some of the underlying, weird ideas that make America, you know, AMERICA. I don't know about the validity of the data behind this map, but as an overly simplistic, broad-brush-strokes painting of America, I think it's a good starting point for a foreigner to get some ideas and ask some questions.
While a lot of the map made sense to me (as in, it fit with my general gut-impressions of American regions, even if I've never visited some regions), two things stood out to both D and I:
One, holy crap, that's a lot of Americans that claim German ancestry. Did that many Germans really immigrate?
Two, what's up with the answer "American" to what was apparently a ethnic/racial question? Why is that just in Appalachia/Texas?
I'd have to do some actual research to answer the first one, but we talked a lot about the second point. D was disappointed/irked that the "Americans" had basically opted out and given a non-answer; American isn't really an ethnicity or race (unless you mean American Indian, which these guys definitely don't).
However, I could kind of see their point; as far as I know, 3/4 of my grandparent's lines have been in the US for a looooooong time, and most probably are a mishmash of (probably all or mostly Anglo) countries/backgrounds: English, Scottish, and Irish for sure, almost definitely some German in there somewhere, who knows, maybe some French or Scandinavian or Eastern European I don't know about. The last 1/4 of my grandparents is my 4th generation Czech heritage, and the only country outside of the US for which I'd feel some vague familial connection. My dad explained this all to me, and prefers the term "off-white", whilst my mom less-charitably says we're "European white trash," or sometimes descended from "druids and pirates." Which is probably as close as anything else. So I have no idea what on earth I'd chose if I tried to answer seriously a question about my ethnicity when given the options listed on that map of America. What would you answer? Do any other "off-white" Americans wonder about this?
All this discussion eventually led us to this map of the 11 "nations" or regions within North America. I was quite excited to see this map, as it kind of addresses some more of those gut-feelings I have about differences between different areas of America. Whenever someone thinks that NM is "the South" or Texas or California, I have to suppress shouting "NO", because NM is so overwhelmingly NOT any of those places, but I don't quite have all the words to explain why.
I think it'll take a lot more studying -of this map, the ideas behind it's creation, and other sources of information- to work out how accurate it may or may not be. In the meantime, it at least gives visual representation to the idea that NM is NOT the Deep South, or really California, and gives a jumping off place for D to learn about the big, confusing, conflicting, outrageous, intensity of the US. Any other help you might be able to point out to us for his future study would be nice. :)